August 2011

The Beethoven Bucket List

August 29, 2011 22:39

One of the things I've always wanted to do is play all of Beethoven's Symphonies.  It started when I played the Beethoven 6 in the local youth orchestra while in high school, probably in 1995 or 1996.  It was amazing music, and I enjoyed practicing it even as a teenager who hated to practice.  The programmatic nature of the music was enchanting.  The conversations between the string sections, the raw power of the full orchestra during the storm section... it spoke to me.

I was hooked. 

Beethoven 3 came next in 2008.  I played the Eroica symphony in my second trip through college, with my fellow students eight to ten years younger than I was.   The story behind the music caught my attention.  A fan of mythology, the heroic journey represented by the work captured my imagination.  I saw parallels to my own path through life, especially in reinventing myself and returning to school.  The raw joy and passion in the scherzo had my heart racing every time we rehearsed it (or maybe that was just the tempo).  In any case, the performance was a milestone -- the first time I got to sit as concertmaster (even if I could have done a much better job of leading), and the first concert as a student again.  It was great.


Less than a year later, a community orchestra in my area performed Beethoven 9.  I asked if I could join in for the concert, which led to me joining the orchestra.  The only thing on the program was the 9th.  The soloists and chorus and strings players combined to make a glorious noise, truly an embodiment of 'Freude' if I ever heard one.  Even though the 9th may have been Beethoven's last, it was only a part-way marker for me.  Like Eroica, the 9th had resonance with things going on in my life -- joy that I could finally say that yes I knew that I wanted to teach music, and that I knew I would finally succeed in school.   3 down, six to go.


Beethoven 7 came in the 2009-2010 school year.  School orchestra again, this time playing violin II.  The Allegretto is so haunting, a basic theme and variations but so skillfully done that it's not blatantly repetitive.  And who would have thought that scales could be so basic, so simple, and yet so glorious?  The music wasn't tough technically, but it requires the right approach and a huge dose of musicianship. 


I picked up the first symphony while helping out another local college in early 2011.  I basically sight-read it through on viola.  It was still Beethoven, but it lacked the richness and fullness of the programmatic works.    After this concert, i was more than half-way done.


I have music for the 5th symphony sitting in my folder right now.  I'll be two-thirds through my Beethoven Bucket List by mid-October, and I'll have performed all of the odd-numbered symphonies.  It's interesting that it's taken this long to get to what is possibly the most recognizable of Beethoven's symphonies.  The 9th is popular, but the 5th is pretty much ubiquitous.  I'm looking forward to getting it under my fingers, hearing everything put together, and learning how the viola part fits in with everything else.  It should be fun.


After this, I only have symphonies 2, 4, and 8 to perform.  It might take awhile to get to all of them.  I don't think I've ever noticed any of those three programmed anywhere -- I'm sure they have been, but they're definitely not the most popular.  I'm going to have to decide if conducting the pieces counts towards the BB list, upon the eventuality I ever conduct a group that is capable of performing Beethoven symphonies.  There's something about performing that makes the music more immediate, more real -- the conductor might be in charge, but the players are the ones that actually make the music happen based on they see on the stand and the podium.  I'm sure all of them will have their own special moments and spots where I'm holding on by the skin of my teeth, and all of them will be amazing.

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