Beethoven: Symphony No. 4

Album cover art for upc 747313300280
Label: VOX
Catalog: VOX-NX-3002CD

Berliner Philharmoniker; Furtwängler, Wilhelm

It was Beethoven’s original idea to follow the Eroica Symphony with what today is known as the Fifth, and he actually started work on the C minor. The Fifth was intended as a commission for one Count Franz von Oppersdorf, a musical amateur of no mean ability who admired Beethoven’s music. In 1806 Beethoven shook the summer dust of Vienna off his feet and went to visit Count Brunswick at Martonvasar. Then, toward the end of the summer, the composer proceeded to Prince Lichnowsky’s Castle Gratz in Silesia. Count Oppersdorf, who had a castle in Oberglogau, in the vicinity of Castle Gratz, was visited by Beethoven and Lichnowsky. It was then that Oppersdorf commissioned Beethoven to compose a symphony for him, and Beethoven promised to let him have the C minor. But Beethoven never did deliver the Fifth to the Count. On 1 November 1808, he wrote to that titled gentleman: ‘Revered Lord – Don’t look on me in a wrong light; the Symphony which I had intended for you I was compelled by want [this was untrue] to sell with a second one to somebody else. But be assured that you will very soon receive the one which I design you to have.’ And so Beethoven, who had dedicated the Fifth Symphony to Lobkowitz and Rasoumovsky, sent along the Fourth to Oppersdorf. Since the Fourth Symphony had already been sold and had received its premiere, Oppersdorf was insulted and infuriated. He broke off negotiations with Beethoven and apparently never wrote or spoke to him again. Beethoven had interrupted work on his Fifth Symphony to compose the Fourth, which was finished in 1806. Its first performance took place in March 1807, in the mansion of Prince Lobkowitz, and on 15 November it was repeated at a charity concert. In both cases the orchestra was largely made up of titled aristocrats, with a few professionals filling in on the instruments less favored by the nobility (horns, etc.). Coming between the Eroica and the C minor, the Fourth Symphony has often been regarded as a less ‘important’ work than either of those two giants; and it inspired Schumann’s oft-quoted phrase of ‘a slender Grecian maiden between two Norse giants.’ The Fourth is, in all truth, a slighter work (in size and form) than its two associates. It is a simpler, more, delicate and contrasting work, more graceful in contour but not a shade less inventive melodically. And the Fourth has claimed its fanatic adherents – men like Berlioz, Schumann, Tovey and others. They adopt the view that size alone is no measure of the aesthetic value of a work of art; that the multiple felicities and subtleties of the Fourth make it one of the finest of all the Beethoven symphonies. Berlioz in particular waxed voluble over the B flat Symphony. He points out that the work ‘abandons wholly the ode and the elegy to return to the less lofty and somber, but perhaps less difficult, style of the Second Symphony; and he cites its ‘heavenly sweetness.’ The long crescendo in the first movement he finds ‘one of the most skilfully contrived things we know of in music.’ Berlioz becomes ecstatic over the adagio. ‘It escapes analysis. It is so pure in form, the melodic content is so angelic and of such irresistible tenderness that the prodigious art of the workmanship disappears entirely. You are seized, from the first measure, by an emotion which in the end becomes overwhelming in its intensity; and it is only in the works of one of the giants of poetry that we can find a point of comparison with this sublime page of the giant of music.’ And Berlioz goes on to quote the Divine Comedy, ending his summary of the adagio with a particularlypurple patch: ‘This movement seems to have been sighed by the Archangel Michael one day, when, seized 3 by an access of melancholy, he stood upon the threshold of the Empyrean and contemplated the world.’ But there was one composer-critic who took a dim view of the Fourth Symphony. That was Carl Maria von Weber, who heard an early performance of the work. He reviewed it in a musical journal, and his review took the literary form of a dream. Weber imagined the instruments of the

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