Will this be the fastest Beethoven Ninth on record?

Will this be the fastest Beethoven Ninth on record?


norman lebrecht

April 12, 2018

The Boston conductor Benjamin Zander thinks everyone else conducts it too slow.

So he has recorded the symphonic Matterhorn with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Chorus for release in July. He will furnish it with a discussion disc running 160 minutes, which will make the symphony seem very short indeed.

Here are his thoughts on the subject:


There are indeed many recordings nowadays that claim to have followed Beethoven’s intentions in the matter of tempo, but none does so completely. Not even close! However, it is not only matters of tempo that are addressed in this recording.

*   In the slow movement there is fanfare (bar 121) with horns and trumpets doing everything required of a fanfare.  The bassoons and the basses provide the bass:

Bb to Eb, Eb to Bb and back to Eb, till in bar 122, at the end of the phrase, it goes to F.  But Beethoven had a problem.  He only had two drums – at this moment tuned to Bb and F.

So, of course, he couldn’t use the drums, though it is a moment that cries out for trumpets AND drums.  On our recording we have simply provided the notes that Beethoven didn’t have at his disposal, so that the passage makes sense!

The way the part is written, leaving out the timpani until it goes to the F, could not possibly be what Beethoven wanted. The fact that he includes the drums for just one brief moment proves he wanted the timpani to be part of the fanfare. It’s just that, for practical reasons, he couldn’t have what he wanted! We have provided him with the solution and he is posthumously delighted.   How can you have a military fanfare without the drums? I can see him shouting at conductors from his lofty perch “Du Esel! Put in the bloody timpani notes!”

Once pedal timpani were introduced, he would have assumed that the timpanist would have added those notes without thinking, but none of them do. We are urged to be purists and to respect Holy Writ, however nonsensical.  I imagine that Beethoven must have been screaming at conductors for nearly two hundred years about all sorts of things, but so few have heeded him.  Even Toscanini and Karajan, who don’t hesitate to retouch Beethoven in other places, (Karajan performs the Ninth with 8 horns, when 4 are enough to do the job), don’t make this obvious change.

So, now let’s go back to the tempo issue at this particular moment.  Since no one takes Beethoven literally when it comes to the tempo of the 12/8 section of the slow movement  – and I mean no one!  the fanfare usually sounds nothing like the bracing event bristling with energy and majestic impatience, that Beethoven intended: (at 39.38).


It can only be effectively rendered if the timpani plays throughout and Beethoven’s tempo is observed.

Compare with BZ Fanfare.

There are many other passages in the score which have been “restored” in this way. Flute and bassoon notes that could not be rendered accurately on instruments of his day are allowed to take their natural shape, avoiding awkward and uncharacteristic leaps (i.e. forced errors). Probably only devoted amateurs and professional musicians will notice these changes, but they are significant and satisfying nonetheless.

While we are on the subject of Beethoven’s tempos, here is a link to a coaching session with a string quartet on the first movement of op 95. I think it demonstrates more clearly than any arguments can, what Beethoven’s tempi do to us. I urge anyone who wants to understand the very raison d’être of this approach to watch this encounter. https://www.benjaminzander.org/videos/interpretation-beethoven-string-quartet-no-11-op-95-serioso-mvt-1/

Look at the body language – of the players and the audience.  It’s as if a shot of electricity has coursed through their bodies. The initial tempo at which the quartet starts is fine, normal, acceptable, even quite exciting, but NOTHING COMPARED TO WHAT BEETHOVEN WANTED.

It’s as if Beethoven has sent us a letter telling us to PLEASE pay attention.  As in a treasure hunt, you have to follow ALL the clues

*  Near the end of the Finale there is passage of staggering grandeur that has, we believe, never been correctly rendered.

The Maestoso passage at 916 has 32nd notes in the strings which become transformed in to 8th notes in the next section. If it is performed correctly, the chorus sings the words Götterfunken twice EXACTLY the same: “Götterfunken, Götterfunken”. But you can hunt far and wide and not find one rendition of this passage performed the way Beethoven intended.  There is a simple reason: the Maestoso is invariably played well under Beethoven’s tempo, therefore making a correct connection with the following section impossible. (There is a mash-up on YouTube of Furtwängler from 11 different recordings of this passage. On every one of them he makes the same error, causing confusion for the singers and the listener).  Beethoven would have undoubtedly been furious with this kind of carelessness with the rhythm of his music.

