March 4, 2012

The first 2 chords of Beethoven's Eroica, as played over the years...

... on recordings beginning in 1924:



I'm amazed at the variation. It makes me hyper-aware of how little discernment I have generally, listening to complex music.

(Via Metafilter.)

51 comments:

edutcher said...

Lousy judge I, but some seems to be the result of the equipment.

(also, how many of the early ones were made ducking enemy bombing?)

Joe said...

That *is* stunning.
I've been told for decades that orchestras were "tuning up" (by about 5 cycles per second) in order to create a "brighter" sound. Even taking into account the possibility that the reproduction isn't accurate (in 1924, how precisely could the playback speed be controlled anyway?) it seems obvious here.

The problem is that this could ruin older instruments (Stradivarius in particular). I mean, who would want to take a chance?

More interesting to the professionals, I'm sure, is the variation in the tempo between the two chords. That's an artistic interpretation on which I'm unqualified to comment.

David said...

They all have insufficient cowbell.

rcommal said...

My dad used to prep at home for music appreciation courses he taught. That exposure, among other examples, from the earliest of ages was quite helpful from a discernment perspective.

rcommal said...

.

SteveR said...

"I can name that symphony in two chords"

rcommal said...

It also probably helped listening to both of my parents practice hour upon hour (at one point, my dad was on a strict schedule of six hours per day, NOT counting ensemble rehearsals, either at home or elsewhere). Listening to the learning and refining process, and the mistakes being smoothed away, was quite illuminating.

Chip Ahoy said...

That's really really good. My favorite part was were George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra goes Bleh Bleh better than all those other guys.

Don't Tread 2012 said...

A favorite mishmash containing elements of Beethoven, Debussy and Rochmaninov courtesy of John Evans of Jethro Tull in the 70's.

rhhardin said...

I hear mostly variation in pitch, which is probably recording speed or variation in oboes - I think everybody is supposed to be using 440 A in the last century - and hall acoustics and microphone placement.

There's not much you can do with two chords.

Nicer variation in two sonatas

1. Gibbons

2. Gould.

The first is the one you'll come back to, the second an interesting variation, seeming at first better.

traditionalguy said...

The greatest symphony ever written by man and all we get to hear is the first two chords.

This European austerity program has gone too far.

YoungHegelian said...

It's hard to tell much with two chords, aside from pitch and tempo variation, but I don't see any systematic change in either. Of course, that finding is going to be skewed all the more by the inclusion of several Original Instrument/Historically Informed Performances in the bunch. Those guys are going to generally have brisker tempi & lower pitches than the other contemporary modern instrument performances.

Wally Kalbacken said...

Nice of the Munich Philharmonic to take time out to go into he studio in 1943.

And - so little coughing!

The Crack Emcee said...

It makes me hyper-aware of how little discernment I have generally, listening to complex music.

Good - that was fun!

Thanks!

Chip S. said...

Omitted my favorite version, by
Hermann Scherchen
.

Bob_R said...

A 440 is the modern American standard for pitch, but it's really only become a defacto standard with the advent of electronic tuners. So the pitch variation is to be expected.

The real differences have a lot to do with the recording process: mic placement, mic choice, preamp choice, equalization. I'd be very interested in how much the variations in voicing have to do with mic placement as opposed to the choice of the conductor and the composition of the orchestra. I'm also sort of surprised that there isn't more high frequency emphasis in the recordings after the late 50's when condenser mics would have been more common.

Great post!

Chip S. said...

traditionalguy said...
The greatest symphony ever written by man...

If you're implying that the 9th was written by God, through Beethoven, then I'm inclined to agree with you.

Bob_R said...

Oh. I forgot to mention the concert halls and the fact that about half are in stereo and half in mono.

EDH said...

Two isn't a prime number.

No intelligent life there.

Chip S. said...

Huh?

T.K. Tortch said...

In the earlier 20th Century a lot of European orchestras and some American outfits tuned to the "High Pitch" standard, where concert A=452 hz (IIRC). The common American, or "Low Pitch" tuning was, as others pointed out, A=440 hz.

No problem for string instruments to tune up or down to high or low pitch (except pianos, which can be tuned either way, but not at all quickly).

