Must-Have New Release: BEETHOVEN. Period.

There are things we enjoy all our lives yet usually take for granted. Things like fresh air, clean water. And there’s something else we may take for granted: Music. While it might not jeopardize our physical health right away if it disappeared, it certainly would affect us emotionally.

Music stirs the emotions greatly and actually can affect the overall state of our health. That is one reason why a new album of Beethoven’s complete music for cello and piano has certainly stirred my emotional juices and added to the overall quality of my days.

BEETHOVEN PeriodI admit that for awhile until recently I had not been paying much attention to Beethoven’s cello sonatas and sets of variations. Granted, I am never unaware of the presence of the recordings of these works we have in the WDAV library. But, recently I feel cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley (host of public radio’s “From the Top” show), who have been touring the country performing Beethoven’s five cello sonatas and the three sets of variations, have taken these masterpieces to a whole new level.

The title of this new double CD set is, BEETHOVEN. Period. Just Beethoven. No elevated pyrotechnics for show-off’s sake. Read between the lines of the album’s title and you will find Matt Haimovitz with his beloved Venetian 1710 Goffriller cello outfitted with ox-gut strings and an early 19th-century rosewood tailpiece, and an equally precious bow from the same period. Christopher O’Riley plays an original 1823 Broadwood fortepiano. These are the types of instruments thoroughly familiar to Beethoven and his musician friends. Whatever inner processes Matt and Chris have developed, they have channeled themselves back to Beethoven and his time to give us a seemingly true sense of the performance sound Beethoven must have heard. Yes, the first two sonatas and the variations sets Beethoven wrote before he went deaf, so I certainly do imagine old Ludwig van hearing these truly authentic performances by Matt and Chris.

The Beethoven Sonatas hold an exalted place in the cello repertoire alongside Bach’s Solo Cello Suites, and these two powerful musicians remind us that we must not take these works for granted. And these remarkable performances will strengthen your overall sense of being. After all, it’s BEETHOVEN. Period.

Hear recent WDAV Performance/Chats by Matt Haimowitz and Christopher O’Riley:

Beethoven 101, Part 4: Missa Solemnis

Soon after the composition of the Emperor Concerto, Beethoven’s production began to decline. Most likely due to his increasing deafness, Beethoven has now passed the prime of his career. He soon became completely deaf, and many reported he even slipped into a slight madness.

Beethoven composed two settings of the Mass, his Mass in C and the Missa Solemnis. The Missa Solemnis was written around the same time as his famous Ninth Symphony and therefore did not garner the same attention following its premiere in 1824. While Beethoven was churning out the Missa Solemnis and his Ninth Symphony, the custody battle for his nephew remained a major challenge for the composer. He struggled financially and emotionally, and yet this is when we see the appearance of some of Beethoven’s greatest works.

The Missa Solemnis maintains a distinct difference compared to many of Beethoven’s previous works. When compared to many of his other works, the Solemnis changes its character throughout the piece. It is a complex mass and apparently Beethoven’s own character changed while he was composing the piece. He supposedly went through a almost religious transformation and would often be heard singing and stamping his feet while working on this piece.

The Missa Solemnis was written for the Archduke’s elevation to Cardinal and then to Archbishop. The work, however, was soon forgotten and today is severely underperformed. While Beethoven composed the work, he utilized his aristocratic connections to win custody of his nephew Karl, but ironically Beethoven himself was not entirely a fit guardian for the child. He spent his later years attempting to teach Karl music. He ultimately failed at this endeavor, and it is widely believed his experiences with Karl influenced his musical style during the final stages of his life.


Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part I: Beethoven’s Life

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

Beethoven 101, Part 3: “Emperor Concerto”

The Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, which is popularly known as “Emperor Concerto,” was Beethoven’s last piano concerto. In the years following the composition of his “Sinfonia Eroica,” Beethoven was challenged by the public and critics concerning his composing abilities. He also slipped deeper into deafness, and he began to retreat from society and become extremely untidy. Nevertheless, Beethoven showed he was still a capable and powerful composer.

Several masterpieces seemed to flow from the pen of Beethoven during the 1810s. His Piano Concerto No. 5, which premiered in 1811, was followed by the 7th and 8th Symphonies, as well as the Les Adieux Piano Sonata. Beethoven’s extreme belief in himself came into play around the time. Through his music, he began to break new ground in the classical music world.

