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Detail of title page of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony (Theodore Thomas collection)

Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony—according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies—is “a work as full of beauties, novel of their kind, as the Eroica, but expressing no worldly program; singing instead the songs of nature—the music of the soul. . . . In consequence, he has given us, in the Fourth Symphony, a song of beauty such as no one else has ever written, presenting absolute novelty of color and creating an atmosphere in music justly termed ‘romantic,’ a romanticism parallel to that of Schiller in literature.”

“Generations of music lovers have described—and sometimes dismissed—Beethoven’s even-numbered symphonies as lyrical and relaxed compared to their spunky, coltish, odd-numbered neighbors. The Fourth, in B-flat major, has suffered from that fate perhaps more than any,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Schumann was perhaps the first musician to warn us not to overlook the Fourth’s own special qualities: ‘Do not illustrate his genius with the Ninth Symphony alone, no matter how great its audacity and scope, never uttered in any tongue. You can do as much with his First Symphony, or with the Greek-like slender one in B-flat major!’”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony on March 17 and 18, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1974 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Fourth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1987 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded Beethoven’s complete symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Fourth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on September 21 and 22, 1987. Michael Haas was the recording producer and James Lock was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4 on May 5, 6, and 7, 2022.

This article also appears here.

“What could come after [the Fifth Symphony]?” wrote Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “The subtlety of Beethoven’s imagination found an answer in due time, and in his Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, we find his thoughts expressed in a new form. Even though other composers before him and in his time had attempted to write program music, Beethoven was the first whose efforts in this direction proved to be a lasting achievement. . . . His was a poetic conception of nature’s grandeur and beauty, a faithful interpretation of her inward significance, cast in the most perfect of musical forms, the symphony.”

Detail of title page of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, bearing marks by Frederick Stock and Fritz Reiner (Fritz Reiner collection)

“Our familiar picture of Beethoven, cross and deaf, slumped in total absorption over his sketches, doesn’t easily allow for Beethoven the nature-lover,” writes writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “But he liked nothing more than a walk in the woods, where he could wander undisturbed, stopping from time to time to scribble a new idea on the folded sheets of music paper he always carried in his pocket. ‘No one,’ he wrote to Therese Malfati two years after the premiere of the Pastoral Symphony, ‘can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo which man desires to hear.’ They’re all here in his Sixth Symphony.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on March 2 and 3, 1894, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1961 recording (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra’s first recording of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony on April 8 and 10, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

1974 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Sixth Symphony was recorded at the Sofiensaal in Vienna on September 10, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson, and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1988 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Sixth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on May 9, 10, 14, and 16, 1988. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 on April 28, 30, and May 3, 2022.

This article also appears here.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—according to Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies—is “dedicated to all Mankind. Embracing all phases of human emotion, monumental in scope and outline, colossal in its intellectual grasp and emotional eloquence, the Ninth stands today as the greatest of all symphonies.”

First page detail of a choral score, edited by Arthur Mees, the Orchestra’s first assistant conductor

Stock continues: “The Ninth is unquestionably the greatest of all symphonies not only because it is the final résumé of all of Beethoven’s achievements, colossal as they are even without the Ninth, but also because it voices the message of one who had risen beyond himself, beyond the world and the time in which he lived. The Ninth is Beethoven, the psychic and spiritual significance of his life.

“In the first movement we find the bitter struggle he waged against life’s adversities, his failing health, his deafness, his loneliness. The Scherzo depicts the quest for worldly joy; the third movement, melancholy reflection, longing—resignation. The last movement, the ‘Ode to Joy,’ is dedicated to all Mankind.”

“There’s something astonishing about a deaf composer choosing to open a symphony with music that reveals, like no other music before it, the very essence of sound emerging from silence,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “The famous pianissimo opening—sixteen measures with no secure sense of key or rhythm—does not so much depict the journey from darkness to light, or from chaos to order, as the birth of sound itself or the creation of a musical idea. It is as if the challenges of Beethoven’s daily existence—the struggle to compose music, his difficulty in communicating, the frustration of remembering what it was like to hear—have been made real in a single page of music.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on December 16 and 17, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre. The soloists were Minnie Fish, Minna Brentano, Charles A. Knorr, and George E. Holmes, along with the Apollo Chorus (prepared by William L. Tomlins).

1961 recording (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Orchestra’s first recording of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on May 1 and 2, 1961, in Orchestra Hall. Phyllis Curtin, Florence Kopleff, John McCollum, and Donald Gramm were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer and Lewis Layton was the recording engineer.