*   An equally striking mistake is regularly perpetrated at the join between the Scherzo and the Trio.  This requires an acceptance that Beethoven knew what he was doing and meant what he intended, though his intention has been universally ignored on the grounds that it is unplayable.

All of this is thoroughly explained on the Discussion Disc. Without going into the explanation in detail, let me say that when musicians hear Beethoven’s idea realized as it is on the recording, they experience a profound shock.

The only way of “dealing” with it is to rethink the Trio as if it were a new piece.  There is nowhere else they can go to fully appreciate Beethoven’s utter genius.  Even those who will resist what they hear or reject it as “impossible” or less beautiful that what they are used to, have an opportunity to hear Beethoven’s intention for the first time, realized by a great orchestra.

*  One of the most startling experiences afforded by this recording is the moment at which the Chorus reaches the grand climax with the threefold statement of the words “zu Gott,” arriving at the thrilling F major chord (notice that the timpani has dropped to the obviously intended but unavailable F). It is clear in the score in the London Library that was used by Sir George Smart at the London premiere that Beethoven changed his mind adding a diminuendo, causing a totally different experience of one of the most iconic moments in the western canon.

Once heard, it can never be forgotten. It provides a perfect transition to the opening of the next section, where the tenor soloist expresses awed amazement at the glory of the firmament above – delivered piano (surely for the first time in any performance and at the Allegro vivace tempo (MM = 84) that Beethoven intended).  The contrast with the banal shouted exhortation to battle which has become the norm could not be more striking, for those familiar with the traditional performance.

*  The treatment of the problematic Finale recitatives is as obedient as possible to the very detailed markings, with results very different from the traditional exaggerations; the blended sonority of just six players allows subtle expression rather than verging on the comic, and matches perfectly the similar later entry of the Baritone.

There are many other things that can be heard in this performance that cannot be heard anywhere else.  It is also true to say that there is no other recording that gathers ALL the instructions that Beethoven left us in one single performance.

That is why it has been considered necessary to provide a double Discussion Disc – a total of 160 minutes – to explain and justify all these decisions. The aim is not to be different for the sake of being different, but rather to present as faithfully as possible Beethoven’s intentions and to explain how some of the discrepancies arose. Some of these elements are controversial, such as the use of a piano to bolster the bass line, as we know was done in the first performance. Some are somewhat fanciful, as when an important and hitherto inaudible thematic element buried in the violas, is made evident to the ear by supporting the violas with added horns.  So, while by far the majority of the surprises are in the matter of tempo, by no means all of them are.

The Beethoven Ninth is one of the most frequently performed pieces of classical music in the world (there will be more performances in Japan at New Year’s than of the Nutcracker in America at Christmas). It is, many would argue, also the most influential work in the entire history of western music.  Some might even go as far to claim that it is the greatest symphony ever composed.  In any event, it seems important to have a performance that faithfully does everything that Beethoven wanted.  This recording could be seen as a message from the composer, urging us to pay attention to his specific performance instructions.   It does not purport to be a greater performance than the efforts of others – that would be presumptuous. But it does set out to be an accurate rendition of what Beethoven said he wanted. It also claims that as a result beauties are revealed that have hitherto remained hidden. That, it seems, is sufficient justification for giving it the widest possible consideration and attention.  It is not the conductor, the orchestra, the choir or the soloists who crave attention, but rather Beethoven himself, asking us, indeed demanding of us, the most selfless, humble devotion to his message.

Benjamin Zander


  • John Borstlap says:

    Very interesting indeed.

