Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Barenboim on Beethoven: A Review of Six Videotapes

Academic journal article The Beethoven Newsletter

Barenboim on Beethoven: A Review of Six Videotapes

Article excerpt

Barenboim on Beethoven is one of five video cassette series on musical subjects offered for rent or purchase by Films for the Humanities, Inc. of Princeton, NJ. It is the largest of their music series, with thirteen titles, though not the longest in duration. Each volume has a running time of about twenty-eight minutes, except the final tape on the Fifth Symphony, which is fifty-six minutes long. At more than six hours total duration, this must be the most extensive exploration available on videotape of any single composer's music. The Beethoven tapes may be purchased separately in VHS or Beta format for $149 each, or in U-matic for $199; if the entire set is purchased, there is a $200 discount.

A list of the volumes in the Beethoven set follows (the six volumes marked with an asterisk were graciously donated to the Beethoven Center): *Beethoven the Promethean; Minuet into Scherzo; The Appassionata; The Working Process; *Beethoven and the Sonata Form; The Comprehensive Vision; *Orpheus Taming the Furies; Amid Tears and Sorrow; The Eroica; *The Symphonist; *The Late Works; *The Last Piano Sonata; and The Fifth Symphony. This review is based on first-hand viewing of the six Beethoven Center volumes, supplemented by the company's publicity brochure.

Daniel Barenboim takes on three roles: narrator, pianist, and conductor of the New Philharmonia Orchestra of London. He is assisted by Sir Adrian Boult, who accompanies Barenboim (using a baton at least as large as the one he is pictured with in the New Grove) in the Fourth Fortepiano Concerto. Barenboim's wife, Jacqueline Du Pré, joins him in Amid Tears and Sorrow, a presentation on the Cello Sonata in A Major, Opus 69. The brochure states that this performance was taped shortly before Du Pré became disabled by multiple sclerosis. Obviously, then, the tapes were made in the early 1970s, though they were only copyrighted for release in the United States in 1987.

The atmosphere of the performances is informal, as at a rehearsal; they are set against neutral backdrops, with the players dressed in casual attire (Barenhoim in turtleneck). During his commentary, Barenboim is usually seated at the piano, and the camera focuses on his torso-or more often just on his face. His speaks in a manner that is conversational yet intense.

Each tape follows the same general format: after a brief musical excerpt during the opening credits, Barenboim presents the central ideas for the program, illustrating each point at the keyboard or with the orchestra. About half of the tapes conclude with the performance of a complete movement. Performances of complete works on a single tape are presented in The Appassionata and The Fifth Symphony. A complete work is divided between a pair of tapes twice in the series: the Fourth Fortepiano Concerto appears in The Comprehensive Vision (first movement) and Orpheus Taming the Furies (second and third movements); the two movements of the Fortepiano Sonata, Opus 111, appear in The Late Works and The Last Piano Sonata, respectively.

In the first tape, Beethoven the Promethean, Barenboim introduces Beethoven as a pillar of our culture-indeed, of all civilization. He then focuses on the strength of Beethoven's character and personality as shown in his early large-scale works.

Though he was aware of his impending tragic deafness, which led him to contemplate suicide, Beethoven wrote the "happy" music of the Second Symphony in 1801-02; the recapitulation of the first movement is performed to demonstrate his triumph over personal tragedy and his basically optimistic nature. While he inherited the traditions of Haydn and Mozart, the force of his personality left its mark, even in the Fortepiano Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Opus 2, no. 1, from which Barenboim performs the exposition of the last movement. However, Beethoven was not a radical: he accepted tradition, even if he made the material of this tradition his own. Barenboim makes this point by playing the opening themes of the Beethoven and Mozart fortepiano sonatas and concertos in C Minor, noting that while the themes are similar they are developed and resolved differently by the two composers. …

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