1972 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Ninth Symphony was recorded at the Krannert Center at the University of Illinois in Urbana on May 15 and 16, and June 26, 1972. Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Stuart Burrows, and Martti Talvela were the soloists, and the Chicago Symphony Chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. David Harvey was the recording producer, and Gordon Parry, Kenneth Wilkinson, and Peter van Biene were the balance engineers.

1986 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Ninth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on September 29 and 30, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer, John Pellowe the balance engineer, and Neil Hutchinson the tape editor. Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin were soloists, and Margaret Hillis prepared the Chorus. The release won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

On September 18, 20, 21, and 23, 2014, Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Orchestra Hall. Camilla Nylund, Ekaterina Gubanova, Matthew Polenzani (September 18), William Burden (September 20, 21, and 23), and Eric Owens were the soloists, and the Chorus was prepared by Duain Wolfe. The performance on September 18 was recorded for YouTube and is available in the link below.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 on February 24, 25, 26, and 27, 2022.

This article also appears here.

“We know with certainty that seldom was a work of this kind brought to completion under more adverse conditions than the Eighth Symphony,” wrote Frederick Stock, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra‘s second music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s SymphoniesThe year 1812 was challenging for Beethoven, as he endured “domestic difficulties of the most embarrassing and annoying kind . . . added to this the agony of his ever-increasing deafness, and life’s burden must have been unbearable. And yet the general character of the F major symphony is added proof that adversities, no matter how severe, could not overwhelm him or daunt his spirt, since the temper and color of this work show no trace of suffering. . . . the Eighth Symphony [is] the work of a genius rising above his world, reaching beyond his own time, and that this work was only a stepping-stone for much greater things to come.”

The Eighth Symphony “was misunderstood from the start,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “The Eighth is a throwback to an easier time. The novelty of this symphony, however, is that it manages to do new and unusual things without ever waving the flag of controversy.”

Founder and first music director Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony on March 25 and 26, 1892, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1973 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Eighth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 6 and 9, 1973. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1988 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Eighth Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on October 17 and 18, 1988. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture along with Symphonies nos. 5 and 8 on January 13 and 15, 2021.

April 15 and 16, 1921

One hundred years ago, second music director Frederick Stock led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in the U.S. premiere of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony on April 15, 1921, in Orchestra Hall. 

According to Phillip Huscher’s program note, “Stock heard Mahler’s Seventh Symphony for the first time in Amsterdam in 1920. He got a copy of the score in Paris and programmed the work for the penultimate concert of the 1920–21 season in Chicago. Perhaps fearing that the Chicago public would not share his enthusiasm for the Seventh Symphony, Stock announced that he had cut out eleven minutes of music, paring the playing time down to one hour and four minutes.”

Stock had programmed Smetana’s Overture to Libussa followed by the Mahler (the original program note is here); the second half of the program consisted of a single work, Bruch’s Scottish Fantasy with American violinist Amy Neill.

“All [Mahler’s] weaknesses are crowded into the first and fifth movements,” wrote Ruth Miller in the Chicago Tribune, and “all his virtues are in the two serenades and the scherzo. Therein may be found the elfin charm born of incredibly dexterous instrumentation, lovely, wistful melodies, and the orchestral balance and unity resultant from master craftsmanship.” 

The Chicago Evening Post reported that “the orchestra played with astonishing virtuosity. There was nothing Mahler could write which they could not play, as they demonstrated to full satisfaction. At the close of the symphony there was a great demonstration for Mr. Stock, in which he had all the players rise and join.”

One of two first edition scores of Mahler’s Seventh Symphony in the collections of the Rosenthal Archives

And Herman Devries in the American reported: “We were prepared to hear something out of the ordinary, for nothing banal, commonplace, cheap, or artificial could emanate from a brain that produced the marvelous Symphony of a Thousand presented by Mr. Stock at the memorable Spring Festival in the Auditorium [in April 1917]. With the first bars of the orchestral score yesterday, one might have imitated Schubert’s famous phrase and said, ‘Hats off! A genius!’

“The entire symphony, which for due understanding and assimilation of its beauty and richness requires far more than a single hearing, is so evidently a work of supreme and dominating intelligence that it seems presumptuous, importunate, for me to attempt any criticism. Mahler’s name today is being mentioned as a sort of twentieth-century reflection of Beethoven a century ago.

