Time limits are mitigating against me writing too much this week about B5 preparations with the Surrey Mozart Players, but I am getting excited about the concert and hoping that I’m able to be there for it (more on that next week). There is good news for the orchestra- the concert is sold out (that’s 3 sold-out programs in a row for the SMP), and the rest of the Guildford Spring Music Festival, of which this will be the final concert, has been going really well, so we should have an electric atmosphere.
Earlier this week, I wrote a bit about the band and the edition we’re using. Today, I’ll try to share a few thoughts about how we’re deploying our resources in this performance.
As it happens, I’ll be doing something new (for me) on Saturday, which is to take the controversial repeat of the entire Scherzo and Trio. For most of the last 100 + years, conductors have done the movement as it is published in the old edition, which is in ABA’ form. In the 1970’s musicologist Peter Gulke pointed out that in its original form, Beethoven had written the it in ABABA form (the autograph manuscript is clearly in ABABA)- repeating all the way back to the beginning after the Trio and playing the entire first two sections again before going on to the ghostly return. I suppose my first reaction on hearing a conductor take this extra repeat was a bit of shock- I figured he was being a bit bloody minded and was reading too many articles. Working in the past with Del Mar’s edition also reinforced this conclusion- Del Mar states unequivocally that Beethoven firmly rejected the repeat in later versions of the piece.
However, after the last performance I did with LCO in January, I began to doubt myself and Del Mar.
I think that a great deal of my doubt comes from my experience doing the other Beethoven symphonies over the last 10 years. After all scherzos of the 4th, 6th and 7th symphonies are all ABABA, and compared to those, the scherzo of the 5th can feel strangely truncated. Also, I began to feel that the short version of the 3rd movement doesn’t make the return to C minor after the 2nd movement sufficiently strong enough to make the C major of the last movement feel like the massive transformation and release that it should. In its ABA version, after finishing the 2nd mvt in relatively comfortable A-flat major, one only hears about 90 seconds of C minor, then we’re in C major already for the trio, then the brief return to C minor for the transition to the last movement.
Scholars are divided on this question- Del Mar feels the ABA’ is conclusively correct, Brown feels that ABA is probably correct, Gulke feels strongly that ABABA’ is correct. Beethoven clearly was of two minds about it, but did compose the work originally as ABABA’.
I think that using the ABABA version this week will give the symphony more balance, instead of the Scherzo feeling like an episode, which it sometimes can, it should feel more like a full movement of equal weight to the other three. It will also be of the same proportions as Beethoven’s other Scherzi from this period of his career.
To me, the real reason to doubt ABABA is not which editions and copies have what scratched out in whose hand, but it is the return of the Scherzo in the Finale, which invalidates comparisons with the norms in the other symphonies. Once LvB brings back the Scherzo in the last movement, all bets are off.
Still, I’ve decided to try it. There is a good interview with Ivan Fischer on YouTube right now talking about a similar experiment he did with the order of the inner movements of Mahler 6. Although I think it is dangerous to try to use one’s own taste to solve a scholarly question, there seem to be some issues that are best solved musically. With experience, I’m hoping to get a better sense of either –
1- Why Beethoven wrote it ABABA as he originally did, and why I should be skeptical of the reasons for the later change, or-
2- Why he may have changed it, and whether his reasons for the change were musical or practical. Was he pressured into the cut? Did he feel the scope of the piece was too massive for Viennese audiences? Or did he think that ABABA was a mistake?