Toscanini's relationship with Beethoven's Fifth Symphony during World War Two was very interesting. He had conducted it at an all-Beethoven concert with the NBC Symphony Orchestra on the symbolic date of 11th November, 1939, exactly 21 years after the signing of the Armistice which ended the fighting of World War I. Although during a South American tour he twice programmed the work - in Rio de Janeiro in July, 1940 (1st and 8th) - once the United States of America entered the Second World War, Toscanini stated an intention not to broadcast the work again in full until the war was over (a 1942 New York Phil. performance was not transmitted).
Thus, during a special, unscheduled NBC concert of 9th September, 1943, Toscanini marked the downfall of Mussolini with a performance beginning with the first movement only from Beethoven's Fifth. This was doubly symbolic - marking an especially significant event during the war for the avowed anti-Fascist maestro, while also indicating that victory was as yet still incomplete.
The Fifth Symphony was probably not heard again under Toscanini's baton on US radio until a special half-hour concert, entitled Victory Part II, on 8th May 1945, when he marked the final defeat of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe with a full performance of this work alone. (Victory Part III, VJ day, featured the 'Eroica' Symphony.)
However, Toscanini did conduct the NBC Orchestra in the Fifth Symphony during 1944, at a special Tuesday-evening Carnegie Hall concert to promote the sale of War Bonds. Mortimer H. Frank notes of this concert:
"Six and a half million dollars were raised from this exceptionally long program, which the New York Times critic Olin Downes called 'gigantic'. It is not clear how much, if any, of it was broadcast: NBC's records claim that Tchaikovsky and Beethoven were aired, but the New York Times does not confirm this in its listings of broadcasts for this date."
It is clear from the history described here that Beethoven's Fifth was especially symbolic for Toscanini during wartime, and it is therefore of little surprise that we find what some regard as perhaps his finest-ever performance in this hugely significant concert recording.
The Toscanini Beethoven Lira Panamericana Discs
Toscanini began a "Beethoven Festival" series of NBC broadcasts later in the autumn of 1944, and these were also recorded for special distribution to South American radio by NBC - specially pressed on outsized 15.8" vinyl discs, cut at 33rpm but using conventional wide-groove 78rpm cutters (i.e. not microgroove), each side could hold around 15-20 minutes of music with an extended frequency range significvantly higher than that expected of standard commercial 78rpm discs at the time.
A near-full set of Beethoven's symphonies was assembled (excluding the 9th) from this series (topped up with earlier recordings of the 4th and 6th), and it appears that a rather rough 78rpm acetate copy of this earlier 5th Symphony was inserted to make up the set. No other transcription is known to survive - a rough transcription circulating on MP3 format of this recording exhibits clicks which indicate it is almost certainly an nth-generation copy of the same acetate master - possibly even sourced from the South American broadcasts themselves.
Pristine Audio is now working on a transfer of the complete known collection of these Beethoven discs, owned by Christophe Pizzutti and kindly lent for this project. It is believed that the only other set of discs is held under lock and key at the New York Public Library.
About This Transfer
This transfer was taken from the only known source for this Symphony recording: NBC's Lira Panamericana 40cm vinyl radio transcription discs, Nos. 68B and 69B, Matrix Nos: ND5-MM4343-1 and ND5-MM4545-1 - a series of 33rpm wide-groove discs prepared for South American radio reproduction during 1944. Only two sets of these are thought to survive.
Sonic evidence suggests that our source recording was originally prepared from now-lost 78rpm acetate discs of the (probably) unbroadcast concert. Although vinyl noise levels were reasonably low on this disc, there was considerable surface noise from the acetates evident on the source, which at times has compromised aspects of the sound quality.
Beethoven Symphony No. 5
notes from Wikipedia
Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67, was written by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1804–08. This symphony is one of the most popular and well-known compositions in all of European classical music, and one of the most oft-played symphonies. It comprises four movements: an opening sonata allegro, an andante, and a fast scherzo which leads attacca to the finale. First performed in Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1808, the work achieved its prodigious reputation soon afterwards. E.T.A. Hoffmann described the symphony as "one of the most important works of the time". It begins by stating a distinctive four-note "short-short-short-long" motif twice:
The symphony, and the four-note opening motif in particular, are well known worldwide, with the motif appearing frequently in popular culture, from disco to rock and roll, to appearances in film and television. During World War II, the BBC used the four-note motif to introduce its radio news broadcasts because it evoked the Morse code letter "V" (· · · —, "victory").
The Fifth Symphony is notable for the amount of time it spent in gestation. The first sketches date from 1804, following the completion of the Third Symphony. However, Beethoven repeatedly interrupted his work on the Fifth to prepare other compositions, including the first version of Fidelio, the Appassionata piano sonata, the three Razumovsky string quartets, the Violin Concerto, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and the Fourth Symphony. The final preparation of the Fifth Symphony, which took place in 1807–1808, was carried out in parallel with the Sixth Symphony, which premiered at the same concert.
Beethoven was in his mid-thirties during this time; his personal life was troubled by increasing deafness. In the world at large, the period was marked by the Napoleonic Wars, political turmoil in Austria, and the occupation of Vienna by Napoleon's troops in 1805.
The Fifth Symphony was premiered on December 22, 1808 at a mammoth concert at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna consisting entirely of Beethoven premieres, and directed by Beethoven himself. The performance took more than four hours. The two symphonies appeared on the program in the reverse order of what we know them today: the Sixth was first, and the Fifth appeared in the second half. The program was as follows:
The Sixth Symphony
Aria: "Ah, perfido", Op. 65
The Gloria movement of the Mass in C Major
The Fourth Piano Concerto (played by Beethoven himself)
The Fifth Symphony
The Sanctus and Benedictus movements of the C Major Mass
A solo piano improvisation played by Beethoven
The Choral Fantasy
Beethoven dedicated the symphony to two of his patrons, Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz and Count Rasumovsky. The dedication appeared in the first printed edition of April 1809.
Reception and influence
There was little critical response to the premiere performance, which took place under adverse conditions. The orchestra did not play well—with only one rehearsal before the concert—and at one point, following a mistake by one of the performers in the Choral Fantasy, Beethoven had to stop the music and start again. The auditorium was extremely cold and the audience was exhausted by the length of the program. However, a year and a half later, another performance resulted in a rapturous review by E.T.A. Hoffmann in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. He described the music with dramatic imagery:
Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing—a longing in which every pleasure that rose up amid jubilant tones sinks and succumbs. Only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with a full-voiced general cry from all the passions, do we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits.
The symphony soon acquired its status as a central item in the repertoire. As an emblem of classical music, as it were, the Fifth was played in the inaugural concerts of the New York Philharmonic on December 7, 1842, and the National Symphony Orchestra on November 2, 1931. Groundbreaking both in terms of its technical and emotional impact, the Fifth has had a large influence on composers and music critics, and inspired work by such composers as Brahms, Tchaikovsky (his 4th Symphony in particular), Bruckner, Mahler, and Hector Berlioz. The Fifth stands with the Third Symphony and Ninth Symphony as the most revolutionary of Beethoven's compositions.
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Piano 4th mvt: Allegro
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