There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit.
Jad starts out talking with Alan Pierson, Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, about the fact that neither of them really like Beethoven’s Fifth. It feels, they say, heavy and ponderous. But then Alan tells Jad a story: Late in life, Beethoven got his hands on a metronome, went back into his symphonies, and marked them with tempos that are shockingly fast — so fast, in fact, that most conductors simply refuse to play them as marked. To investigate, we gather up a quartet of musicians to give us a feel for Beethoven’s speedy beats, and we talk to composer and author Matthew Guerrieri about the way fast tempos push us and unsettle us. But is that really what Beethoven was going for? WQXR host Terrance McKnight says given his background and personality, Beethoven clearly didn’t want his music to be easy and comfortable. So, as an homage to our new found vision of Ludwig van B., we ask Alan and his players to take the Fifth to a whole new level.Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola.
One blizzardy February afternoon, Jad and a handful of Radiolabbers headed to midtown Manhattan to meet a fleet-fingered string quartet.
The plan was to play snippets of Beethoven’s Third and Fifth symphonies at the surprisingly fast tempos Beethoven marked on his scores (listen to Speedy Beet for more). But Alan Pierson and some brave Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians were game to see Beethoven’s markings, and raise ’em.And we’ve got the camera phone footage to prove it.