Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Now BBC presents Beethoven's greatest hits

Some time ago the BBC Radio 3 dropped its policy of only playing complete works, and started broadcasting single movements from symphonies and concertos. Yesterday, in their Morning on 3 programme, they took their drive for 'accessibility' still further by playing the Molto Adagio slow movement of Beethoven's sublime Op 132 quartet on its own. Shorn of the framing, and contrasting, Allegro ma non tanto and Alla marcia, assai vivaci Beethoven's great hymn of thanksgiving sounded horribly like film music - which is presumably what the BBC producer intended.

But I'm sure the market driven BBC will say the audience ratings justified it, and that they gave their nemesis Classic FM a bloody nose. So to help them understand what they actually did, I offer the noses of two other great works of art shorn of all those boring bits around them.

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If you enjoyed this post take An Overgrown Path to Classic misunderstandings - Beethoven's movements


Pliable said...

BBC Radio 3's Morning on 3 continues its exploration of 'left-field' views of the late Beethoven Quartets tomorrow with Bernstein's transcription of Op 135 recorded with the Vienna Philharmonic.

There is a world of difference between transcriptions and truncations, and I listened a lot to Bernstein's LP of the Mitropoulos transcription of Op 131 when it was first released in 1979. (The Opp 131 and 135 are now coupled on one CD).

But have to confess I listened to Bernstein's transcription again a few months ago and didn't get beyond the first few minutes.

But it is a fascinating curiosity, and worth listening out for. (Morning on 3 is available on 'listen again')

Scott Belyea said...

Well, I'll admit that my first reaction was just about identical to Pliable's.

And yet ...

"...sounded horribly like film music..."

Seems to me that this is where your "noses" metaphor falls flat - the noses are still easily recognizable as a part of the whole, and to my ears, the same thing is true of the Beethoven.

"...which is presumably what the BBC producer intended."

A fascinating comment, and I'm really curious why you presume this.

"...the market driven BBC will say the audience ratings justified it,"

Am I supposed to conclude that "market driven" is an unqualified negative?

"Some time ago the BBC Radio 3 dropped its policy of only playing complete works,..."

Being from the colonies, I can't really comment. However, you make an absolute statement. Does this policy really apply to all programming, or only to some?

Pliable said...

Scott, Grove's Dictionary wrote that the BBC Third Programme was originally pitched at:

'the alert and receptive listener, who is willing to make an effort to select his programming in advance and then meet the performer half-way by giving his whole attention to what is being broadcast'.

Times change, but BBC Radio 3 now expects very little effort from the listener (such as listening to a whole Beethoven Quartet). Instead the schedules are dominated by compromises in the increasingly frenetic fight for listeners with 'populist' Classis FM.

In my recent postabout Arvo Pärt's Passio I wrote how Pärt determined the duration of the silences between the sections determined by the number of syllables in the final word of the preceeding sentence.

Pärt's Passio is a through-composed work, not a succession of movements separated by silences. In my view a Beethoven Quartet, such as the Op 131, is exactly the same.

I can see no reason for the BBC to have programmed a single movement. It was not a time constraint. As mentioned in my comment above, the same programme is tomorrow broadcasting the orchestrated Op 135 which lasts 32 minutes. The Op 132 lasts 38 minutes.

Scott Belyea said...

Fair enough. It sounded to me as though this might be the same sort of "short pieces" constraint that I'm familiar with during morning and evening "commute times." If you want complete longer works, it's mid-day or evenings or weekends.

I'm not trying to defend any "dumbing down" initiatives, but I do recognize that trying to play to my own particular tastes would be a fast way to drive down any live or remote audience. Not all compromises are inherently evil, but I'm really not close enough to this particular example to judge ...

bernard said...

OK, it sounds like nationalist crap ( it does). I'm flemish ( however not a natinalist, I dislike nationalism).

Van Beethoven?
Van? Not Von. Why?

Because his ancestors (parents, grandparents)were from Mechelen.They emigrated to Bonn.

Still .. great organ linked musicians over there.