Ivry Gitlis: Nothing’s more stupid than Beethoven’s 5th

The legendary violinist, 97 next month, gives a rare interview to Romanian television, mostly in English.

His parents came from Romania. He studied with Enescu.

Gripping stuff.


share this

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on google
  • Your title is very misleading and rather unfair. He doesn’t say that « there’s nothing more stupid than Beethoven’s fifth » . Talking about the beginning of the symphony he says there’s nothing more stupid than this » but he goes on to say that music is « nothing and making a world out of it , but some people take a world and make nothing of it ».

    • I don’t agree. The headline is accurate even if the quotation is also highly debatable.

      He said that and even hummed the beginning of the 5th symphony extensively. Plus, you miss the criticism of the last part of his quotation: “but some people take a world and make nothing of it.” That was directed at Beethoven and his 5th. I’ve said the same thing for years, but this is questioning THE sacred cow of classical music. It is bad Beethoven, in fact (there’s a lot of good Beethoven).

      In my opinion, the composer of the best 5th symphony we have is Sibelius.

      • I remember a quote long ago (1940’s?) from someone like maybe Sol Hurok: “We have so many great violinists nowadays: Heifetz, Kreisler, Milstein, Elman… and they all look like bankers. The only one who looks like a violinist is Einstein.”

    • Shame about the misleading title.
      Most of us would have read the article anyway without this rather sensational introduction

        • “Most of us would have read” / “‘Most of us’? You must have privileged access to my data.”

          Has the subjunctive changed its meaning while I was gone?

        • Norman,
          Do you have data on how people would respond to headlines other than the one you used ?
          Perhaps you can apply that impressive AI technology to getting the pictures to fit.

  • We have to respect older people and also quickly forget what they say. Everybody will agree that Beethoven was a genius and Gittlis was a great performer – a long time ago.

  • He clearly has his tongue partly in cheek when talking about the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth and probably means something more like “simple, unsophisticated, uncomplicated” rather than “stupid”. In my opinion, there is much more justification to use the latter word when describing that symphony’s finale which is excessively bombastic and somewhat shallow, particularly by this great composer’s usual lofty standards.

    • “He clearly has his tongue partly in cheek when talking about the beginning of Beethoven’s Fifth and probably means something more like “simple,… .”

      But that’s NOT what he said. Listen to the interview. He said it clearly and even hummed the opening of the 5th. You are imposing your interpretation on his views.

      • Aren’t you? His humming does not really prove anything except that he knows what he is talking about. His comment about “taking nothing and making the world out of it” clearly refers to Beethoven starting with a “stupid” (here meaning simple, unsophisticated, uncomplicated) motif and creating a musical miracle out of it, as opposed to others who in his opinion do the opposite. A really “bad” (I would prefer to say “lesser”) Beethoven can be found in the symphony’s finale – not in the first three movements. Nothing against Sibelius, but his is not the best Fifth: for example, the ones by Prokofiev and Shostakovich are better, and the great Mahler’s Fifth is probably the best.

  • I love it where he says he was glad Enescu was from a peasant family because he was ‘near the earth’

    Thanks very much for sharing this gem.

  • >