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Beethoven Nine Recitative

Discussion in 'Orchestral Auditions [DB]' started by eerbrev, Apr 30, 2010.

  1. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Hello All,

    I've been wondering this for a while, and I know that conductors generally just disregard Beethovens tempos for symphony no. 9, but I was wondering if anyone knows why the bass and cello "recitative" is played so slowly, considering its general marking is presto?

    does it have something to do with the "recap" done by the Baritone soloist a little later in the movement, or is it just a decision that's been made?


  2. it is marked in the score that it should be played in the character of a recitative. and yes, it should resemble the baritone solo that comes a little bit later.
  3. see my post a few down from here for the right link.
  4. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    The thing that confuses me is that a recitative is usually fast. I mean, think of a recitative from say, the marriage of figaro. The actors and actresses are singing in a very staccato and quick manner (at least in a secco recitiative). Is the baritone recitative marked slow?
  5. Recitative in the 18th century is not the same as recitative in the 19th century, recitative written by French, Italian, and German composers are also not the same, and instrumental recitative and operatic recitative are also quite different.

    It's a good question though.

    The general traits, as established by Italian composers by the middle of the 17th century, of "recitative" are: the text was generally not repeated, the rate of harmonic change varied with the affect of the text, an overall slow harmonic rhythm unfolded over a generally static bass line (which gave the impression of declamatory freedom, though chord progressions were still clearly derived from the madrigal), the poetic accents were reinforced by harmonic change, and particularly affective passages or individual words were often supported with strong dissonance (another madrigal borrowing).

    By the 18th century recitative came to be the principal vehicle for dialogue and dramatic action in opera, with the arias carrying the more lyric portions, although this traditional understanding of the separation of dramatic function is less rigorous than is sometimes supposed. Moments of intense dramatic crisis (disasters, irreconcilable decisions, general stress), mental confusion (particularly madness), magic scenes and other suitable moments were clothed with an enriched, colorful background, and were variously known as accompagnato (in France récitatif accompagné), stromentato, obbligato and the like. This perpetuated an infrequent usage of the 17th century, found in scores of Cavalli, Antonio Cesti, Lully, Steffani, Purcell and others, which gradually rose in prominence after 1700, with theater poets in the latter half of the 18th century often adding new verses to established texts to facilitate these musical diversions. Distinct from recitativo semplice by virtue of its rhythmic and melodic figuration in the accompanimental parts, rapidly shifting character and imitation of the passions of the text, over time it became customary to enlist the orchestra’s aid. In practice, the accompanimental orchestral voices generally sustained chords or played scales and short melodic figures (particularly after about 1740).

    During the first decade of the 19th century the distinction remained intact between the conversational recitativo secco and the more declamatory recitativo accompagnato, both varieties being marked off from the set numbers by the use of ‘versi sciolti’ (freely alternating lines of seven- and eleven-syllable verse). By 1820 this had become the rule for serious works, keyboard accompaniment being restricted to opera buffa and semiseria. In due course both types of recitative became subsumed into the scena. All passages intended to be delivered in the rhythm of ordinary speech continued to be marked ‘recitativo’, however, even for only a few bars, a practice that continued until the 1890s, as in Verdi’s Otello (1887) and Catalani’s La Wally (1892). In the operas of Puccini and his successors, on the other hand, the term vanishes, being replaced by the marking ‘a piacere’ in the voice-part and ‘col canto’ in that of the orchestra.

    As operas became more continuous during the course of the 19th century, recitative as such inevitably disappeared. Its legacy, however, can be found in the comparatively unvocalized delivery required in such operas as Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (1902), Vaughan Williams’ Riders to the Sea (1937) and the Sprechgesang employed in the operas of Berg and Schoenberg. A modern variant of recitativo secco occurs accompanied by piano in Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia (1946) and by harpsichord in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress (1951).

    Recitative-like passages have often been used in instrumental music for special expressive or dramatic effect. Among the earliest examples are those in Kuhnau’s Biblischer Historien (1700). Bonporti wrote a much-ornamented recitative for solo violin in no.5 of his Concerti a quattro op.11 (after 1727), but a more direct imitation is to be found in the works of later composers. Examples include the first of C.P.E. Bach’s ‘Prussian’ Sonatas (1742), Haydn’s Symphony no.7 (‘Le midi’, 1761) and Sinfonia concertante hI:105 (1792), Mozart’s Violin Concerto no.3 k216 (1775) and Beethoven’s piano sonatas op.31 no.2 (1802) and op.110 (1821–2). The passage for cellos and basses in the finale of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony is marked ‘selon le caractère d’un Récitatif, mais in tempo’. Schoenberg’s Variations on a Recitative for organ op.40 (1941) explores possibilities that other composers seem to have ignored.

    (Source: Oxford Grove Dictionary of Music)
  6. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Dr. Atomic,

    How do we apply that to what we've got in the Beethoven Recit? I mean, it's clear this is more along the accompagnato recitative lines, but there's nothing that says even an accompagnato recitative has to be slow, in fact, they're used to move the plot along in between the arias (this line blurs as we go on through music history, especially as we get into Wagner). It says it should be played in the character of a recitative, but does that mean slow in this context?

    I'm not trying to be argumentative or anything, I'm just very curious as to how this came about. The first time I ever played this for a mock audition I'd never heard it before, which I know seems like sacrelige, but because of the presto marking beforehand, I learned it about 8 times faster than it actually goes! whoops.


  7. I'm not entirely sure how to answer your question, but what I can say is this: one of the reasons why this movement of Beethoven 9 is interesting is because Beethoven sets up a dichotomy between the way in which a singer would perform a recitative, and the way in which an instrumentalist would play a recitative. I do not think that Beethoven intended for the two statements of the recitative material to be performed in the exact same way. Instead, it seems more likely (to me at least) that Beethoven intended for the instrumental statement of the recitative to be more emotionally powerful than the statement made by the singer.

