Toscanini's previously-unissused Pastoral Symphony from 1944
Amother treasure from our Lira Panamericana Beethoven radio series
The Lira Panamericana series of radio transcription discs featuring Toscanini conducting Beethoven were largely drawn from his Autumn 1944 cycle. However, the Sixth Symphony was omitted from the 'Beethoven Festival', having previously been heard during an all-Beethoven concert earlier that year, and it is that performance which was used here. Note too that all announcements were cut from these discs.
This was one of the first of the Lira Panamericana discs to be transribed from this collection. As just about nobody had actually heard the disc in the last 60 or so years, it was not clear as to which recording it might contain - was it the March 1944 recording, or perhaps another. NBC had already inserted a 1939 Beethoven recording into this series, based otherwise around Toscanini's Autumn Beethoven Festival series of 1944 - might this be the same?
And so I sent off a copy to Christophe Pizzutti for identification as soon as a transfer had been made. It was intriguing for both of us, as it was also the first hint we would have of the quality - and shortcomings - of these early vinyl discs. His e-mail back to me was even more intriguing - the performance could be identified by a small mistake in the first movement at 6'12" - but he also remarked that the instrumental balance seemed quite different to a transcription of the same concert that he already knew. Could this have been taken from an alternative microphone feed? If so, might the two versions some day be joined in order to recreate some kind of primitive stereo?
That final question may have to wait. For now we can enjoy the remarkable fidelity of this recording, frustrated only by the technical shortcomings of wide-groove 33rpm vinyl discs made in 1944, of which I've written elsewhere in the notes for this series - as ever, surface noise and swish caused me some difficulties in this restoration, but as you'll hear from our first movement excerpt, they've been tamed to the extent that they should not at any point interrupt your enjoyment of a quite excellent recording!
The Toscanini Beethoven Lira Panamericana Discs - background
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 15.7" vinyl discs, cut at 33rpm but using wide-groove 78rpm cutters, 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, 5th and 6th), together with recordings of three Piano Concertos, plus various overtures and chamber music transcriptions.
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.
Label from one of the discs
Beethoven Symphony No. 6 'Pastoral'
notes from Wikipedia
Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 in F major (Op. 68), known as the Pastoral Symphony, was completed in 1808. One of Beethoven's few works of program music, the symphony was labeled at its first performance with the title "Recollections of Country Life".
Beethoven was a lover of nature who spent a great deal of his time on walks in the country. He frequently left Vienna to work in rural locales. He was, however, not the first composer of his time to depict nature symphonically; for example, Joseph Haydn's oratorio The Seasons, premiered in 1802, likewise portrayed the loveliness of nature, dancing peasants, a thunderstorm, bird calls, and so on. Beethoven did not write another oratorio, but a symphony, and thus escaped from the overly-literal character that a libretto would have imposed. As the composer said, the Sixth Symphony is "a matter more of feeling than of painting in sounds", and the same point is made in the title he attached to the first movement (see below).
The first sketches of this symphony appeared in 1802. The symphony has programmatic titles; Beethoven remarked, "It is left to the listener to find out the situations ... Anyone that has formed any ideal of rural life does not need titles to imagine the composer’s intentions."
The Pastoral Symphony was composed simultaneously with Beethoven's more famous—and more fiery—Fifth Symphony. It was premiered along with the Fifth in a long and somewhat underrehearsed concert in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, on December 22, 1808. It was received rather coldly, mainly due to the excitement caused by its more flamboyant counterpart. Although the Sixth Symphony contains some of Beethoven's most beautiful writing, the crowds had been wanting another bold and adventurous work, and the relatively calm and introspective composition was not wholly to their liking.
Since this inauspicious beginning, however, the work has become one of the central works of the symphonic repertoire. It is a favorite of many listeners and is frequently performed and recorded today.
The symphony is scored for piccolo (fourth movement only), 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B flat, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in F and B flat, 2 trumpets in C and E flat (third, fourth, and fifth movements only), 2 trombones (alto and tenor, fourth and fifth movements only), timpani (fourth movement only), and strings.
The symphony breaks from the standard symphonic form of the time in having five movements, rather than the four typical of the Classical era. The movements are marked as follows:
A performance of the work lasts about 40 minutes. The last three movements are performed together without pause.
