Thursday, October 20, 2011

Szell's reorchestration of Beethoven 5!

I love Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. It's one of my nine favorite Beethoven Symphonies. The new edition of the textbook we use at my community college replaced the 1987 Concertgebouw recording with Haitink with a 1964 recording by Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra, and that is the version I played for my classes today. Imagine my surprise when the transition motive that is played by the horns during the exposition wasn't played by the bassoons in the recapitulation. Szell must have decided to replace the bassoons (or enhance, perhaps) with horns. I find the doubled bassoon color there such a fine example of Beethoven humor, and I'm shocked that Szell took it out. You can hear it at 5:32 of this film.

[Unfortunately the film is no longer on YouTube, but it might be available elsewhere in the future.]

Have a look at the score!

There are other bold Szellisms in the 1964 Cleveland recording, like the slow tempo and heavy quality of the Scherzo, and the way the microphone seems to be trained a single violin during the pizzicato section near the end of the Scherzo (to give the illusion of absolute cleanliness, perhaps?).

Here's a wonderful clip of Szell rehearsing the first movement of the 5th. Unfortunately Szell doesn't make it to the recapitulation in this rehearsal, but he does say "that's good" to the brass who play the motive in the exposition. A complement from Szell? I have heard that is rare indeed. Perhaps he was playing for the cameras.


Anonymous said...

uuhm...did you know that the link to the Szell rehearsal goes to Connie Francis' "Three Coins in the Fountain"?

Elaine Fine said...

LOL! I suppose it was in my computer's memory from yesterday when I used it to illustrate one of the themes in the second movement of John Ireland's D minor Violin Sonata and the main theme of the first movement of Thomas Dunhill's D minor Violin Sonata.

Thanks for letting me know. Perhaps it is good idea to check these things before posting, huh?

Anonymous said...

I thought it was, perhaps, a joke! Szell never complemented. I grew up watching him conduct in Cleveland.

ward29800 said...

Using horns in this passage is probably still the norm. Almost every recording has horns rather than bassoons. Karl Bohm's for instance. It's a recapitulation in a different key and horns of Beethoven's time couldn't play the notes. Many conductors feel that Beethoven wanted horns but had to give the passage to the bassoons.

Elaine Fine said...

I have never played a performance of the fifth with horns playing the passage, but your explanation does make some sense.