However, it isn't so easy for wind and brass instruments. On late 19th / early 20th Century American saxophones and brass you commonly see "High Pitch" or "Low Pitch" stamped on the horn so you'll know if you'll be able to play it in tune at all with your bandmates. Some brass instruments came with an extra set of slides that enabled you to tune to high pitch, but no way you can tune a High Pitch saxophone to play in tune with Low Pitch instruments.

I think the "Low Pitch" standard was internationally adopted, or recommended, as the standard piano tuning in 1939.

Weirdly, there was a provision in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles that all signatory nations would adopt A-440 hz as standard tuning!! I'm guessing there was some serious dissonance happening between military bands, or something. . . .

traditionalguy said...

By this time next week we can probably post 30+ sound bytes from the Dems media of two chords of "Limbaugh said women are sluts." and, "Romney won't disagree with him"

The interesting part will be how the various tonal emphasis and style is used as that is explained to very concerned reporterettes.

Peter Hoh said...

I wanted to put up a link to the comedy routine that (I believe) uses Beethoven's Ninth as if it were a wrestling match between the conductor and various parts of the orchestra, but I am not able to find it. I thought it was Spike Jones. Any help?

rcommal said...

TK Tortch:

I ADORE that comment, especially the fascinating Versailles bit.

Mike said...

Well I couldn't hear a developed progression. Probably because there wasn't any.

The lesson is that classic music is a living thing--subject to interpretation by the conductor, the preferred playing style of the ensemble/orchestra, the acoustics in the concert hall or recording studio, and the quality and type of the microphones used in the recording.

Other than that, it should sound exactly the same way every time! LOL

Peter Hoh said...

Is that echo or are some instruments extending the notes a lot longer in the 1936 version?

markwark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
markwark said...

Peter, that would be PDQ Bach, and the Fifth not then Ninth symphony...



link

Peter Hoh said...

Thanks, Mark.

Quaestor said...

rhhardin wrote:
I think everybody is supposed to be using 440 A in the last century

Nearly everybody without doubt. However over the last half-century there has been an increasing interest in so-called ancient music, specifically groups that play instruments and use techniques to reproduce a sound which some musicologists believe most nearly replicate what a concert goer in the 18th century or early 19th would likely hear.

In this case I think some of the variation can be attributed to the various form of equal temperament which classical and baroque composers often played with (well temperament and 31TET are just two of dozens of alternate tuning schemes) Most people think of classical and baroque as the product of peruked fuddy duddies trapped by strict artist fomulae. Nothing could be further from the truth. many of these men were true pioneers who experimented with physics of sound. Western popular music from the late 20th century to the present is formulaic trash by comparison. Listen to Christopher Hogwood's Academy of Ancient Music, to Norrington's London Classical and to John Eliot Gardiner's Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique and I think you'll hear those chords played in tunings other than 440 12-tone.

These group also tend to be much smaller than the grand symphonic orchestras which became widely popular around 1850 and became the norm after 1900. The smaller "ancient music" groups just can't compete when it comes to rich bottom sound.

EDH said...

Chip S. said...
Huh?

Good point! Two is a prime number, mea culpa.

The cords reminded me of the extraterrestrial sounds in the movie "Contact", where the radio impulses were received in sequences of prime numbers thereby indicating an intelligent source.

Peter said...

What a treat! Thanks, Ann.

Like many of the above, the most interesting shifts emerge when the period-instruments movement emerges.

But none is no surprising as Jordi Savall's Concert de Nations (1994). Even in a single second, he helps me to hear again.

Ralph L said...

Appropriately, James Levine and the Met produced the most full-bodied sound.

I always assumed chords like these were designed to get the audience to pipe down, with a long coda to wake them up and tell them when to clap.

Chip Ahoy said...

Call it what you like but it sounded exactly like Beethoven's third to me.

Penny said...

"I'm amazed at the variation."

Yes!

That must mean classical music is outside the political arena.

David said...

Speaking of the same music sounding different, Obama said today that he has Israel's back "when the chips are down."

Does that mean "when an election is coming up?"

Or when they are attacked?

Just what does it mean when Obama starts to talk manly talk?

Titus said...

I spent the weekend on the coast of Connecticut and abs loved it. You can take a 30 minute ferry to Long Island-I never knew it was so close.

I have lived in the Northeast for 20 years and have never been there.

My hubby had a senior level meeting at Foxwoods which is huge and gross. We saw John Leguizamo perform and he was great. Our room at the MGM was only 500.00 each night. Our front desk attendant informed us that he was there until 11 and would be happy to come to our room for any need-I was like bitch we are married.