    To reduce the piece from some 100 minutes to only 80 (twice on the disc) seems to be quite a drastic reduction. But indeed the piece is often played much too slowly (as the video with Szell demonstrates – could not listen to it more than a couple of minutes – everything vertical and pompous without forward movement, taking-out all the musical energy). On the other hand, we know that Beethoven was deaf and composers often imagine their music faster in the light-weight space of their mind than they would assess in reality, where the sound is influenced by many physical factors (acoustics, nature of the instruments, humidity, temperature, playing style and general emotional mood of players and conductor, etc.) We know that Wagner carefully metronomized his earlier operas (while in exile in Zwitserland) but when he conducted them later-on he found-out that he could not fix any tempo and avoided metronome numbers from thence.

    The messing around with the notation does not seem very prudent, since we don’t know what the composer would have preferred, you cannot just suggest ‘…. if he were alive today…’ – little retouches are probably permissable but it is skating on thin ice. The classical instrumentation was part of the composers’ imagination so if they had other instruments, they may have had different musical ideas. Sometimes a ‘better’ instrumentation does not work so well in expressive terms as the original. And in practice, the restricted possibilities of the classical orchestra works perfectly well for the music, even with the minor details like woodwind skipping some intervals or taking them at other pitches.

    Knowing the cavalier way in which so many performers treat scores, it seems to be best to require a geatest possible loyalty to what is actually written down, warts and all. Otherwise we get the Goulds and the Povorelichs.

    • Dennis says:

      “To reduce the piece from some 100 minutes to only 80 (twice on the disc) seems to be quite a drastic reduction.”

      I think this is conflating the length of the discussion discs – 160 minutes – with the performance itself (the actual timings of which we are not told; but I’ve certainly never come across one approaching 100 minutes). It will be interesting to see where he falls along the spectrum in terms of performance timings. Of the 7 versions of the 9th on my iPod, the longest is Furtwangler’s 1954 Lucerne performance, which clocks in at 74 minutes, 55 seconds. The shortest is Gardiner’s ORR recording, which comes in at 59 minutes, 42 seconds.

      • Bruce says:

        I have the Zinman/Zurich recording which takes 58:57— (although there is an alternate track with a different version of the last half of the 4th movement. If you used that one it would be 58:45.

      • John Borstlap says:

        I did not realize the piece is much shorter than 80 minutes… of course it is.

      • Novagerio says:

        Guys, two things: The tempo, the phrasing, the articulation, the mood, the momentum, all depends in real life on the acoustical conditions of the venue. Second: When the compact disk was launched, it was decided that the full length pr cd should be 70 minutes, in order to accommodate a full Beethoven’s Ninth in “standard tempo” (what ever that is!)

        Of course, with august maestros like Klemperer it was advisable to add another piece as for instance the Grosse Fuge op.133 or some overtures or Incidental Music or even the Piano Fantasy op.80, in case the Ninth would last longer than 1 cd (!)

      • Dennis says:

        I did however just recall that some years ago I came across some recordings by a conductor named Maximianno Cobra (with the “Europa Philharmonia”, don’t know who they are exactly), who promotes some thing he calls “tempo giusto” (basically his theory is that everyone everywhere has always misunderstood proper tempo; the net result of his theory is basically “ultra-slow tempi all the time”).

        His version of Beethoven’s 9th clocks in at 110 minutes (and is as excruciating to hear as one might expect).

        For reference, he applies his theory not just to music from the early 19th Century and before, but to later music also. His version of the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th is 19 minutes long (twice as long as most; basically turns it into a funeral dirge). His Bruckner 9th is 105 minutes long (a full 35 minutes longer than even the notoriously slow tempi in Celibidache’s late recording of it).

        I’m no musicologist, but I don’t think anyone but takes Cobra’s theories seriously or has any real respect for its practical results in performance.

    • Iain Scott says:

      I suppose at the end of the day the really important question is “does the performance lift the soul?”. Listening to the Szell extract the answer for me was no. This discussion is not really about timing but phrasing and technique which can change our perceptions of a performance and of course the fact that a live performance heard live has a different feel to that of a recording.
      I am happy to hear anything that provides insight and challenges me. I might not like it and I might agree with it but it will redefine what I will agree with and like. and of course by agree I am being completely subjective.

  • Brettermeier says:

    “Du Esel!”

    That’s like “Blunderbuss”: Nobody uses it anymore.