“His conception is of gigantic orchestral proportions. He knew the orchestra and played upon it as upon a mighty instrument. And this mighty vision, a vision too great, too immense for the mere span of human intellect, seems to crave reflection in his writing. . . . We devoutly hope for many more opportunities to hear this master work, for [it] demands absolute mental concentration, and one performance is simply a foretaste.”

Following that first performance, Frederick Stock, summing it up better than anyone, was reported as saying, “Mahler is one of the coming composers and the musical world is just beginning to understand him.”

Portions of this article previously appeared here and here.

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra family joins the music world in mourning the loss of legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone, who died earlier today, July 6, 2020, in Rome following complications from a fall last week. He was ninety-one.

Ennio Morricone (Tammie Arroyo photo)

Riccardo Muti, writing from Paestum, expressed that Morricone was “a maestro for whom I had friendship and admiration. I conducted his Voices from the Silence which received a very emotional response from the audience. An extraordinary musician not only for film music but also for classical compositions. Ennio Morricone will be missed as a man and as an artist.” (Last evening, Maestro Muti led a Roads of Friendship concert—dedicated to the city of Palmyra in Syria—at the Archaeological Park of Paestum, in the province of Salerno in Campania, Italy.)

Riccardo Muti led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in Morricone’s Voices from the Silence on February 6, 7, and 8, 2014. Ora Jones was the narrator and Duain Wolfe prepared the Chorus.

“It was Riccardo Muti who suggested Morricone compose a work that paid tribute to 9/11 which Muti would premiere at the Ravenna Festival,” wrote Phillip Huscher, the CSO’s program annotator. “The Ravenna Festival began its series, Roads of Friendship, in 1997, by taking concerts to crisis points around Europe and beyond, including Sarajevo, Beirut, Jerusalem, and Istanbul. Voci dal silencio (Voices from the silence) now added another city, New York—one that had only recently been thought of as a crisis point—to the list. Four years after the Ravenna premiere, Voices from the Silence was performed at the United Nations, with Morricone on the podium.

Riccardo Muti and Ennio Morricone acknowledge applause following the CSO’s first performance of Voices from the Silence on February 6, 2014 (Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Voices from the Silence is a cantata for chorus, narrator, prerecorded sounds, and orchestra. Morricone said he composed the score in response to ‘the terrorist attacks of September 11 and all the massacres of humanity all over the world.’ At the head of the score, Morricone writes: ‘Against terrorism, against racism, and all forms of ethnic persecution. For equality among all people.’ For his text, Morricone turned to a poem by the South African writer Richard Rive, who was born and raised in Cape Town’s District Six, a lively multiracial community that was condemned as a slum in 1966, bulldozed, and rezoned exclusively for whites. ‘I always feel when I am here in District Six that I am standing over a vast cemetery of people who have been moved away against their will,’ he said in 1988. ‘The legacy of District Six is to show what avarice and political bigotry can do.’ The following year, Rive was found murdered in his house near Cape Town. He had been stabbed several times and beaten in the face. A solitary man without family, Rive lives on in his highly charged writings about oppression.” (The program book is available here.)

Morricone’s music has been performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on several other occasions, as follows:

July 15, 1990, Ravinia Festival
MORRICONE Main Theme from The Untouchables
Erich Kunzel, conductor

February 25, 2005, Orchestra Hall
MORRICONE Main Theme from The Untouchables
Richard Kaufman, conductor

February 25, 2011, Orchestra Hall
MORRICONE/Mancini Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission
Richard Kaufman, conductor

June 26, 2014, Morton Arboretum
MORRICONE Main Theme from The Untouchables
Richard Kaufman, conductor

July 29, 2017, Ravinia Festival
MORRICONE/Williams Love Theme from Cinema Paradiso
James Conlon, conductor
Itzhak Perlman, violin

Tributes have been posted at the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and The New York Times, along with the composer’s website and countless other news outlets.

On April 21, 2020, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra family celebrates the centennial of Italian composer and conductor Bruno Maderna (1920–1973).

According to Phillip Huscher, “For many years he had been a close friend of Pierre Boulez (and a true friend of all those involved in new music activities) and a treasured colleague; like Boulez, he had made his mark both as a composer and as a conductor. ‘In fact, to get any real idea of what he was like as a person,’ Boulez wrote at the time of his death, ‘the conductor and the composer must be taken together; for Maderna was a practical person, equally close to music whether he was performing or composing.'”

