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Harnoncourt’s final recording

January 12, 2016 by norman lebrecht

11 comments.


Sony are rush-releasing Beethoven’s 4th and 5th symphonies with the Concentus Musicus as ‘the last recording made by the great conductor,’ who announced his retirement in December 2015.

In the booklet note, Harnoncourt declares that Beethoven’s Symphony No.5 has been completely misunderstood.   He believes it has nothing to do with destiny, but tells the story of “the revolt of the masses”. He understands this symphony as Beethoven’s greatest political statement.

harnoncourt portrait


Comments (11)

  1. Eddie Mars says:

    Now there’s something I’ll be pre-ordering for certain.

    I only hope that their rush to issue the recording involves no worsening news of Harnoncourt’s health?

    I would be fascinated to read Harnoncourt’s sleevenotes about his interpretation of these two symphonies.

    1. jaypee says:

      I attended one of the two concerts that were recorded for this new release and I can assure that you won’t be disappointed.

      I still haven’t recovered from the announcement of his retirement… ; )
      Next Sunday, concert version of Fidelio at the Theater an der Wien with the Concentus musicus but without Harnoncourt…

      1. Eddie Mars says:

        Thanks, Jaypee! I shall certainly be looking forward to these recordings now! 🙂

        1. Paul C says:

          I ordered on Amazon many weeks before his retirement (having seen it in upcoming releases months before) and the 5 February release date has not changed. We all have our foibles, and the proprietor’s keen interest in death and suffering can, on occasion, get the better of him.

  2. Cubs Fan says:

    I’ll get this for sure. After his beautiful reading Franz Schmidt’s Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln, I had hoped we’d get a recording of the 4th Symphony from Harnoncourt. Alas…

  3. Pedro says:

    I hope that this recording will be better than tne previous one. For the time being, IMO, nobody has been able to beat Karajan and Kleiber in both works.

    1. Brian B says:

      I owned the previous Harnoncourt cycle on Teldec of the mighty Nine and wound up giving it away. It just couldn’t stand up to other finer cycles.

  4. Sixtus says:

    There’s a video featuring Harnoncourt rehearsing in English the 5th with the Simon Bolivar Youth orchestra (with the Dude himself translating into Spanish when necessary) where NH goes into his political interpretation of the symphony. I manged to see it on YouTube before it disappeared behind the Medici.tv paywall, where subscribers can still view it. But even the excerpt viewable by non-subscribers is fascinating.

    http://www.medici.tv/#!/school-for-the-ear-simon-bolivar-orchestra-harnoncourt

    I still think NH gets the opening gestures wrong, since I read the (controversially ambiguous) notation as a couple of rhythmically off-balance lurches, the first leaning into the second. Then again, nobody I’ve heard does it this way.

    1. Max Grimm says:

      Here’s a nice 40 minute YouTube video of Harnoncourt preparing the Beethoven symphonies with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe in the early 1990s, with rehearsal footage and commentary by him and some of the players (in English):

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4izV0CBHzQ

    2. Eddie Mars says:

      Frankly I will take my chances with Harnoncourt’s “opening gestures”, Sixtus.

      But do let us know when your own recording comes out! ;))

  5. Yi Peng Li says:

    It’s interesting news to read Harnoncourt’s thoughts on Beethoven and this symphony, even before Sony releases the disc.

    I know that historically informed anything means hurry-sick performances of music from all eras. I know that the hurry-up and rush-hour culture is encroaching into all walks of life and affected music performance as well. As such I know that we shouldn’t abet performers who want to do everything fast, furiously and frenetically and place everyone on the fast track to burnout and ruin. I know that there is mounting evidence to invalidate the grounds for these speeds. However, the paradigm shift efforts of Harnoncourt, Gardiner and their colleagues removed the stodge from this music and made me starry-eyed about this approach to Beethoven.

    On the subject of the Beethoven 5th, I imagine that it can mean many different things at once. Some people think of Fate and victory, others think of the yellowhammer, while still more think of the political call to arms that Harnoncourt (and many others) see in the music.I forgot the German chap who saw connections between Cherubini and the Beethoven 5th. In any case, I’m keen to see how Harnoncourt’s retake measures up to Gardine and the ORR, since both men are acting on this connection.

    I know that Beethoven’s music is a matter with no definite answers. Even so, I can’t help thinking that the Fifth is an inherently violent music. I’m sure that this Harnoncourt recording might confirm this fact.


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