Friday, December 14, 2007

Party Like it's Beethoven's Birthday Eve!

Rating The Beethoven
An Arguably Vacuous but Kinda Fun Exercise in Classical Music Appreciation

In yesterday's comments, Rex Parker volunteered his personal ranking of the Beethoven Symphonies: 3, 6, 7, 5, 9, 1, 8, 4, 2.

Well, it doesn't take much to set me off, and I ended up spending far too much of Friday afternoon considering this very weighty issue. It didn't take me too long just to rank the symphonies. What got me thinking, though, was how my favorite symphonies by other composers compare to my Beethoven rankings. It's a way of illustrating what I've always kind of suspected: although other individual symphonies can certainly hold their own among the Beethoven works, no other composer can really compete across the board. Not in the symphony department, anyway.

Here's how my rankings go. The comparisons, by the way, are only with other 19th Century symphonists. 20th Century music is kind of a different deal.

Beethoven's Sixth (Pastorale)
The Sixth is basically in a three-way tie for my favorite symphony, along with Mahler's First (the "Titan") and Sibelius' Second. If I could never hear any of these three symphonies again, it would be a tangible blow to my quality of life.

Beethoven's Seventh.
There's a three-way tie for second, too. The Seventh is tied with Dvorak's Seventh and Sibelius' Fifth. I do like Sibelius awfully much, but after running even with Beethoven in the top two, my third-favorite Sibelius, the Sixth, won't even crack this list.

Beethoven's Ninth

After the Ninth comes my favorite Mozart symphony, the 40th, and my favorite Tchaikovsky, the 5th. Also probably my second-favorite Dvorak, the 9th or "New World." But again, my third-favorite Dvorak won't make this list.

Beethoven's Fourth

My favorite Haydn, the 82nd ("The Bear") goes about here. Schubert's 9th ("the Great") too.

Beethoven's Third ("Eroica")

Mendelsohn's Fourth

Beethoven's Eighth

Brahms' Second

Beethoven's Fifth

My second favorite Mahler, the Fourth.

Beethoven's First

Beethoven's Second

Schumann's Third ("Rhenish")

Berlioz's "Symphonie Fantastique."

Alright, that's more than enough of that game. You see my point: Beethoven's B-game is as good or better than the A-game of most of the great masters. If any of y'all want to throw in your own Beethoven rankings, it would provide some amusement for this numbers-oriented blogger. No pressure.

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Saturday
Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday
Beethoven's Eighth Symphony

There's an olde tradition that the odd-numbered Beethoven symphonies are the serious, stormy ones, and the even-numbered symphonies are the more lighthearted ones. This idea has survived generations of students of the 2nd, 4th, 6th, and 8th saying "no, no, they're ALL very serious!" for the simple reason that, well, it's obviously true.

Where the Second was just generally good-natured, the Fourth wove joyfulness out of chaos, and the Sixth was a sun-soaked (if briefly rain-drenched) romp in the country, the eighth is a happy evening at the town dance. From its happy opening theme through to the end, it has a strong pulse and infectious melodies.

I used to dislike the Eighth. It didn't sound Beethoven-y enough for me; its brilliant, pleasing sounds seem a little more in the Mozart/Haydn spectrum. Well, I wasn't alone. The story goes that a contemporary asked Beethoven why the Seventh was so much more popular than the Eighth. Beethoven's typically contrarian response: "Because the Eighth is so much better."

1 comment:

Boo said...

For too long I have let the classical yen slide by the wayside. Though you did spur me on to get some going while doing the housework.

I went to my old favorite had to spell Tchaikovsky though.

I don't put enough effort into listening to be able to rate anything. And that goes for all genres. I just go with the feeling.

It's hard one to convince kids about unless they have the chance to listen, that this music is as powerful in its effect as any and more.

Thank you for reminding me. it's in the pod now!