Went to Mystic, New London, Norwich, Groton, Block Island-so fab. Quintessential New England seaside towns. Yet very multi cultural. New London was home to the Kelo decision as well as a magician named Magic Dick.

Lot of organic and vege places in these small hamlets, which I always find interesting. You expect fish and chips, which you can get natch, but there is so much more.

God I love New England. And not a domestic car or republican sticker in sight. Although, in general there are no bumper stickers in New England-which I attribute to being reserved and not wanting to draw any attention.

Connecticut liquor stores are closed on Sundays because of Blue Laws but they are trying to do away with that.

And interesting fact about Connecticut. I was always the impression that the state was mui fab. But it's not. Yes, it has it's incredible zip codes, but the majority of the state is a piece of shit. New Haven is a fucking dump and a little scary. Once you cross though Ivory Towers you are in the ghetto, which is so much different than Cambridge.

Also, my husband and I did it 3 times within 48 hours. My hog is tired and doesn't want to come out to play for a long time.
tits.

Rob said...

Setting A above middle C = 440 Hz is the international standard as established by the International Organization for Standardization (see p. 3 of this article, but it's not in the Treaty of Versailles. If it had been, that would have been awesome.

Titus said...

When I was in Connecticut my thoughts turned to...how can you people that don't live on the ocean do that?

I fucking love the ocean.

I could never live anywhere that is not on the sea.

So sad for you non ocean people.

And lakes or lake "beaches" don't count. Do you know if you ever say to an Ocean state peep that there are beaches in your non Ocean state where you came from they laugh?

tits.

Bill, Republic of Texas said...

Titus said, "Also, my husband and I did it 3 times within 48 hours. My hog is tired and doesn't want to come out to play for a long time."

How old are you? I'm almost 50 and my wife do it every morning and most nights.

God I love being married to an Ukrainian woman :)

Ralph L said...

The lack of a standard may explain why the Concert of Europe exploded into WWI.

Icepick said...

Oh. I forgot to mention the concert halls and the fact that about half are in stereo and half in mono.

They used to build concert halls in mono?

traditionalguy said...

IMO Beethoven and Mozart are the opposite of complex music, because they mastered simple romantic themes in precise sounds encoded for eternity.

Now Wagner is complex, and very confused.

Craig Howard said...

Cincinnati hands down -- if only for stressing the strings. I've no particular love of strings, but it stood out for originality.

Balfegor said...

IMO Beethoven and Mozart are the opposite of complex music, because they mastered simple romantic themes in precise sounds encoded for eternity.

Beethoven, at least, is far more than simple romantic themes. Consider, for example, the Grosse Fugue.

Kirk Parker said...

tradguy,

"The greatest symphony ever written..."

Huh??? You heretic, you'll burn for this! (Chip S., you too!)

Ralph L said...

They used to build concert halls in mono?
Built in the lean years.

Douglas2 said...

The pitch variation in the early examples can be almost entirely explained by incorrect playback speed used for the transcription from disk that we are hearing. We are all familiar with the "78" speed on our phonographs, but the actual speed of the recording was not standardised and varied between record companies.
A440 was easy to have as a reference tune to long before electronic tuners by using a tuning fork. Nevertheless, each major world-class symphony orchestra has it's own tuning pitch even today, and many are higher (by a few cents) than 440 Hz.
The variation in tempo is partly artistic choice on the part of the conductor, and partly acoustics -- the radio-orchestras in auditoriums with very short RT60 are necessarily faster than the recordings made in places with long tails such at the Cleveland Masonic Auditorium.
As to the tone, the microphone choice and placement with have an emphasis, but the highly-paid orchestras will have a sweetness and warmth to the tone from the use of finer string instruments that cannot be replicated by lesser orchestras or ameliorated by use of electronics

Penny said...

Titus asked,

"...how can you people that don't live on the ocean do that?"

We don't have any interest in living on a boat, silly.

Penny said...

But if I did live on a boat...

I'd probably have a gun. I might even invoke the name of Jesus Christ if things got too rocky.

Penny said...

"Rocky on the water".

Hm? That sounds odd.

It would look odd too.

Imagine the Grand Tetons floating!

And there you are, a gun your only protection.

Honestly, it's no WONDER people find religion.

Not like you're gonna get on your cell and call "Ghostbusters".