  • Suddenlyenlightened says:

    Of course, why didn’t anybody think of that before: supply the notes that the instruments couldn’t play back then but which Beethoven for sure wanted to hear? Let’s add timpani notes where he didn’t put any, simply because now we can.

    Then why don’t we do the same with horn and trumpet parts? There are so many notes that natural instruments cannot play which are now available on modern instruments. At the tonic, brasses play fully; at the dominant, sparingly, because all the notes were not available. But now we have them! Let’s make these wrongs right and write the whole thing all over again. Let’s fill in all the blanks and put an end to Beethoven’s misery.

    Then there are some extra notes at the top of the flute register which were not available back then – now we have them on the modern flute, so let’s complete these lines where the flute has to drop an octave lower at awkward spots.

    When all of this is done, let’s apply the same principles to all of them: Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn (oooh, so many wrong timpani notes in Mendelssohn!), all the way back to Bach, Handel and beyond. Let’s redeem all these composers who had to work with such limited means – after all, their music shows that much.

    And when all of this is done, let’s put on an “Esel” mask and trumpet our fabulous findings to the world. Someone on Slippedisc will have something to say or write about it for sure.

  • Rgiarola says:

    Boulez made similar marks about the 5th in the 60’s. He actually recorded it with London Symphony.

    In Boulez case, it is rarely reminded now-a-days. I’am wondering if Zander will make a point, or if it is just another try. Let’s remind that Wagner himself made corrections in the 9th, but no one had use it later.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    Didn’t Felix Weingartner cover a lot of this 100 years ago? And even he later recanted and said “maybe Beethoven knows best after all”? Some small retouchings are pretty common and well known. Some of the 9th is virtually unplayable at fast tempos: ask a contrabassoonist about the sextuplets in the finale. t’ll be interesting to hear what Zander says; he sure brought a lot of insight to the Mahler 6th on Telarc.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Telarc advertised – by way of a small sticker – that the Zander Mahler 6 contained the original version of the finale. Not true. He simply reverted to the first version – with its third hammer stroke – in the 10th and 11th bars of rehearsal figure 164 – a difference of two measures.

      Simone Young, in her recording of Mahler 6 on the Oehms label, goes further by reverting to the first (original) version from same 10th bar, and extending it on to rehearsal figure 165 – a full nine bars in total. A trivial point? . . . not really, because there’s an interesting and satisfying bit of orchestration before 165 (which is the beginning of the slow dirge for low brass).

      In the first version, Mahler has the upper woodwinds sound a fortissimo A-minor chord that makes a diminuendo to piano. Nothing surprising there. But then he has the Cor Anglais, A clarinets, bass clarinet, bassoons and contrabassoon, make a descending octave leap to their low registers, and sound a fortissimo low A for two bars (which also makes its own diminuendo to piano). It’s very obvious and very stark.

      From here, I wish somebody would ‘connect the dots’ and record the entire first version of the finale. I think it would be something of a revelation for folks who already ‘know’ the piece. There are big differences in the percussion, and various other differences in the woodwinds and brass. If you own the inexpensive Dover Edition of symphonies 5 & 6, you’re looking at the first version of Mahler 6.

      One big difference is in the ‘false victory parade’ passage, starting at the 11th bar of figure 162. Instead of the ‘victory march’ tune being sounded by the unison horns, it’s played by the unison trombones with much more percussion underneath them (the horns play a harmonic supporting role instead).

      I’m getting off an tangent, but the point is that there are major differences, and Telarc were false in their claim that they were presenting the “original version”. They were – but just for two bars.

    • William Safford says:

      ” ask a contrabassoonist about the sextuplets in the finale.”

      I’m practicing them every day in preparation for a gig later this year.

  • Rob says:

    Still waiting for a Mahler 8 from Mr Zander !

  • Donald Hansen says:

    Nicolai Malko did it in 64 minutes (Danacord LP) and Fritz Busch did it in 62 minutes (Deutsche Grammophon LP), oddly enough both with the Danish State Radio Orchestra. I think Horenstein on Vox did it in around 60 minutes too.