Description of movements
I. Allegro ma non troppo
The symphony begins with a placid and cheerful movement depicting the composer's feelings as he arrives in the country. The work is in sonata form, and makes use of seven distinct motifs, each of which is extensively developed and transformed.
An unusual aspect of the movement is the use of a microscopic texture, obtained by multiple repetitions of very short motifs. As Yvonne Frindle [dead link] has said, "the infinite repetition of pattern in nature [is] conveyed through rhythmic cells, its immensity through sustained pure harmonies."
II. Andante molto mosso
This movement, entitled by Beethoven "By the brook," is held to be one of Beethoven's most beautiful and serene compositions. It is in a 12/8 meter and the key is B flat major, the subdominant of the main key of the work, and is in sonata form.
At the opening the strings play a motif that clearly imitates flowing water. The cello section is divided, with just two players playing the flowing-water notes on muted instruments, with the remaining cellos playing mostly pizzicato notes together with the double basses.
Toward the end of the movement, in the coda that begins at measure 124, there is a cadenza for three woodwind instruments that imitates bird calls at measure 130. Beethoven helpfully identified the bird species in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (clarinet).
This is the scherzo movement of the symphony, which depicts the country folk dancing and reveling. It is in F major, returning to the main key of the symphony.
The form of the movement is an altered version of the usual form for scherzi:
In other words, the trio appears twice rather than just once, and each time it appears it is interrupted by a boisterous passage in 2/4 time (a similar 2/4 eruption is found in Beethoven's Hammerklavier sonata for piano). Perhaps to accommodate this rather spacious arrangement, Beethoven left out the normally observed repeats of the second parts of the scherzo and the trio. Theodor Adorno identifies this particular scherzo as the model for the scherzos by Anton Bruckner.
The final return of Scherzo conveys a riotous atmosphere with a faster tempo. The movement ends abruptly when the country folk notice that raindrops are starting to fall.
The fourth movement, in F minor, depicts a violent thunderstorm with painstaking realism, starting with just a few drops of rain and building to a great climax. There is, of course, thunder, as well as lightning, high winds, and sheets of rain. From Beethoven's injunction that the symphony is meant to be "a matter more of feeling than of painting in sounds," one might guess that the movement depicts not just the storm itself but the feelings of awe and fear experienced by a witness to the storm.
The storm eventually spends itself, with an occasional peal of thunder still heard in the distance. There is a seamless transition into the final movement, including a theme that could be interpreted as depicting a rainbow.
Since the fourth movement does not resolve in a final cadence, and by the pattern of Classical symphonies would count as the "extra" movement among the five, critics have described it structurally as an extended introduction to the final movement, rather than an independent movement in itself. A precedent for Beethoven's procedure is found in an earlier work (1787), Mozart's String Quintet in G minor K. 516, which likewise prefaces a serene final movement with a long, emotionally stormy introduction.
The finale is in F major and is in 6/8 time. The first eight bars form a continuation of the introduction of which the storm was the main part; the finale proper begins in the ninth bar. The movement is written in sonata rondo form, meaning that the main theme appears in the tonic key at the beginning of the development as well as the exposition and the recapitulation. There is a very long coda; the "tail that wags the dog".
Like many classical finales, this movement emphasises a symmetrical eight-bar theme, in this case representing the shepherds' song of thanksgiving. The mood throughout is unmistakably joyful.
The coda, which Antony Hopkins has called "arguably the finest music of the whole symphony," starts quietly and gradually builds to an ecstatic culmination for the full orchestra (minus "storm instruments"), with the first violins playing very rapid triplets at the top of their range. There follows a fervent passage suggestive of prayer, marked by Beethoven "pianissimo, sotto voce"; most conductors slow the tempo for this passage. After a brief period of afterglow, the work ends with two emphatic chords.
Notes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Symphony_No._6_(Beethoven)
Score from IMSLP: http://imslp.org/wiki/Symphony_No.6,_Op.68_(Beethoven,_Ludwig_van)
Notes on the 24-bit download: Please see this page for test files and further information regarding this format. Although restoration work is done at a sample rate of 44.1kHz, we have upsampled the final 24-bit master to 48kHz for additional replay compatibility of our FLAC download.
Our twenty-four bit FLAC downloads can be replayed in full quality using a standard DVD video player, a DVD writer and an inexpensive piece of PC software - see here for more information about replay from Video DVD discs.