The Chicago Symphony Orchestra first performed music by Maderna at the Ravinia Festival on July 23, 1967, when Luciano Berio led a performance of the Serenata no. 2. In the Chicago Tribune, Thomas Willis wrote, that Maderna’s work “fashioned a post-Webern web of deceptively individual notes into an evocative introduction [to the concert].”

As a conductor, Maderna himself led the Orchestra on several occasions, as follows:

January 15 and 17, 1970, Orchestra Hall
SCHUBERT/Maderna Five Pieces for Piano, Four Hands
MADERNA Quadrivium (U.S. premiere)
BERIO Epifanie
Cathy Berberian, soprano
STRAVINSKY Circus Polka
STRAVINSKY Scherzo à la russe

January 16, 1970, Orchestra Hall
MADERNA Quadrivium
BERIO Epifanie
Cathy Berberian, soprano
SCHUBERT/Maderna Five Pieces for Piano, Four Hands

Pierre Boulez, Bruno Maderna, and Karlheinz Stockhausen

January 22 and 23, 1970, Orchestra Hall
MOZART Symphony No. 31, D Major, K. 297 (Paris)
BROWN From Here*
Members of the Chicago Symphony Chorus
Margaret Hillis, director
GABRIELI/Maderna Motet:: In Ecclesiis
VLIJMEN Serenata II for Flute and Orchestra
Donald Peck, flute
SCHOENBERG Variations for Orchestra, Op. 31
*In Earle Brown’s From Here, Maderna conducted the Orchestra and the composer conducted the Chorus.

June 29, 1971, Ravinia Festival
GABRIELI/Maderna Motet: In Ecclesiis
STRAVINSKY Jeu de cartes
TCHAIKOVSKY Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23
Van Cliburn, piano

March 16, 17, and 18, 1972
MOZART Serenade in D Major, K. 239 (Serenata notturna)
SCHOENBERG Concerto for Violin, Op. 36
Esther Glazer, violin
DRUCKMAN Windows (world premiere)
DEBUSSY Jeux

March 23, 24, and 25, 1972
SCHOENBERG Transfigured Night, Op. 4
LEVY Trialogus (world premiere)
STRAVINSKY Concerto for Piano and Wind Instruments
Earl Wild, piano
MADERNA Aura (world premiere)

On March 3, 4, 5, and 8, 2005, David Robertson led the Orchestra in performances of Boulez’s Rituel in memoriam Bruno Maderna. Written shortly after Maderna’s death in 1974 and 1975, Boulez described the work as “A ceremony of memory, in which there are numerous repetitions of the same formulas, in constantly changing profiles and perspectives.” Phillip Huscher’s program note from those performances can be found here.

Title page of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony (Theodore Thomas collection)

“We have now reached what is called Beethoven’s second creative period, the zenith of his career,” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “He has outlived other influences and is mature in every respect; his powers and individuality are fully developed; he has had some experience of the world, has solved difficult problems, and feels himself a master. Hence in this period he produces works which are as nearly perfect as anything human can be, breathing the spirit of the nineteenth century and endowing music with a meaning deeper and more fruitful than it ever had before.”

The Fifth Symphony “has come to represent greatness in music,” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “One can’t easily think of another single composition that, in its expressive range and structural power, better represents what music is all about.”

Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the inaugural concerts on October 16 and 17, 1891, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1959 and 1968 recordings (RCA)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner recorded the Fifth Symphony with the Orchestra for RCA on May 4, 1959, in Orchestra Hall. Richard Mohr was the producer and Joseph F. Wells was the recording engineer. Also for RCA, Seiji Ozawa recorded the symphony with the ensemble on August 9, 1968, in Orchestra Hall. Peter Dellheim was the producer and Bernard Keville was the recording engineer.

1973 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Fifth Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5 and 6, 1973. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1986 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Fifth Symphony was recorded in Medinah Temple on October 6 and 7, 1986. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

During the tour to Japan in 1990, Solti led the Orchestra in the Fifth Symphony, and the April 15 performance at Suntory Hall in Tokyo was video recorded for release on laser disc. For CBS Sony, Shūji Fujii was the video director.

Fantasia 2000 soundtrack

The Orchestra also recorded an abbreviated version of the first movement from the symphony on April 25, 1994, for the Fantasia 2000 soundtrack. For Disney, James Levine conducted, Jay David Saks was the producer, and it was recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Coriolan Overture along with Symphonies nos. 5 and 8 on January 13 and 15, 2021.