His “Emperor Concerto” became arguably the most performed and beloved of his piano concertos. This popularity was largely due to the advancements of piano technology at about the time the work premiered. When the concerto was performed in Vienna in 1811, Carl Czerny — one of Beethoven’s students — performed on a more advanced piano than what had been used in the past. This allowed for the piece to attract more notice because the new piano allowed Czerny more power of expression. Therefore, the advancement of piano technology, coupled with Beethoven’s brilliance, cemented this piece in legendary status for years to come.

While the name “Emperor Concerto” dates back to Beethoven’s time, most scholars believe that Beethoven himself did not give this concerto that name — an understandable theory, especially given his change of heart after dedicating “Sinfonia Eroica” for Napoleon. Some people believe that the name derived from a comment made by an officer of Napoleon’s, stationed in Vienna and attending the Czerny performance. Supposedly, the man proclaimed it to be “an emperor of a concerto.” Whether or not the story is true, many would agree with that man’s words today.

And now, enjoy Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, an “emperor of a concerto”:

Next week we look at one of Beethoven’s last compositions, the Missa Solemnis, and the end of the composer’s life in the final installment of our four part series on Ludwig van Beethoven.


Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part I: Beethoven’s Life

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

Beethoven 101, Part 2 of 4: “Sinfonia Eroica”

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, also known as the Eroica, is a four-movement work that represents Beethoven’s influence on both the Romantic and Classical eras of music. The Eroica developed during a period in Beethoven’s life that came after the Heiligenstadt Testament. This testament detailed his contemplations of suicide due to his increasing deafness and physical illness and his decision to continue living only to continue creating music.

The years following the 1802 composition of his Testament were full of increased creativity and productivity for Beethoven. He composed several pieces along with the Eroica at this time, including the Moonlight Sonata and his Third Piano Concerto. Beethoven intended for the symphony to serve as a dedication to the Frenchman Napoleon Bonaparte, who — at the time — Beethoven viewed as the epitome of humanism. When Napoleon appointed himself Emperor of France, however, Beethoven furiously erased his dedication to the man and replaced it with “Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.” The Eroica was meant to be a testament to the humanist movement and ideals that it represented, but in the end, was a rejection of all Napoleon was as an Emperor.

The Eroica is a rigorous piece and one that was written with great emotional depth. This symphony highlights Beethoven’s development of the Heroic style. The influence of Bonaparte, the French Revolution, and the German enlightenment were dominant figures in influencing the composer during this period. The Eroica is a milestone in the development of this style which is characterized by driving rhythms and dynamic changes throughout the piece. Through this piece we see the dramatic depth and deep orchestration that will come to characterize Beethoven’s break with earlier periods of Western Music.

Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part I: Beethoven’s Life

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

Beethoven 101, Part 1 of 4

Ludwig van Beethoven represented the bridge between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western classical music, but many might not know how his  life and experiences influenced his compositions.

The German composer was born in Bonn in 1770. His father served as his first music teacher and — as legend has it — he was a very strict teacher. Johann van Beethoven supposedly forced his children to stand at the piano even if they cried in protest. This is, many believe, merely legend, but nevertheless Beethoven’s musical talent became obvious during his lessons. He would perform his first public performance at the age of seven, and soon Beethoven was performing regularly as his family depended on the money he was awarded by local aristocrats.

Beethoven's house of birth in Bonn, Germany. It now serves as the Beethoven House Museum.

Beethoven’s house of birth in Bonn, Germany. It now serves as the Beethoven House Museum.

As a young man, Beethoven became widely known as Mozart’s successor. Beethoven knew this, and he began to study Mozart’s work intensely and composed works with the great composer as his influence. Beethoven soon left Bonn for Vienna amid fears of war spreading from France in late 1792. Once in Vienna, he steadily established his career as a performer and composer. He became known for his improvisations while playing in the homes of the Austrian nobility and was celebrated as a piano virtuoso.

By the age of 26, Beethoven’s deafness became an ever-problematic aspect of the composer’s life.  He did not completely lose his hearing until later, and he acknowledged his condition in the infamous “Heiligenstadt Testament.” This letter, addressed to his brothers, recorded his thoughts of suicide due to his escalating deafness. He wrote, however, that he would continue his life for the sole purpose of his music.

The end of Beethoven’s life became a struggle not only because of his increasing deafness as he began to decline in several ways. His health was deteriorating, his brother Carl became ill and passed away, and finally his struggle to gain custody of his brother’s son became a large emotional and monetary investment. Beethoven considered his brother’s wife, Johanna, an unfit guardian and pursued custody of the child. This battle dragged on and took financial and emotional tolls on the composer for most of the later stages of his life until his death. Beethoven’s life provides a glimpse into the emotion and passion behind his musical compositions.

