My First Beethoven Playlist

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Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770 and died in 1827. When was a young man, he was known as a brilliant pianist and a brilliant composer. But he didn’t really have a happy life.

He was born in the German city of Bonn and he gave his first public concert at the age of seven. But his father was very strict and made him practise for hours every day.

When he was in his 20s and already famous, he began to go deaf. Imagine how awful that was for such a great musician: to him, music was getting softer and softer, until he could hardly hear a thing. He bashed his poor piano more and more as he tried to hear what he was playing. He became grumpy!

But he loved music so much that he kept composing. He heard music in his head and wrote it down on paper: when he looked at the paper, he could hear it again in his head.

When his Ninth Symphony was played for the first time, Beethoven sat by the stage and tried to help with the conducting. At the end, everyone started clapping and cheering. But Beethoven didn’t realise they were doing it because he had his back to them and he couldn’t hear them. One of the musicians came and turned him around to face the audience, and he could see that they were all standing up and applauding. He realised how much they liked his symphony. It was a big moment for him.

1. Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67: I. Allegro con brio

Keyword: Famous

This is probably the most famous bit of classical music in the world. It is the first part of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Tap the opening rhythm with your finger on a table in time to the music: Da-da-da DAAAAH, Da-da-da-DAAAAH! Can you spot it coming back again and again from different instruments?

Performers: Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia; Béla Drahos

Taken from Naxos 8.554061

 

2. Violin Sonata No. 5 in F major, Op. 24 ‘Spring’: IV. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

Keyword: Spring

It is springtime: the air is fresh and lively. And this is how the music sounds. There are just two instruments here – the piano and the violin – and they take it in turns to play the tune. You can hear when the piano comes in strongly, as if it is saying, ‘Listen to me!’ Then the violin says, ‘And now me!’

Performers: Takako Nishizaki, violin; Jenő Jandó, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550283

 

3. March No. 1 for Military Band

Keywords: Left, right, left right!

Time for musical soldiers to march! They are marching down the road and playing their instruments at the same time. There are clarinets and other instruments playing a tune. And there are drums. Can you hear the drums? There is a bass drum that sometimes goes ‘boom’ at the bottom. And there is a snare drum that sounds all rattly.

Performers: Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra; Ondrej Lenárd

Taken from Naxos 8.550230

 

4. Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73: ‘Emperor’: II. Adagio un poco mosso (extract)

Keyword: Dreamy

You are in a concert hall looking at a big orchestra with many violins, violas, cellos, flutes, oboes, clarinets, horns and other instruments. In front of them all is a big grand piano. You can hear the piano clearly above all the other instruments. This is slow and beautiful music. You can imagine it guiding you through your dreams.

Performers: Stefan Vladar, piano; Capella Istropolitana; Barry Wordsworth

Taken from Naxos 8.554676

 

5. String Quartet in C major, Op. 59 No. 3 ‘Razumovsky’: IV. Allegro molto

Keywords: Hang on!

Here are four string instruments – two violins, a viola and a cello – playing very fast. Where are they going in such a hurry? Their bows are whizzing backwards and forwards on the strings and their fingers are scampering up and down the instruments. How exciting. It’s as if they’re chasing each other all the way down the street! Run around in a circle and see if you can keep going until the end of the music!

Performers: Kodály Quartet

Taken from Naxos 8.550563

 

6. Bagatelle in A minor, WoO 59 ‘Für Elise’

Keyword: Mystery

‘Für Elise’ means ‘for Elise’. Who was Elise? We don’t know! Maybe she was a pupil of Beethoven’s or maybe she was someone he liked. Perhaps the mystery of Elise makes this music even more special. It’s one of the most famous and popular piano pieces of all.

Performers: Jenő Jandó, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.553795

 

7. Serenade for string trio in D major, Op. 8: V. Allegretto alla polacca

Keyword: Dance

This bouncing music is a dance from Poland. Get up and bounce, if you like! It’s played by three string instruments: a violin, a viola and a cello. Most of the time the high, singing violin has the main melody (tune). But sometimes the lower viola and cello push it out of the way. If you hear the viola or the cello at the front, give them a cheer! And at the end, you can cheer them all.

Performers: Attila Falvay, violin; János Fejérvári, viola; György Éder, cello

Taken from Naxos 8.557895

 

8. Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ‘Pastoral’: III. Happy gathering of villagers: Allegro

Keyword: Hi!

The weather is warm and the sun is shining. It’s a lovely day. And there’s no work today so everyone in the village gets together. They eat and drink and chat and even dance. They have a very happy time… until track 9…

Performers: Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia; Béla Drahos

Taken from Naxos 8.554061

 

9. Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68 ‘Pastoral’: IV. Thunderstorm: Allegro

Keyword: Thunder

Oh dear, the weather has changed. You can hear a few drops of rain at the beginning… and suddenly a real THUNDERSTORM! There are dark clouds and heavy rain. There’s a flash of lightning… and another ‘crash’. Everyone is getting soaked. Then the storm slowly moves away. The rain stops. Calmer weather comes. Phew!

