The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (249): Beethoven’s monster

The Slipped Disc daily comfort zone (249): Beethoven’s monster


norman lebrecht

December 01, 2020

As close as the great man ever came to missing the flight.



  • Morgan says:

    Alice Sara manages this quite well. I did not know she had performed the Choral Fantasy.

  • A.L. says:

    Ouch. That piano is badly out of tune.

  • Peter San Diego says:

    I love this work utterly.
    De gustibus disputandum non est.

  • christopher storey says:

    I cannot agree with you here, NL : this was really the prototype of the Choral Symphony, and is fun to play and to listen to. If you want to pick a genuine lemon by LvB , try the opus 77 Fantasy in G minor … or Wellington’s Victory

    • RW2013 says:

      Why do you think that op.77 (of which only the first 2 bars are in g minor) is a lemon?!

      • christopher storey says:

        RVW : well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but IMHO it is prolix, without any of the charm or wit of even the lightest of the Sonatas such as the Op 14, 49 , 78 and 79

    • Bostin'Symph says:

      I love the Choral Fantasia, and spent many happy hours listening to Julius Katchen’s performance on Decca’s Ace of Diamonds label in the 70s.

    • Sisko24 says:

      And what’s wrong with the Wellington’s Victory by Beethoven? I saw it in concert in New York years ago paired with Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony (“Leningrad”) conducted by Masur with the NY Philharmonic. That was a memorable and fun concert. Regrettably, there were no cannons in the Beethoven. If Tchaikovsky knew of the Beethoven work, it may have helped inspire him to compose his Overture Solennelle (“1812”) which is better known and more popular than Wellington. I also heard that performed in New York with NY Philharmonic in concert. Alas, no real cannons there either….if there were, they could’ve begun the refurbishment of Avery Fisher Hall early. One can never have too many cannons.

  • Edgar Self says:

    This Choral Fantasy and Op. 77 Fantasy in G minor/B flat for piano are often mentioned as examples of Beethoven’s improvisations. along with cadenzas he wrote for his own and Mozart’s D-minor concertos. Robert Levin recorded the Choral Fantasy as written and wiith alternative improvisatory cadenzas by himself. I have seen a live performance once, by Johanna Harris and Sandor Salgo in Carmel Mission during the annual Bach festival there.I think there was a 10-inch LP by Hans Richter-Haaser.

    It is an unlikely work requiring a good pianist, eight vocal soloists, chorus and orchestra. Playing it with the ninth symphony makes an interesting program. They share the famous tune, but the Fantasy is in a different key with another text. It is an instance of Beethoven’s life-long preoccupation with the tune that he increasingly simplified until at last he found the best use for it.

    I remember good recordings of Op.77 by Rudolf Serkin, Edwin Fischer, and Schnabel.

    • Greg Bottini says:

      Hi Edgar,
      I met Johana Harris along with her husband Roy at a concert of Harris’ compositions by the Stanford Symphony, at Dinkelspiel, a lifetime ago.
      Johana was simply charming, but Roy was hungry and cranky, and all he wanted to talk about was finding a cheeseburger. (Fortunately for him, there are/were some great burger joints around Stanford.)
      As to the subject at hand, in my humble opinion, the Choral Fantasy is middling Beethoven, but it’s not bad and it’s fun to listen to. I heard a performance in the North Bay a few years ago in which the pianist (John Boyajy) was excellent, the soloists were (naturally) variable, the chorus was too small, and the timpanist got lost at one point. It was still a nice listen.

      • Edgar Self says:

        A good story. Greg, and memory of Roy and Johanna Harris. I believe sheadopted the prenom Johanna at his wish, a little like the importance of being Ernest, or the other half of his Symphony No. 5-1/2.

        • Greg Bottini says:

          And Johana was a beautiful looking woman, as well as being a fine pianist. Some time after the Stanford event, she performed a Mozart concerto with my junior college orchestra and she was marvelous.
          Wasn’t Symphony 5½ written by Don Gillis? Toscanini performed it, as I recall.

  • Smiling Larry says:

    I never really liked the Choral Fantasy, until I heard this performance! Pianist, orchestra, conductor, soloists and chorus — and even the recording crew — all splendid. Somehow the piece sounds better on these period instruments. I think the piano is a Pleyel, is that correct?

    • Edgar Self says:

      Sapristi, amcco Gregorio, you are right. At least half right. Don Gillis wrote half of it and Roy Hrris the other half, but which? My memory will get me into real trouble one day. And you are also right about Johanna Haris.

  • E says:

    If it is a monster, it’s a majestic one…can’t help loving it.
    Sara Alice Ott plays it well, too.