Thursday, June 24, 2010

Jaw-dropping Beethoven

Have you ever wondered what Beethoven's Ninth Symphony would sound like if it took 2 hours to perform? No of course not. You are not a crazy person. But Brazilian conductor Maximianno Cobra has wondered about it, in fact he's got a whole philosophy about it. Taking as his starting point the not controversial idea that Beethoven's metronome markings weren't always accurate, Cobra extrapolates this to conclude that not only were they never accurate, but neither is the whole concept of a metronome marking. They must be interpreted metrically, you see, not mathematically. I have no idea what that means, but the end result is - in Cobra's own words - "most of the adopted tempi end up twice as slow as they normally would through their mathematical application". But Maximianno, what justification do you have for doing this? "Justifying the need for this metric reading would carry us too far just now". Oh, okay then. Well, here's Maximianno and his trusty band applying his principles to the end of the 4th movement. This is the Ode to Joy for people who think that "joy" is the feeling you get when swimming 20 lengths of an Olympic-sized pool filled with rice pudding:

Have a listen too to Cobra's Beethoven 7. Or, better yet, don't. You'll lose 81 minutes of your life. That is not a typo. I see from the albums now available on eMusic that his Beethoven 5 just about squeezes onto a CD. You may wonder what Cobra's Bruckner 9 is like. Pah! Not so radical: only 105 minutes, practically racehorse-ish, and a good 17 minutes faster than his Schubert 9. Dear God... his Bach Orchestral Suite no.3 takes over three quarters of an hour.
Of course, maybe Cobra is right, and the performance traditions built up over the last several centuries are wrong, and have always been wrong. I mean, it could happen. One day everyone's happily trundling along at eighth-note = 60 and then wham! Amnesia throughout Europe! The metric system disappears overnight! Next day the orchestras consult their scores, read them mathematically as quarter-note = 60 and suddenly all the music is twice as fast as it should be and nobody notices. God, Roger Norrington's going to be pissed when he finds out.

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