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Simon Rattles Beethoven
Sir Simon Rattle Sir Simon Rattle brings PT listeners on an exclusive travelogue through his remarkable EMI set of live recordings with the Vienna Philharmonic of all nine of the Symphonies by Beethoven.

Beethoven Contest Winners!

Beethoven News! April 17
Last year, a single sheet of the earliest known draft of Beethoven's Ninth sold for nearly $2 million (£1.3 million). The manuscript has been dated to 1818.

On May 22, Sotheby's will auction off Beethoven's working manuscript of the full score of his Ninth Symphony -- 575 pages in three volumes. It is in the hands of two copyists, although Beethoven's corrections and revisions are apparent throughout. (At one point, he writes a note to a copyist: "du verfluchter Kerl!", 'you damned fool!') Estimates put the sale price in the range of 3 to 4.5 million dollars. Although if a single page went for almost $2 million, who knows?

For more information:
  • The Guarduian story on the Beethoven draft
  • Grammophone Web site story
  • Reuters Asia story

    Working from the new Bärenreiter Urtext Edition of the Beethoven Symphonies published between 1996 and 2000, Rattle conducted the Vienna Philharmonic in live concerts between April 29 and May 17, 2002, in the orchestra's historic home: the Musikverein in Vienna. These editions are based on Beethoven's own corrections from manuscripts thought lost in 1862.

    Sir Simon is Fred Child's guest, April 7 - 18, 2003, sharing his insights and some illuminating behind-the-scenes stories on one of the most highly-anticipated recordings of the year. Why did Rattle decide to take on this monumental project? Find out the reason in his commentary below.

    Sir Simon Rattle
    Symphony No. 1 in C, Op. 21
    Composed: [1795-6, 1797] 1799-1800
    First public performance: April 2, 1800, Vienna
    Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
    Listen to Rattle's commentary

    Listen to Mvt 1. Adagio molto - Allegro con brio

    The Symphony No. 1 reveals a young 29-year-old Beethoven at the height of his powers. The carefree work contradicts the stereotypical idea of Beethoven as a brooding man of iron will who endured a painful struggle with his own fate. Rattle reminds us that Beethoven's complex character included a boisterous humour and subversive wit, as well.


    Ludwig van Beethoven
    Symphony No. 2 in D, Op. 36
    Composed: 1800-02
    First public performance: April 5, 1803, Vienna
    Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
    Beethoven portrait (detail) by Christian Horneman, 1803, Beethoven-Haus Bonn

    Listen to Rattle's commentary

    Listen to Mvt 2. Larghetto

    The Second Symphony in no way reflects Beethoven's torment over his growing deafness, as he divulged in his Heiligenstadt Testament of 1802. On the contrary, we again hear Beethoven's humour and wit in his use of sudden dynamic contrasts and his love of contrasting light and shade, a characteristic inherited from his mentor Haydn. However, Sir Simon points out that Haydn must have been disturbed by Beethoven's growing musical canvas of dissonances, the distant regions to which the harmonies travelled, and the "almost erotic atmosphere" of the second movement. Rattle explains, "There's a kind of beautiful ugliness about it."


    Ludwig van Beethoven
    Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55 'Eroica'
    Composed: 1803
    First pulic performance: April 7, 1805, Vienna
    Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
    Beethoven protrait (detail) by Joseph Willibrord Mähler, 1804-1805, Historisches Museum, Vienna

    Listen to Rattle's commentary

    Listen to Mvt 2. Marcia funebre (Adagio assai)

    But what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing... Such incidents drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life - it was only my art that held me back.
            -- from Beethoven's "Heiligenstadt Testament"


    Indeed, Beethoven's response to his tragic fate and his one-time desire for suicide was his 'Heroic' Symphony, music on a different scale than had ever been written. With Beethoven as the central figure of the work, Rattle suggests that the second movement is a "funeral march for all his hopes of how his life would be." But, after the first two vast movements of struggle and pain, the symphony becomes lighter and returns to joy, wit and humour. The fact that the final movement's theme comes from Beethoven's ballet music for The Creatures of Prometheus is not a coincidence.


    Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, Op. 60
    Composed: 1806
    First performance: March 1807, Vienna (privately for Prince Franz von Lobkowitz)
    Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
    Beethoven portrait (detail) by Isidor Neugass, 1806, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

    Listen to Rattle's commentary

    Listen to Mvt 3. Allegro vivace - Un poco meno allegro

    Robert Schumann has called it "a slender Grecian maiden between two Norse gods." The Fourth Symphony is almost a relief after the vast struggle of the 'Eroica' Symphony, and has been overshadowed by the subsequent fateful Fifth. While the Fourth may not be as overtly groundbreaking and profound as the Third, and does pay tribute to the Classicism of "Papa Haydn," it still manages to be an immensely forward looking symphony. Sir Simon describes it as "Haydn on steroids."


    Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67
    Composed: 1804, 1806-8
    First public performance: December 22, 1808, Vienna

    Orchestra: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, strings

    Listen to Rattle's commentary

    Listen to Mvt 1. Allegro con brio

    If all the musicians in the world played this piece simultaneously, the planet would go off its axis. -- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (attr. Mendelssohn)

    Never before had there been a piece of music with no melody, but only relentless motives and complex, driving rhythms, until the unforgettable first movement, and arguably the most famous four notes in all of music, of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. From the "single-minded angriness" of the opening movement, to the "music of liberation" in the final movement, Sir Simon considers the entire work as a journey from darkness to light.


    Ludwig van Beethoven
    Symphony No. 6 in F, Op. 68 'Pastoral'
    Composed: [1803-4], 1808
    First public performance: December 22, 1808, Vienna
    Orchestra: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani, strings
    Beethoven portrait (detail) by Johann Christoph Heckel, 1815, Library of Congress, Washington, DC

    Listen to Rattle's commentary

    Listen to Mvt 5. Allegretto (Shepherds' song. Beneficent feelings with thanks to the Godhead after the Storm)

    Sir Simon believes that the "Pastoral" Symphony is Beethoven's most spiritual work. While the symphony overtly paints a picture of the Vienna countryside that Beethoven wandered, it is also a psychological document "profoundly populated with the human race." According to Rattle, a characterstic Beethoven statement is that "everything that is good comes from within people and from the honesty and purity of people."

    Ludwig van Beethoven
    Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92
    Composed: 1811-12
    First public performance: December 8, 1813, Vienna
    Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
    Beethoven portrait (detail) by August von Kloeber, 1818, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

    Listen to Rattle's commentary

    Listen to Mvt 2. Allegretto


    Ludwig van Beethoven
    Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
    Composed: 1812
    First public performance: February 27, 1814, Vienna
    Orchestra: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, strings
    Beethoven portrait (detail) by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820, Beethoven-Haus, Bonn

    Listen to Rattle's commentary

    Listen to Mvt. 2. Allegretto scherzando


    Beethoven's sketch of the 'Ode to Joy' (detail)
    Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 'Choral'
    Composed: [1815, 1817] 1822-4
    First public performance: May 7, 1824, Vienna
    Orchestra: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, percussion, strings, soloists, chorus

  • The Vienna Philharmonic Web site

  • Sir Simon Rattle biography on the Berlin Philharmonic Web site

  • EMI Classics Web site

  • Beethoven Resources: his life and music

  • Beethoven's "Heiligenstadt Testament"

  • More on Beethoven