    Recognize first that Beethoven’s concern for lyricism deepened throughout his late period. In his late works, Beethoven appears to have been reaching for a more direct and intimate mode of communication. Two verbal adjuncts to such folklike essays can be regarded as symbolic: in the song cycle, the line ‘ohne Kunstgepräng, erklungen’ (‘sounding without the adornments of Art’), set to music of rock-like simplicity, and in the Ninth Symphony, Schiller’s famous apostrophe to universal brotherhood. In the best early Romantic spirit, Beethoven was seeking a new basic level of human contact through basic song, as though without sophistication or artifice.

    Beethoven, like many German/Viennese composers of his day, sought to prove that true emotion cannot be communicated through words, and can only be truly translated through instrumental music (this is one important aspect of what is known as the 'German aesthetic'). So when the double bass recitatives are performed, perhaps what should be kept in mind is that the emotions portrayed in the recitatives should (ideally) be more powerful than those communicated by the singer.

    The tempo for the double bass recitatives is a function of the tempo taken by the singer in his recitatives. However fast he takes them, the double bass should play the recitatives at approximately the same tempo - Beethoven seems to have intended for the double bass recitatives to illustrate that an instrumental performance of the same "text" as what is being sung earlier in the movement by the baritone soloist will be infinitely emotionally deeper.

    (Source: again, Oxford Grove)
  8. OK it's not sacrelige but the first step in learning a new excerpt especially for an audition (why else?) is to go and find a recording of the piece. Why did you think of learning a Beethoven Symphony (not a rare thing to find in any record shop) before hearing it at all? Eight time faster requires a lot of work and practice! How on earth did you get that much work done before ever listening to the work?!?!
  9. Dr. Atomic is right on. Also, I'd like to add that there is a wide range of tempos that are appropriate for this passage. Listen to a bunch of recordings and you will find the tempo varies a lot. You have to "get" the style. How often do you go to the opera? As you become more familiar with this music and gain more exposure and experience, the conventions become a little bit self evident. To start, you should try to imagine the tempo where you could sing "O freunde...." with greatest emotional impact, as Dr. Atomic pointed out. Keep in mind that the bass recit absolutely must draw in the listener.

    This recit is the turning point in this piece. The 9th is so dark and brooding up to this point, then ends with this wonderful and optimistic choral finale. This is the Beethoven you find in the Heiligenstadt Testament and in my opinion, a more genuine representation of the composer than the bitter and angry character so many people imagined (and still imagine) him to have been. The piece is about pure goodwill to all humanity. Read along a good translation of the text next time you listen to the piece, it is a transformational experience.
  10. mattgray


    Nov 16, 2007
    Cincinnati, OH
    Just to throw my two cents in:

    I would suggest reading through the text of the actual baritone solo and saying it out loud (read a translation first before speaking the German, if you don't speak German) and try to listen to where your voice naturally adds inflection, space, etc. I've found that this lends to a more natural flow to the text. Regardless, try to make your rubato even, in that try to make the flow as even as possible. Take as much time as you add in, etc.
  11. Good suggestion, Matt. I agree.

    Also, be sure, if you don't know German, that you remember what the words mean and how they interact with the interjected orchestral statements that split the text up.
  12. eerbrev


    Dec 6, 2009
    Ottawa, ON, CAN
    Thanks for all the help guys. I really appreciate it.

  13. I got jobs on this excerpt and I've never read the German text. Just listen to a good recording like Bernstein with the NY Phil or the Vienna Phil and copy it as best you can. Play musically and with a big sound and a nice dynamic range (especially towards the pp end). Don't forget the big rit. Bb-A C-Bb and get really quiet. Don't thump the second last note and frown a bit in the angry stuff. You'll get the job just because you look like you understand the German text!

    PS and if you have to play the tune after the recit don't get sloppy or drag your heels! and keep it quiet but sustained. And one last thing; this is quite often THE excert when the conductor (if he's in the audition too) will get up and conduct you, so have a freind wave his arms a few times in front of you in your practice sessions. The conductor is not interested in your interpretation as much as HIS interpretation, so go with him and don't talk back. Good luck with this; it will keep you on your toes for years!
  14. You can also add onto all of that the 15 minutes it takes to read the text and try to understand it! Music isn't just a bunch of pitches randomly placed! Every pitch means something and knowing what the music means will help you appreciate and understand what you're doing.
  15. Every little helps! Dr. A!!!
  16. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    I've got the Eulenburg Study Score in front of me and there are lots of tempo markings throughout this movement. So it starts off "presto" (96), but goes through :

    Alleggro ma non troppo (88)
    Adagio Cantabile
    Allegro Moderato (80)

    The part in question is clearly marked with a fresh tempo "Allegro assai" (80).
  17. Those are the tempo markings for the quotations from the other sections of the piece. That's interesting though, I've never heard of there being a metronome marking for the recit itself. Actually, I think you're mistaken - Allegro assai (80) is the tempo of the ode to joy which is right after the section we're talking about.
  18. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    Ah - I just realised you're right - but my general point was that given how specific the tempo markings available for this piece are - I wonder why versions do vary so much..?

    For example I have Gunter Wand making it sound like a Bruckner Adagio and Roger Norrington's period performance version on CD, which are miles apart!! :eek:
  19. Bruce Lindfield

    Bruce Lindfield Unprofessional TalkBass Contributor Gold Supporting Member In Memoriam

    On second thoughts - maybe the idea is to make the lines flow into each other - rather than having a sudden slowing when the ode to joy comes in...?

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