Monday, August 6, 2012

Music Monday: Beethoven's Choral Fantasy

Each Monday, I share a piece of music I really enjoy. This week, it's Beethoven's Choral Fantasy.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Fantasy in C minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra (1808)

I really like the story behind this one. Beethoven was organizing a concert that included his fifth and sixth symphonies, his fourth piano concerto, and parts of his Mass in C major. To end the concert, he wanted something that would bring all of these different musicians together, and composed this piece specifically for the occasion.

It should have been a remarkable end to the evening. Beethoven played the piano part, improvising the introduction. The piece itself is a joyful celebration, perfectly suited as a finale. Unfortunately, due in part to hasty composition and lack of preparation, the performance was a disaster. Luckily for modern listeners, the work overcame its troubled beginnings.

Not only an enjoyable piece on its own, this one is somewhat of a precursor to the famous Ninth Symphony, which came about fifteen years later. Beethoven himself described the Ninth as "in the style of my fantasia for piano with chorus but on a far grander scale." Not only does the Choral Fantasy introduce the idea of bringing in a choir for the climax of a symphonic piece, but the text has a similar, idealistic message, and the melody even resembles that of the "Ode to Joy."

As groundbreaking a work as the Ninth is, I honestly prefer this one. For one thing, it's a lot shorter; I feel like I can listen to it and take in the whole thing and actually appreciate it easier than I can the Ninth. Also, this one has a concerto feel, with the play between the piano and the orchestra, and while I'm not familiar with nearly as many concertos as symphonies, I do really enjoy that style. (In fact, as I am trying to broaden my musical awareness, listening to more concertos is high on the list.)

The video and audio are a little off in this clip. It's so slight that I kept going back and forth with myself, trying to figure out if it really was off, or if my mind was just playing tricks on me . . . which I have to say is worse than having a blatant discrepancy. But once you know that you're not going crazy, it's worth watching because the pianist is also the conductor, so to see how he balances those two responsibilities is interesting. Also of note, the pianist/conductor is Daniel Barenboim, whom everyone I had high school choir with knows as the (former) conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

The piece is twenty minutes long. Worth pointing out are the first four minutes (the solo piano introduction) and the last four minutes (when the choir joins in). I'll also say that from about 9:00 to about 10:45 is one of my favorite sections of piano/orchestra interaction. But, as always, the whole thing is worth listening to if you have the time.

Thanks for reading my latest Music Monday, my little way of sharing something I'm passionate about while introducing you to music you may be unfamiliar with. Let me know if you've enjoyed it, and let me know if there's something out there you think I should listen to.

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