    • John Borstlap says:

      They recorded it in winter and it was very cold in Kopenhagen, the players wanted to go home asap.

      • Donald Hansen says:

        I know you are kidding, but for the record (pun intended) both were live recordings in Copenhagen, Busch on September 9, 1950, and Malko on January 30, 1955. So you were half right.

  • Bruce says:

    I mistrust any conductor who claims to be the first one to do something the way the composer intended. (Or any musician, really; but conductors mostly seem to be the ones who do it.)

    • Fabio Luisi says:

      The best comment so far. Thank you Bruce.

      • Adam says:

        Oh good grief – bet he’s got some product to sell on the back of this revelation.

        It’s like Charles MacKerras used to tell us that Mozart got it wrong, and that in fact all those achingly beautiful arrow fired vocal lines should be covered in ornaments and twiddles and passing notes.

        He got a few new discs and concert fees out of it!!

  • Caravaggio says:

    Yawn. I thought we were done for good with the business of speedchasing through our beloved warhorses.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      Not quite, we haven’t heard Neeme Jarvi’s account of the 9th.

      • Iain Scott says:

        You can never tell with Neeme Jarvi. I heard him do Tchaikovsky 4th Symphony with the RSNO twice. Totally different tempi and that was two consecutive nights. Did not matter he is still wonderful.

  • Joel stein says:

    I heard Zander’s account a couple of times on New Year’s Eves-this is about 30 years ago-it clocked in about 60 minutes which was unheard of then

  • Robert Holmén says:

    Incidentally, the original capacity of a Compact Disc was based on the length of the Sony president’s favored recording of Beethoven’s 9th.

    They figured that would be a frequent title and they didn’t want to have to press two discs for it.

    That story may even be true.

    • Barry Guerrero says:

      Not maybe, it IS true. I forget his name now, but it was a former Japanese president of Sony Music who made that determination. I believe he had discussed this with Karajan – probably at Salzburg.

      I just purchased the Osmo Vanska/Minnesota recording of Mahler 6 on a single 86 minute long sacd/cd hybrid disc, and it works perfectly on my Bose Wave boombox (the bigger one).

      By the way, Kristjan Jarvi – one of the sons of Neemi Jarvi – has made a satisfying and very good sounding recording of the Mahler ‘retuschen’ of Beethoven’s 9th. It’s on the Vienna Tonkunstler’s own label. It’s 15 seconds shy of 60 minutes, so I assume that’s rather quick (the Adagio is 12:13). I don’t consider it an ‘improvement’ upon Beethoven at all, but it IS interesting and it DOES work.

      Perhaps the biggest difference is that Mahler has the ‘Turkish march’ (finale) start in the distance and gradually move to the foreground. Charles Ives would have loved that.

    • Phillip Richards says:

      Yes, one of the CD specifications was that the 9th would fit, holding the dic’s diameter constant. They anticipated CD players in cars, where the radio is. They also decided that the bit depth would be 16, and the sample rate 48kHz. But that meant the symphony would not fit! To keep the symphony, diameter and 16 bits, they had to reduce the sample rate to 44.1kHz. That’s why we have that crazy number in the audio world.

  • Pianofortissimo says:

    I hope it is a studio recording. Audience noise is a serious problem in some of Zander’s recordings.

  • David R Osborne says:

    At long last, a new recording of Beethoven’s 9th. The drought breaks and serious shortage is addressed. I can barely contain my excitement.

  • collin says:

    Zanders, like all Beethoven interpreters, cannot escape the contradiction of either you follow Beethoven to the letter (metronome markings) or you don’t (adding timpani notes or extending the range of flute notes).

    Zanders, like all Beethoven interpreters, enters slippery slope territory in arguing, well, Beethoven MUST have MEANT this and that, and it’s LOGICAL, etc.

    Once you’re onto the slippery slope, then his “sacred” metronome markings can also be up for “logical” re-arguing.

    What Beethoven “really meant” is heresy for some, logic for others: in other words, INTERPRETATION.

    • Anson says:

      Indeed. I actually have no problem with someone experimenting a little with some of the old warhorses. You never know when a daring interpretation will show you something you never noticed before, even if it doesn’t become your reference work.

