The Beethoven Symphonies

How they may have been performed in Beethoven’s day.

When playing the Beethoven symphonies I have often been asked, and I’m sure many of my colleagues out there have also been asked by conductors for much more sound. But not all the great conductors were like that.  I remember some elegant performances by Furtwangler, de Sabata and Bruno Walter.

I have often performed them with a small orchestra consisting of instruments of a type that were used in Beethoven’s day and the sound was completely different as was to be expected.  There was not the blaring brass and screechy string sound that some orchestras make today. But there were drawbacks. For instance in the trio of the “Eroica” Symphony very often the old style horns fluffed it.

It is interesting to note that when Sir George Smart met Beethoven in Vienna in 1825 that four celli and two basses only played the recitatives in the Ninth Symphony, which, said Sir George, is certainly better than if one takes all the basses.

However, Schindler states that Beethoven required all the basses to play the recitatives in a singing style, not stiffly, but in strict time, not dragged.

According to my research there were mostly only four basses in Beethoven’s orchestra (in which the basses were sometimes led by Domenico Dragonetti) playing on gut strings and some with only 3-stringed instruments, so it must have been a completely different sound than we hear today when up to ten basses are used, all with metal strings

Professor Meyer’s Guide to Taking Up the Double Bass: Things you won’t learn from Simandl. Part 1, Introduction.

My first advice to anyone wishing to take up the double bass is the same as Mr. Punch’s advice to those about to get married: Don’t!  But there are reservations.

First, I was happily married to my late wife for over fifty years.  Second, if you do decide to do it, make it a wholehearted attempt.  The bass is one of the most difficult instruments, so recognize that it will be a challenge, and then, even if people tell you that music is a precarious profession, but you are still eager and anxious to make it a career then go for it full steam. I was always warned never to be a musician, but I disregarded all well meaning advice and did very well

There are many things you will have to think about; tuition, an instrument, finance and eventually job hunting and auditioning etc. so I propose to write a few posts giving you the benefit of my 70 years on the bass, and if you budding young bass players seem to want my advice then I shall continue.

Published in: on March 23, 2008 at 5:26 pm  Leave a Comment  
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