The Beethoven Academy (1824)

The Beethoven Academy (1824)

by Christoph Spering


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The Beethoven Academy (1824)

Given the fame of the event involved, the sparsity of recordings reconstructing it is surprising. This double-disc set presents the music the audience would have heard on May 7, 1824, when a Beethoven "Akademie," really more of a benefit concert for the composer himself, was held in Vienna. The concert included the world premiere of the "Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125," which featured the touching spectacle of the completely deaf Beethoven, billed as assistant conductor, beating time oblivious to the fact that the music had ended and the audience was applauding. One of the soloists plucked his sleeve and turned him around toward the crowd. The concert didn't go off without a hitch; Viennese censors protested the presentation of the mass text in a secular concert hall, which the presenters got around by billing the three movements of the "Missa Solemnis, Op. 123," as "Three Hymns." That terminology is retained on the cover of this release, which opens with the overture "Die Weihe des Hauses, Op. 124" (The Consecration of the House, written for the opening of a Viennese theater several years earlier). The idea of putting these works together as they were heard in 1824 is a good one; the concert was notable in several ways, one of which was that the concept of art as a secular religion was indeed still new enough to be disturbing at the time to the powers that were. The performances by the Neue Orchester and Chorus Musicus of Cologne are historically informed, with period brasses and winds buzzing out from the texture. The "Missa Solemnis" selections are very strong, with a fine sense of the long line running all the way from the archaic "Et incarnatus" to the final fugue of the Credo. The "Symphony No. 9" is more problematical, unorthodox principally in its extremely fast tempos; the opening movement loses its Wagnerian qualities, and the third movement is hard to hear as falling under the adagio rubric. The entire symphony clocks in at almost exactly an hour, with the finale, brisk but not outlandishly fast, dwarfing the other three movements in an unusual configuration, but not invalid on its face. The problem comes in the finale itself, where the fast tempo established in the first three movements is retained in the instrumental recitative at the beginning of the movement. This leads to an awkward moment when the bass enters with the same recitative material later on; he does not (luckily for him) keep to the initial tempo but rather takes it at a speed commensurate with what has just been going on in the orchestra. That doesn't quite work, and it might have been good to hear some justification for these procedures in the booklet essay (let's talk historical metronomes, baby) instead of the rather abstract musings contained therein. Still, an intriguing item for those with large Beethoven collections.

Product Details

Release Date: 08/26/2008
Label: Phoenix Edition
UPC: 0811691011073
catalogNumber: 107
Rank: 166145


  1. Die Weihe des Hauses (Consecration of the House), overture for orchestra, Op. 124
  2. Mass for soloists, chorus & orchestra in D major ("Missa Solemnis"), Op. 123: Kyire
  3. Mass for soloists, chorus & orchestra in D major ("Missa Solemnis"), Op. 123: Credo
  4. Mass for soloists, chorus & orchestra in D major ("Missa Solemnis"), Op. 123: Agnus Dei
  5. Symphony No. 9 in D minor ("Choral"), Op. 125

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