      But what I object to is the constant insistence that “this” — and only this! — is what Beethoven would have wanted. “Oh, poor Ludwig van, spinning in his grave until I finally came along!” Just admit what you’re doing and be done with it.

  • NN says:

    This story is full of nonsense. Beethoven IX in 100 minutes or 160 minutes? LOL. Maybe Mr. Zander should go to the doctor for further treatise before making any statements about Beethoven again or should start a career in horse racing which would make the music world become a better one…

    Let me remind that it was Beethoven IX to set the standard playing time for the Compact Disc to make this symphony completely available on one disc. The longest known performance ub that time was a mono recording made during the Bayreuther Festspiele in 1951 and conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler with a playing time of 74(!) minutes.

    In the late 70ies of the last Century there was a discussion about the standards of the Compact Disc. Philips wanted a 11.5-centimeter disc, while Sony wanted a 10-centimeter format. Both were enough to fit any of those vinyls, the smaller size capable of storing 60 minutes of 16-bit 44,056 Hz stereo music.

    Btw: Karajan’s live recording from September 1983 with Berliner Philharmoniker has a total playing tiime 66 mins. So Mr. Zander is not very great.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      The longest performance that I know, at 77:57, was conducted by Leonard Bernstein in Berlin, where Ode to Joy became Ode to Freedom.

  • db says:

    None of these suggestions are quite new; even a period band such as the Orchestra of the 18th Century has, for example, added flute notes in the upper register based on the observation that they were actually available on the instruments of Beethoven’s time, apparently ignored by the composer.

    But those are minor changes compared to added timpani notes. A bang on the kettledrums is an event, especially in Beethoven, and closely associated with the whole tonic-dominant architecture of his works. Adding such events simply because they are available today touches at the heart of this music. There is an added tension that arises from the moments that you would expect to hear the timpani, but don’t. And when they finally come, or are surprisingly left out, the effect is all the stronger. Respectfully disagreeing with Mr Zander on this one.

    • collin says:


      If even hard-core originalists like Zander cannot resist “completing” Beethoven’s “intentions” by adding stuff not in the score, then that means we will *never* get a recording of the score exactly as written, despite Zander’s insistent protestation that that is exactly what we need. Ironic.

  • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

    Zander’s Mahler 9 CD (with his extended commentary) is a case study in over-interpretation. It’s very fussy, focusing on details at the expense of the whole. I appreciate that he has ideas about music, but too much thinking gets in the way of the big picture.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    It will most probably be the Beethoven Ninth with the biggest talk/music ratio.

  • Sabrinensis says:

    I remember well from my student days when Zander was teaching at NEC. We did Schubert 9 and I was agog that he wouldn’t just leave the music alone and allow it to move and breathe. He messed with every effing thing, completely smothering the music with Zander sauce to a point well beyond the ponderous. It was one of the most trying and unenjoyable concerts I ever played. Fussy is a kind characterization. But, hey, conductors…

  • Marie-Christine says:

    In the late seventies Sony’s manager, Akio Moritan, and his assistant Norio Ohga, both classical music fans, met Karajan in Salzburg. Karajan told them that Philips intended to develop a new audio disc using a laser beam and a lens. Sony and Philips signed an agreement in order to develop a compact disc. The longest performance of Beethoven 9th (Fürtwangler, Bayreuth, 1951), the favourite piece of Norio Ohga (or his wife’s), lasted 74 min 30 s. The storage on one disc required a 12 centimeter CD diameter (instead of the 11,5 centimeter format proposed by Philips or the 10 centimeter format proposed by Sony).

  • Anon says:

    Seriously. Who gives a flying rats about tempi. It doesn’t make a musician. Also, this is Zander. Hack job. Non-story.

  • Prudence Nickels says:

    I worked with Zander on Mahler 5 many years ago.

    A few thoughts:

    Zander may come across as a showman to some, and perhaps there is truth to the accusation–he clearly does what he does well, but thankfully it’s the right kind of showmanship which serves to be inspiring and far-reaching to show how wonderful and relevant classical music still is.

