Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony

March 28, 2009 by · Comments Off on Beethoven’s Tenth Symphony
Filed under: Arts 


johannesbrahms-231x300Johannes Brahms (May 7, 1833 – April 3, 1897) , composer and pianist, was typically regarded as one of the leading musicians of the Romantic period. He is sometimes grouped with Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven as one of the Three Bs.  Moreover he is considered the successor of the latter.  In fact some have insulted him by calling his Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op. 68, as “Beethoven’s 10th.”  Of course if someone suggested Beethoven’s First as Mozart’s 42nd he will find himself tied at a stake of fresh pine with a little bonfire starting underneath.

It is undeniable that Brahms was influenced by Beethoven.  But who has not been influenced by predecessors especially when they are successful?  But considering his First as mere follow up work is not only insulting but insane.  Brahms  produced what this humble listener considers the best piece of music ever written.  We had to wait for the next generation of composers and the next century from what was then the Russian Empire or the abandonment of tonality to produce something worth keeping in the same play list with it.   But so far nothing in this genre has been produced to follow the fourth movement.

Lets first deal with the concept of romanticism.  From perspective of the period when he lived  in, of course Brahms was the ultimate romantic.  This movement is typically considered between 1815 and 1910, very different from the other art forms romantic periods.  Our friend, Johannes worked smack in the middle of that period. In music, romanticism does not refer to the common definition that some truth can be obtain by emotions, not only from axioms. Romantic music referred more to its ability to infuse passion throughout the composition by not preparing the listener to what comes next, but rather explode in a combination of themes.  The innovation was in the use of range, maybe even the abuse of certain instruments, and transitions within themes and movements while maintaining a unity in the composition.   Music became narrative as opposed to chromatic, like in the classic period. Tonality and harmony became its preferred language.

When you listen to the First you get it much more than with any other piece.  How the first movement builds the theme,  introduces the characters, and sets the stage for the main plot.  The second movements presents the conflict.  Some characters are not seen anymore and the mood goes on.  The third keeps building suspense and goes quickly maintaining its link to the other two.brahms_karajan  And then comes the magnificent fourth.  The violins break the monotony and make you jump to the edge of the seat. The suspense grows, and grows.  The characters from the first movement come back and kill the ones from the second and third.  But nothing can prepare you for the finale, besides I don’t want to spoil it.

Columbia University has a fantastic free recording available here right, listed right after Beethoven’s Seventh for nothing else than alphabetical reasons.  My personal favorite is Karajan’s interpretation with the Berlin PO as part of the 4 Symphony collection (ASN: B000007ODY).

I like to think of Beethoven’s Ninth as Brahms’ Zeroth, but then again why will that be any more flattering to either one of them.