Performers: Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia; Béla Drahos

Taken from Naxos 8.554061

 

10. Piano Quintet in E flat major, Op. 16 · III. Rondo: Allegro ma non troppo

Keyword: Five

A quintet has five players. There is an unusual group of instruments here: a piano, a horn, an oboe, a clarinet and a bassoon. You can spot the piano – it starts the piece all on its own. When all the other instruments start playing too, you can imagine you’re on a horse, galloping across a field. Off you go!

Performers: Jenő Jandó, piano; Jenő Kevehási, horn; József Kiss, oboe; Béla Kovács, clarinet; József Vajda, bassoon

Taken from Naxos 8.550511

 

11. Cello Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69: II. Scherzo: Allegro molto

Keyword: Cello

The star of this piece is the cello. That is just a short name for this instrument – its proper name is ‘violoncello’, which is more difficult to say! It makes a lower sound than other members of the string family, like the violin. And also it is so big that the person playing it – the cellist – has to sit down.

Performers: Csaba Onczay cello; Jenő Jandó, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550478

 

12. Piano Sonata No. 14 in C sharp minor, Op. 14 No. 2 ‘Moonlight’: I. Adagio sostenuto

Keyword: Imagine

This is a really famous piano piece. When Beethoven wrote it, he didn’t think of moonlight. But when other people heard it, they imagined things as they listened. One person imagined moonlight shining on a lake at night. So now the piece is known as the ‘Moonlight’ Sonata. Close your eyes and listen. Can you imagine the moonlight?

Performers: Jenő Jandó, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550294

 

13. String Quartet in G major, Op. 18 No. 2: III. Scherzo: Allegro

Keyword: Friends

Here is the string quartet again: two violins, one viola and one cello. As usual, the musicians are listening and playing and having fun. When they do this, they sit together in a semi-circle so that they can see and hear each other really well.

Performers: Kodály Quartet

Taken from Naxos 8.550558

 

14. Septet in E flat major, Op. 20: III. Tempo di menuetto

Keyword: Mix

Seven different instruments are playing together here – like seven people from different countries. They are all mixed together. It’s a happy mix. They say the same things again and again. When you’ve listened to the track once, play it again and sing along with them at the beginning: ‘Hello, hello, I’m so pleased to see you!’ – ‘Hello, hello, I’m pleased to see you too!’ Then every time that tune comes, sing it again!

Performers: József Balogh, clarinet; Ildikó Hegyi, violin; Jenő Keveházi, horn; Győző Máthé, viola; Peter Szabó, cello; Isthván Tóth, double bass; József Vajda, bassoon

Taken from Naxos 8.553090

 

15. Piano Sonata No. 29 in B flat major, Op. 106 ‘Hammerklavier’: II. Scherzo: Assai vivace – Presto – Tempo 1

Keyword: Jumping

If you could see the pianist, you would see the hands and fingers leaping around the keyboard like gymnasts. Sometimes they jump from top to bottom, or bottom to top. Sometimes they run very quickly over the black and white keys. What a jumpy piece!

Performers: Jenő Jandó, piano

Taken from Naxos 8.550234

 

16. Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61: III. Rondo: Allegro (extract)

Keyword: Balance

Listen to the violin’s melody at the beginning. The violinist plays this melody twice. Imagine her up on a tightrope. The orchestra is underneath her. All the players watch her. Then they come blasting in with the same tune! She waits for them to be quiet and then she tries something a bit more difficult. Balanced on her tightrope, she is beautiful. She is strong. The orchestra plays quietly underneath, watching her. She reminds them what that tune is, and back they come, loud and confident! But then she’s off again… a sad melody as she twirls around and the orchestra follows her. She’s magical.

Performers: Takako Nishizaki, violin; Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra; Kenneth Jean

Taken from Naxos 8.550149

 

17. Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 ‘Choral’: IV. Finale: Presto (extract)

Keyword: Joy

This begins gently but it gets loud and grand! Later in the piece, singers join in with this tune too: they sing the words of a poem called ‘Ode to Joy’. So imagine poor, deaf Beethoven. He’s on the stage but he can’t hear his own, wonderful, joyful music. He can only see the players all playing their instruments. But the people in the audience know that they are lucky: they are there to see and hear one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. Beethoven was an amazing man.

Performers: Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia and Chorus; Béla Drahos

Taken from Naxos 8.553478

 

18. Fidelio, Op. 72: Overture

Keyword: Opera

A long time ago, a woman called Leonore was looking for her husband, Florestan. Florestan had been put in a horrible, dark prison even though he hadn’t done anything wrong. Leonore loved him. She found the prison. She dressed up as a guard and called herself Fidelio – and she saved her husband Florestan from being killed. This is what Beethoven’s opera is all about. An ‘overture’ is always at the beginning of an opera, before the acting starts. The whole audience is excited, waiting for the curtain to go up…

Performers: Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia; Michael Halász

Taken from Naxos 8.660070-71

 

Notes by Nicolas Soames

Music selection by Sarah Butcher

‘My First’ series editor: Genevieve Helsby