    There is no question that the man does know what he is talking about. He’s a consummate musician, a student of Imogen Holst and Benjamin Britten, and someone who does his research and has ample evidence to back up his choices.

    We can all discuss our reactions towards the rhetoric he chooses to use in markeing his project and those are all very valid, however, the underlying gist of what he is saying is not incorrect.

    We have MANY examples, particularly in the piano music, where editors have placed lower or upper octaves in parentheses where the instruments he was writing upon had not yet expanded the keyboard in places where, due to the formal transposition of a subject, would allow the pianist to follow the same pattern and voicings employed by Beethoven in the other iteration of the subject. A prime example is in the first movement of the Kreutzer Sonata in the left hand when the low E naturals are missing from the original but present in most editions, to follow the patter of when the same figure is centerd on A. This is not a crime, not in the least. We KNOW based on HOW Beethoven wrote, and often to push each instrument to its extremes, that he WOULD have put pen to ink to paper to notate it thus had the instrument been accommodating. That has NOTHING to do with recomposing or tampering with the score.

    Tempo markings, ultimately, are more about guiding a performer to understand the nature and character of a piece and how the musical gestures and phrases are intended to follow. Leonard Bernstein did a marvelous demonstration of this very phenomenon using Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony as the example. It’s ultimately about character, about gesture, about energy, and the direction, the forward momentum of each phrase. What Zander, much like John Eliot Gardiner, Riccardo Chailly, Antonio Pappano, Giuseppe Sinopoli, and others, strives to do is to be informative of a characterization of, in this case specifically, Beethoven’s music as informed by his choice of metronome markings. This does not mean it will be robotic or like a computerized performance, but rather that he accepts Beethoven’s challenge to push the orchestra, the balance, the articulations, the dynamics, and the musical gestures in the direction commanded. That he has opted to make additional choices regarding the timpani or regarding the number of low strings to play the recitatives, does demonstrate ingenuity and this same daring that is hallmark of Beethoven’s music.

    What did Beethoven cry out when his late string quartets were declared unplayable? “I care not for your puny violin! The music I write is for the future, for instruments and musicians who will be capable of doing what you cannot.” So, why shouldn’t we take him at his word? Are we, 200 years later, not the future? Are our instruments not more advanced and more capable?

    The very idea that a genius such as Beethoven’s can have been so banally questioned as regarding his metronome markings continues to astound me. No, they are not meant to be literal…in fact, there are two sets of his metronome markings for the movements of the 9th symphony and several are slightly different. Does a composer not have the right to change his mind? To reconsider? And do we as performers not have the right to make our own choices as well?

    Look, the statement of “composer’s intentions” is fraught with disagreement and far too much mystery. I myself in my college years was determined to be as purist as possible in the music I studied and played…I wanted absolutes, I wanted definitiveness and reliability. I came to understand that tempo/metronome markings are just additional tools to help us realize what a composer had hoped for us to understand about his music. Sometimes there are tempo relationships, sometimes there aren’t. The one Zander describes is a legitimate one that deserves to be honored and is nearly always neglected and ignored.

    We spent nearly a century hearing Mozart’s music slowed down and as dry as could be thanks to the restrictions and limitations imposed upon performing his music by none other than Gustav Mahler himself, who felt that Mozart’s music should be handled with white gloves or not at all…and “Mozart Style” has continually sought to be redefined and rediscovered through the decades. And yet, we still have the monumental study “The Tempo Indications of Mozart” by the indefatigable Jean-Pierre Marty, a fabulous resource still ignored today by many conductors…and yet, Marty sought to help us understand the symbols and orthographic language of Mozart in deciphering the character and gesture of his music…but the most consistent means for Marty to convey that to the world was through metronome averages.

    So, rather than poo-poo what Zander is hoping to accomplish here, let’s take a moment and honor that here is a man who puts his money where his mouth is, is resourceful, and utterly passionate about everything he does. Sit back, take a listen, and try to enjoy what revelations *might* be expressed through the performance.