Beethoven 101: Explore the Series

Beethoven 101, Part II: Sinfonia Eroica

Beethoven 101, Part III: Emperor Concerto

Beethoven 101, Part IV: Missa Solemnis

World Cup of Classical Music: Germany vs. Argentina

Celebrate the World Cup winners – as well as the second-place team – with a little Classical 101, Germany and Argentina editions.

Classical 101: Germany

German classical music and German classical musicians have played a major role in the development of the genre, with a significant contribution to orchestral works and operas. Mozart’s Die Zauberföte, for example, remains among the most beloved operas, and Beethoven’s symphonies are considered prime examples of the Romantic era. Robert Schumann is also credited with the creation of lied, a mixture of romantic poetry and music.

In honor of yesterday’s victory, get to know the biggest composers from this World Cup-winning country:

Johann Sebastian Bach

J.S. Bach

Born in 1685 in Eisenach, Johann Sebastian Bach was a Baroque composer who Beethoven described as “the original father of harmony.” Although he was not recognized as a great composer during his lifetime, Bach’s fame developed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. He is famed for his more than 300 cantatas (of which close to 100 have been lost) as well as his music’s intellectual depth and beauty. An example of this can be heard in his Christ lag in Todesbanden.

Ludwig van Beethoven


Born in 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven is perhaps the most famous German composer of all time. Despite his hearing loss during the later stages of his life, he became a crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic musical periods, and  remains one of the most influential of all composers. One of Beethoven’s most famous works in his Symphony No. 9.

Robert Schumann


Robert Schumann was born in 1810 and brought forth a new type of music called lied. After a hand injury ended his dreams of becoming Europe’s finest pianist, Schumann turned his energies to composition and is now recognized as one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era. Listen to his Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 54 to hear the composer’s prowess.



Richard Wagner was born in 1813 in Leipzig and is known for his operatic works. His compositions are known for their complex textures and rich harmonies. Arguably his most famous work is his Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). It’s famous “Ride of the Valkyries” can be heard below:



And to honor the second-place winner in the 2014 World Cup…

Classical 101: Argentina

Argentina’s contribution to classical music does not match that of Germany’s, but this should not detract from their legacy. Argentinians have contributed widely to many forms of classical music. Opera must be considered one of the main areas of classical composition. The Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires is considered one of the best opera houses in the world and represents the counties dedication to the art form. The country is less known for producing romantic and conservative compositions such as orchestral and piano works.

Alberto Williams


Alberto Williams, born in 1865 in Buenos Aires, is known as a pianist, conductor, and a pedagogue. While he was in Paris as a young man, Williams took lessons in composition from César Franck, who supposedly became fond of Williams. He is known for his orchestral works with his Symphony No. 2 in C Minor being one of the most popular.

Carlos Guastavino


Carlos Guastavino was born in 1912 in Santa Fe Province and is considered one of the most prominent Argentine composers of the twentieth century. He generated 500 compositions throughout his life and many were based on Argentine folk songs. He is sometimes referred to as the “Schubert of the Pamapas” and his songs Pueblito, mi pueblo, la rosa y el sauce (“The Rose and the Willow”) and Se eqivovó la paloma(“The Dove was Wrong”) have now become national favorites.

Alberto Ginastera


Born in 1916 in Buenos Aires, Alberto Ginastera became a peer of Guastavino and established himself as another of Argentina’s great twentieth century composers. He is famously known for his composition of the opera Don Rodrigo, but is also known for his orchestral works.


200th Anniversary of Beethoven’s 8th

On February 27, 1814, Beethoven premiered his Eighth Symphony – or, as he called it, “my little Symphony in F” – in Vienna. Now WDAV celebrates the “little Symphony” on the 200th anniversary of its debut.

Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony is much lighter than his Seventh was or his Ninth would be. It’s an odd distinction, considering this cheerful symphony was written during a difficult period in his life when his health faltered and a romantic relationship ended. Accentuating the contrasting styles of his works, the Vienna premiere of Beethoven’s Eighth actually began with a performance of his Seventh, leading the audience to create a direct comparison. Their response? Much of the public preferred the more serious predecessor. Explaining the cause of the relative unpopularity of his new work, Beethoven supposedly said of his Eighth Symphony, “That’s because it is so much better.”

On February 27 at 2:00 p.m., tune into WDAV to hear host Matt Rogers play Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony in honor of the 200th anniversary of its premiere.

Learn more: Notes on Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony (NPR)