Lovely Lovely Ludwig Van

Just a few days after I’d mentioned one of my favourite piano pieces, Debussy’s ‘Clair De Lune’ (in the Hazy Cosmic Jive blog), I caught a great half hour programme on Radio 4 about another – Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, aka ‘The Emperor’, which includes the awe-inspiring second movement (Adagio). This was broadcast as part of the stations ‘Soul Music’ series. My wife had heard it a few days earlier and was raving about it, so it was bonus beats when it came on again whilst I was driving back from London.

In one part the Australian film producer, Hal McElroy, talks about the use of the Adagio at various points in the soundtrack of the classic movie ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ (1975). This got me thinking that it could have been here that I came across this astounding piece, or, at least, where it properly registered with me. The unique tone of this haunting film, directed by Peter Weir, is perfectly set via the use of music, most famously the acclaimed opening theme by the celebrated Romanian pan flutist, Gheorghe Zamfir – you can hear it here, accompanying a selection of stills and footage from this Australian treasure:

Concert pianist, James Rhodes, a former junkie, offered another illuminating perspective when he spoke about how he turned his life around in a big way, citing Beethoven, and The Emperor in particular, as his salvation. There’s a piece about his fall and rise on The Times website:

You can still listen to the programme on the BBC iPlayer for a few more days. Well worth it if you can spare a half hour (and you’re into Beethoven, of course):

I spent ages on YouTube listening to various interpretations, yet not quite finding what I wanted. I often have this problem with classical stuff – the musicianship may be bob on technically speaking, but the feel isn’t quite right. I’m no expert in this area, but I know what touches me personally. Maybe it’s that you get so used to the nuances of the version you fell in love with that it’s difficult to hear it played in a different way, however slight it may be. The rendition that rocks my world is a 1969 recording by the London Symphony Orchestra, featuring pianist Stephen Kovacevich. It was on a CD given away with The Guardian back in 1996 – a ‘Soundtrack Sampler’ for the film ‘Shine’ (which I’ve never seen), the story of Australian pianist David Helfgott. I don’t think ‘The Emperor’ appeared in the movie, but was a ‘related piano classic’. I’m very thankful it was on there and would love to hear the complete recording (I’ve tried to Google it, but no luck). I’m sure that classical aficionados would recommend other performances, telling me that my favourite is far from definitive, but I suppose we can only go off what we hear. Classical music is such a minefield for this reason – we know that when we listen to ‘Sgt. Peppers’ that we’re getting exactly what it says on the tin, the way its creators wanted it to be heard, but, unfortunately, recording studios weren’t around in the time of Beethoven, Debussy and co, so, at best, it can only be an approximation of what its composer intended – even with all their notes and instructions, there’s always going to be a degree of guesswork involved.

Anyhow, I’ve picked out this rather wonderful performance for your aural pleasure – with pianist Krystian Zimerman, the Wiener Philharmoniker, and Leonard Bernstein conducting:

Picnic At Hanging Rock Wikipedia:

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 Wikipedia:

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5 Responses to Lovely Lovely Ludwig Van

  1. ben October 20, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    you can’t go wrong with Beethoven

    on different renditions: the wiener phil are up there as being one of the most rated orchestras. when digging for classical. theyre kind of akin to certain record labels, you can’t go wrong with them theyre world class top of the tree.

  2. Steve V November 5, 2010 at 6:42 pm #

    According to my mother this was one of my paternal grandfather’s favourite pieces of music

    I have it on a CD but as I no longer drive and as I only ever had a CD player in my car, I haven’t listened to it in quite a while. (I’ll rectify that situation asap).

    Can’t remember whose rendition I have – my mother will have chosen it from the Penguin Guide to Classical CDs and I can’t check now because I’m on holiday.

    It seems to me that the various interpretations of classical music by conductors or orchestras is a bit like what I’ve listened to you doing with, for example Chocolate Milk’s “Whose Gettin’ It Now?” for the past 28 years!

    I like the original version, I like it a cappella over Class Action’s “Weekend” and I like it with “Weekend” played a cappella over it (and I guess you’ve used it in a million other ways as well that I’d also probably like).

    The trend in recent decades amongst classical musicians to try and recreate Bach in the way that Bach intended it, is exactly the same as people now buying old Grant Green LPs having found the break first through Public Enemy.

    Can’t say I’ve ever felt entirely comfortable with classical music either but I’m happy that my parents listened to so much of it as some appreciation of it has worn off on me.

  3. Mm, its fantastic-/

  4. Patricia March 30, 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    I am 65 and I have listened to Radio 4 for most of my life. I have many memorable, moving and funny moments which I recall at different times. 31 years ago I became ill with M.E. and I have never recovered. One piece of music which has helped me through these years has been Beethoven’s Emperor. I first heard it in a Radio 4 afternoon play many years ago. It was about an old lady who lived alone. She was befriended by a young man. She knew she didn’t have long to live and asked him to promise to play the Emperor if he was at her bedside when she was dying as it meant a great deal to her. One day she could hear the music playing and thought that her time had come. A man came to her door. He was a policeman. He was there to tell her that her young friend had died in an accident. I would love to hear that play again because since I heard it Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto remains my favourite piece of music of all time. Although the play was sad the music is both moving and uplifting to me. I saw ‘The King’s Speech’ as soon as it came out and again felt a wave of emotion as it was played near the end when the King went onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace. I’m no royalist but admired the film for its humanity and they couldn’t have picked a better piece of music for its finale.
    I love Soul Music. It’s one of my favourite Radio 4 programmes. Long may it continue.

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