Title page of Beethoven’s Second Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

In Beethoven’s Second Symphony, “we find the mature master,” according to Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director. In Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies, Thomas writes, “He uses no extraordinary means in regard to instruments, for what he has to say still lies within the scope of the old means, but he stands at the height of his time and expresses that which is mature. . . . Here I must call attention to one of Beethoven’s earliest and most startling musical innovations—one from which he did not depart in after years—his use of dynamic effects, sudden changes from loud to soft and vice versa. No composer has made use of forte, piano, forzando, etc. as constantly as he. . . . Beethoven wrote for a standard of virtuosity far beyond that which exited among the orchestral players of his time, and which is still very difficult for even the most advanced instrumentalists of today [but he] will live for the cultivated for centuries after the masses have lost all understanding of his works.”

“Although Beethoven’s hearing would deteriorate considerably in later years, 1802 marked the moment of crisis: the Heiligenstadt Testament includes Beethoven’s admission that his malady was permanent and incurable. He didn’t fail to see the horrible irony of ‘an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others,’” writes CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. Despite this admission, the composer’s Second Symphony is “one of his most energetic, cheerful, and outgoing works [and] shows no signs of Beethoven’s obvious despair.”

Theodore Thomas first led the Chicago Orchestra in Beethoven’s Second Symphony on December 1 and 2, 1893, at the Auditorium Theatre.

1974 recording (London)

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Second Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on May 13, 14, 15, and 18, 1974 (along with the First Symphony). Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989-90 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Second Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on November 14 and 16, 1989, and January 27, 1990 (along with the First Symphony). Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Symphonies nos. 2 and 5 on February 20, 21, 22, and 23, 2020.

Title page of Beethoven’s Third Symphony (Fritz Reiner collection)

Regarding the Third Symphony, “Beethoven, now fully emancipated from the preceding era, may be said for the first time to stand forth and show his lion’s paw!” wrote Theodore Thomas, the Chicago Orchestra‘s founder and first music director, in Talks About Beethoven’s Symphonies. “In my judgment, the Eroica is only a perfectly legitimate step forward, a logical sequence in his normal development. . . . His soul now began to long to express that which had never before been said in music—anticipating centuries; hence this symphony, the first dawn of modern music, written in a definite mood, giving expression to the soul through color and contrast rather than attempting to illustrate a specific program.”

1954 recording (RCA)

“The Eroica is perhaps the first great symphony to have captured the romantic imagination,” according to CSOA scholar-in-residence and program annotator Phillip Huscher. “Beethoven’s vast and powerful first movement and the funeral march that follows must have sounded like nothing else in all music. Never before had symphonic music aspired to these dimensions. . . . Beethoven’s Allegro con brio was longer—and bigger, in every sense—than any other symphonic movement at the time (the first movement of Mozart’s Prague Symphony comes the closest). It’s also a question of proportion, and Beethoven’s central development section, abounding in some truly monumental statements, is enormous.”

Thomas first led the Orchestra in Beethoven’s Third Symphony during the first season, on January 12, 1892, at The Odeon in Cincinnati and later that week in Chicago on January 15 and 16 at the Auditorium Theatre.

1973–74 recording (London)

Sixth music director Fritz Reiner led the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s first commercial recording of the work in Orchestra Hall on December 4, 1954. For RCA, Richard Mohr was the producer.

Sir Georg Solti and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chorus first recorded Beethoven’s nine symphonies between May 1972 and September 1974 for London Records. The recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with three overtures: Egmont, Coriolan, and Leonore no. 3); that set won the 1975 Grammy Award for Classical Album of the Year from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. The Third Symphony was recorded at Medinah Temple on November 5, 6, and 9, 1973, and May 18, 1974. Ray Minshull was the recording producer, and Kenneth Wilkinson and James Lock were the balance engineers.

1989 recording (London)

Between September 1986 and January 1990, Solti and the Orchestra and Chorus recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies a second time, again for London Records; and again, the recordings were ultimately released as a set (along with two overtures: Egmont and Leonore no. 3). The Third Symphony was recorded in Orchestra Hall on May 6 and 8, 1989. Michael Haas was the recording producer and Stanley Goodall was the balance engineer.

Riccardo Muti leads the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven’s Consecration of the House Overture and Symphonies nos. 1 and 3 on September 26, 27, and 28, 2019.

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