Thursday, November 09, 2017

BEETHOVEN - “FUNERAL “MARCH” performed by Sviatoslav Richter

We go Waist Deep in the Big Luddy. More like knee deep, actually, as this blog doesn’t cover classical music much. The item has to be rare or unusual, and most classical music that fits those categories is also irritating. Another way to make it here is to be offbeat or weird, so a “Funeral March” qualifies. And another sure way to arrive here is to be an “obscure” artist, which is a relative term, cousin. Alas, Mr. Richter is obscure to the average music fan who has a ‘Beethoven’s Greatest Hits” on a shelf somewhere. He’s not really well known outside of the avid collectors of piano music. He performed at a time when his competition included Horowitz and Rubinstein, who were not only brilliant, but in America where they had access to radio, TV, and of course, major record label promotion and concert halls. 

     Below is the third movement from Beethoven’s 12th Sonata. He hadn't had a "hit" yet (the “Moonlight” sonata is #14) but he startled some critics by offering a funeral march, which was something new. Meaning, Luddy got there first. Beethoven’s Sonata #12 arrived circa 1801. Chopin’s infamous Sonata #2 was completed in 1839. There’s no question (put your hands down, students) that Chopin’s is much more famous. Almost to the point of comic cliche, a funeral procession on film or TV will have the stately and somber Chopin piece on the soundtrack. The only other grim march that anyone can hum, is probably Gounod’s “Funeral March for a Marionette,” better known as the TV theme for “Alfred Hitchcock Presents.”

    I’m very particular about my Beethoven #12, and the third movement, “Marcia funebre sulla morte d’un Eroe” must be taken at a slow tempo, not a brisk walk. But some pianists speed this up, as well as the infamous first movement of the “Moonlight” sonata, for fear of seeming too romantic. While the "clipped salon style" might actually be closer to how Beethoven performed his works (check out Wilhelm Kempff's 12th and 14th), some piano music benefits from a stately pace. Richter tops Glenn Gould (whose mumbling you can always hear being picked up by the microphone) in my opinion. This live recording is from May 12, 1959 in Prague. A deficit which you’ll encounter about 39 seconds into this short (under 3 minutes) movement, is somebody's loud cough. As Alfred Hitchcock once said, "The cure for a sore throat is to cut it." 

    I was at a piano concert recently by the acclaimed young artist Vassily Primakov (well represented on YouTube these days). The mc of the evening offered the usual preamble about turning off cellphones and behaving properly, and then demonstrated that “the best way to muffle a couch is like THIS” (face buried into the meaty crook of the inner elbow) “and not like THIS” (thin hand lazily up to the mouth). As you'll presumably be alone or among friends when you listen to this, do as you damn well please as loudly as you want. That includes you, Taco Bell fans.

Richter - FUNERAL MARCH from Beethoven's Sonata #12


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