    Personally, I just hope he found singers who can actually sing the parts…those seem to be practically non-existent on any recent recordings. If I have to hear one more strangled baritone or tenor, I will be really quite upset.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Excellent comment.

      A score is not the work but a combined instruction manuel supposed to invoke a musical vision in the imagination of the performer.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Furtwangler’s notorious March 1942 recording totals 73 minutes, which is considered very slow now, but the intensity of the performance is almost unbearable.

    In short, faster is merely fast.

  • Mark Mortimer says:

    I studied with Ben Zander in a summer conducting masterclass in London about 20 years back. He is an unusual character- but having said this- one of the most inspiring & original musical thinkers I’ve ever had the fortune to encounter- certainly made me think about music as more than mere dots on the page- quite transformative. Re- his apparently revolutionary ideas on the tempi in Beethoven’s 9th- nothing really new here in all honesty. I did my university dissertation on the performance practice of Beethoven 9 (whilst counting for little probably) there’s much evidence from the performance traditions passed on since the composer’s day that conventional wisdom on speeds is about right. OK- Klemperer & others in the Mahler school took slow to extremes- but I for one- think the other extreme- modern so called ‘authentic’ adopted by Norrington, Gardiner, Zinman whilst undeniably exciting at times sounds frquently breathless & scrambled to my hears.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The point is, that one has to find some middle ground where the music does not get stultified and not cramped as well. That is not too difficult. For instance, the variation in the slow movement with all the guirlands in the strings surrounding the melodic line have to sound fluent and light, which gives an indication of the main tempo of that theme.

  • Benjamin Zander says:

    I am very glad that views are already being expressed about the forthcoming release in July of my Beethoven 9th with the Philharmonia Orchestra. I regret that they are based on something I wrote that was not intended for publication. I hope that those who take an interest will judge the actual recording and the accompanying explanatory discs and look forward to having their comments then.

  • Yi Peng Li says:

    I am wondering if I might say a few things on the speeds and likenesses in this mighty Beethoven symphony.

    The desire to approach Beethoven’s extant marked speeds is not new because Toscanini attempted to do so in his surviving recordings. At the same time, other conductors like Klemperer and Solti contemplated doing so. Norrington, Mackerras and Gardiner made it desirable, and so I would imagine Zander to be an adjunct.

    I know that the subject of Beethoven tempi may be contentious. Many modern performers are markedly faster than the mid-20th-century performances, and not just in here. I admit that the hurry culture may be dictating these accelerated speeds. I am aware that the likes of Donald Vroon might argue that no case can be made for this approach, but the extant speeds can bring us closer to the anti-establishment character of Beethoven’s music.

    There are many observations I would like to share about the tempo in the Choral symphony. The faster first movement needs to allude to the French overture style and bring out the Fifth Symphony motto-rhythm. It needs to have an unflinching Star Wars stormtrooper quality about it and bristle with brutishness, despair and defiance all at once.

    At the same time, I note a couple of family likenesses that might guide the performance of the later movements. The main theme of the slow movement bears a family likeness to its counterpart in the Pathetique sonata. Most conductors take it as a drawn-out Brucknerian common time crawl, but at Beethoven’s speed, it makes more sense as a duple-time Adagio. The minims are the main melody notes here.

    In addition, the Turkish march variation in the finale (for the tenor and male chorus) needs to be analogous to the march variation in the Choral Fantasy (op. 80). I know that there is a risk of turning this section into a Gilbert & Sullivan patter song. I accept that there might be a risk that the tenor might be taxed and the orchestra might garble the fast-moving quavers in the ensuing fugue. However, the family likeness is clear and the faster pace (84 dotted minims in a 6/8 time signature) accords with the text about the flying bodies and the cathartic Freude outburst.

    Although I find that the Gardiner performance still retains the vision and scope of the work among performances at these speeds, I would be interested in hearing Zander’s insights when this new Philharmonia Beethoven 9 comes out. I only wish to know which label will publish it.

  • Robert Berger says:

    The HIP recording by the late Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music also uses 8 horns and doubled winds . Karajan is hardly alone in this . The Gustav Mahler version also calls for 8 horns etc . Would Beethoven have approved ? We’ll never know .