Listen to this: Rondo

As we discussed in a previous post on the Minuet, classical music doesn’t always have to be as hard as it seems to be. With some simple listening tips, the arcane (seeming) can often become clear.

Let’s take a look at the “rondo.” It is defined as a “musical form in which the first section comes back to frame episodes” (in “The Penguin Companion to Classical Music”). It’s sort of like a pop song, in which the chorus keeps coming back. The word “episodes” in this case just refers to the material in between the returns of the rondo main theme; the episodes are sections where the composers go on little musical adventures.

Rondos end up having forms like this: ABACABA, the “A” being the returning main theme and the other letters being episodes.

Let’s say no more, and listen to a rondo, the last movement of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 1. Here’s a map, with timings to the video above.

Section A: The main theme of this rondo is heard right at the beginning.

Section B: The first episode starts at 34″.

Section A returns at 2’06”. Notice the pre-echo of the theme before the return.

Section C (second episode) starts at 2’39”.

Section A returns at 4’18”.

Section B (the first episode varied) returns at 4’51”. It leads to solo piano cadenza at 6’23”.

Section A returns in the orchestra at 7:07. The rest is coda, or epilogue.

Audio: Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, first movement

Here’s one of the earliest recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with Arthur Nikisch conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in 1913. Don’t let the primitive sound put you off; it’s a fascinating interpretation, notable for its extremely flexible approach to tempo.

Carl St.Clair and Pacific Symphony open the season with the work this week.

Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’: Opening chords

This video presents a chronological survey of the first two chords (E-flat major) of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, as heard in recordings from the 1920s to the present day. You will notice not only different tempos, but also different tunings (the three orchestras using original instruments are the lowest), acoustics (Toscanini’s are especially dull) and instrumental balances.┬áThe people who put this compilation together may in fact have too much time on their hands, but it was well used here, and we thank them.