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The Beethoven Symphonies as Chamber Music???
Great works of art, such as Beethoven's monumental symphonies, are always a timely topic for discussion. Even today, more than 175 years after the completion of the 9th Symphony, the subject of period instruments vs. the modern orchestra in the interpretation of Beethoven's symphonies never fails to inspire a lively debate: Is the smaller sound of the older instruments more true to Beethoven than the more robust sound of today's big orchestras? And it probably will never be resolved for as long as there are technologies to re-shape the sound of music, and ardent partisan music lovers to keep the question alive.

The comparison of period vs. modern with regard to the orchestral interpretations of the symphonies has been around for some time, but who among us have ever imagined Beethoven's Symphonies as chamber music??? To the modern ear a sacrilege, but as it turns out, it was common practice in Beethoven's times. Then, transcriptions of popular music (song hits, if you will) were regarded with unfettered laxity. Thus, the downsizing of Beethoven's venerable symphonies to the less sonorous dimensions of chamber music was not in the least bit a problem, much less a sacrilege. It actually had its merits - as a way of introducing the then budding middle class to symphonic music, which could be heard in the original form only on rare occasions as the only professional orchestra at the time was the theater orchestra. (As seen below, Beethoven himself engaged in transcribing his own symphonies.) Not surprisingly, the transcriptions became an item of commerce, bringing good business especially to the music publishers who were not bound, as their counterparts are today, to pay royalties to the creators of the original works. Thus it is no small wonder that musical transcribers of the time, regardless of reputation, considered transcriptions of symphonies by such an eminent composer as Beethoven as "objects of desire."

As it also turns out, transcriptions of the symphonies have survived, but not even the better ones among them have escaped neglect through the years. Not anymore. The European Society for Arts and Culture, believing this to be a sorry omission, has seen to it that the best transcriptions get their fair hearing in today's concert halls. The Society, with the support of the Vienna Beethoven Society, has organized a series of concerts in which Beethoven's nine symphonies are performed by chamber music ensembles, to be held at the Eroica-Saal in Vienna's Palais Lobkowitz at 7:00 pm on the following dates (go to MusicPlanner for more details):


6 March No. 4 & 6 arr. by J.N. Hummel for flute, violin, cello, and piano

An eccentric personality, Beethoven kept the cartoonists of his time busy. The caricature above is by Lyse - showing Beethoven plodding through the streets of Vienna, and perhaps contemplating the movements of a symphony or the merits of a transcription thereof?
3 April No. 2 arr. by L. v. Beethoven for piano, violin and cello; No. 3 arr. by Ferdinand Ries for piano violin, viola and cello
8 May No. 5 arr. by C. F. Ebers for String Quintet; No. 7 - anonymous arrangement for String Quartet

*String Quartet in B minor, Fragment: Austrian premiere
29 May No. 1 - anonymous arrangement for flute and piano; No. 8 - anonymous arrangement for piano (4 hands) and flute
19 June No. 9 arr. by J.N. Hummel for flute, violin, cello and piano.

Each concert promises to be a most interesting event. Whether or not the transcriptions become staples of the modern chamber music repertory is anyone's guess. But one can almost be sure that before the whole series is over, a whole new debate surrounding Beethoven's Symphonies will have begun.

* The original manuscript, which contains 23 bars for String Quartet, remained unnoticed in the Ford family album and became known when it was auctioned at Sotheby's (London) on Dec 8, 1999. It will receive its first public performance on March 21, 2001 in Bonn, Beethoven's birthplace.

-JB/FanFaire 2001, from materials provided by Mag. Heinz Prammer, President - European Society of Arts and Culture (Europäischen Kunst und Kulturvereinigung)





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