Non-Political: Review of Beethoven, Symphony No 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 (Hogwood/AAM)

Note: I’m much better at literary than musical criticism, so I’ll give this selection of reviews by other people. My own opinion is that, while they provide an excellent Beethoven S3, Hogwood/AAM fail with S9. The scherzo is crisp and manages to startle in ways that modern performances don’t usually manage. But the adagio is too fast, and doesn’t seem to hang together. The outer movements are like decaffeinated coffee in their systematic avoidance of grandeur. I could mention the sudden loss of speed in the march variation in the final movement, and especially in the fugue – which puts me in mind of a worn out ostrich with its lack of speed, let alone take off – and the continuing lack of momentum right to the end. But this takes me into details about which I have little experience of writing. It’s enough to say that, coming from one of the best S3s I’ve heard, Hogwood/AAM are disappointing in S9.

It may be that, from BS7 (+ -) onwards, the authentic movement loses its reason for being. Bach, Handel, Haydn, Mozart, et al are not well served by orchestras and performance styles that have come down from the middle of the 19th century. Particularly with Haydn and Mozart, there is a loss of balance and blurring of structure in performances that treat them like precursors of Beethoven. Even without all the stripping away of the authentic movement, they do benefit from smallish forces. However, where Beethoven is concerned, it was for his later works that modern performing styles – and even modern instruments – were largely developed. Playing S9 as if the score had just been given to men trained on Haydn has a certain historical interest, but doesn’t make for a good performance.

Oh, I could add my recollection that LvB was allowed to direct the first performance of S9, but that he was stone deaf, and continued conducting at least the scherzo for some while after the players had finished. This lets me ask to what extent a composer’s performance wishes should be respected? I can’t answer with the precision I’d like. But I have heard a recording of Tennyson reciting his Charge of the Light Brigade. It is ghastly, and can’t have been all to blame on the oddity of having to recite into a phonograph horn.

My favourites for BS9 are Karajan and possibly Klemperer. The latter is admittedly slow – slower in the final movement even than Hogwood/AAM. But all the grandeur you could ever want is there. SIG

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 In D Minor, Op. 125, “Choral
Orchestra: Academy of Ancient Music
Conductor: Christopher Hogwood
Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
Audio CD (September 13, 1989)
Number of Discs: 1
Label: L’Oiseau Lyre/Decca

5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly satisfying and engaging, November 17, 2000
By Michael (Los Angeles, CA, USA) – See all my reviewsThis review is from: Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 “Choral” (Audio CD)
Though some will quip at the tempi Hogwood chooses for the movements of this work, and though some will chide him because of seemingly contradictory evidence (metronome marking vs. tempo marking), they miss the mark entirely. This IS a fresh look at an amazing work. Hogwood has the full grasp of Beethoven’s monumental symphonic opus. The clarity of the orchestral playing is remarkable for its precision, virtuosity, and tone. The extra bite of “authentic/original” instruments allow for the true revolutionary elements of the work to come through. The vocalists are better than any other quartet on similar historically informed recordings (there is not a week link here, Rolfe-Johnson heroic in the march variation and Auger sublime as she travels through the stratosphere). The chorus, though not the absolute best on record, is nonetheless quite accomplished. And at the helm, Hogwood has a sure grasp of Beethoven’s melodic line. The only questionable element in the recording is the selection of tempi. But these DO work. Sure, most of use are used to a very Brahmsian approach to the slow third movement, but this is not necessarily what Beethoven intended. In most performances, the third movement suffers from too much emphasis on the “Adagio molto” portion of the tempo marking at the expense of the “cantabile” (the marking reads “Adagio molto e cantabile”). The theme is often lost altogether when thusly played. Moreover, the effect of the variations is compromised at such a slow tempo. The “cantabile” tempo favored by Hogwood (and other historically minded interpreters) more fully approaches a Beethoven devoid of the indulgences of late Romantic composers and conductors who like to wallow in the treacle inappropriate to Beethoven. To all those naysayers, revisit this recording without the blinders of older recordings and you will find a recording that presents the soul of this work. To all those willing to experience a refreshing, beautiful, “on-the-mark” recording of this work need go no further than this.

1.0 out of 5 stars horrendous, October 21, 2006
By esseyo (Jersey City, NJ United States) – See all my reviewsThis review is from: Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 “Choral” (Audio CD)
I love the Academy of Ancient Music but this recording of Beethoven’s symphony no 9 is horrendous. I don’t care what the metronome markings are; to me it is WAY too fast. The last movement is just a race to the finish; an unsatisfying, lightweight, superficial sounding one at that.

Although removing all the vegetable shortening, corn syrup, artificial colors and artificial flavors that has been placed on top of Bach’s music is a good thing, Beethoven’s music is more like wine in that all those changes in smell and flavor that build up over time enhances it. The authenticity movement in this case removes all this and we are only left with grape juice.

2.0 out of 5 stars Less than stellar, May 17, 2000
By J. Buxton “cantabile” (Waltham, MA United States) – See all my reviews
(REAL NAME) This review is from: Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 “Choral” (Audio CD)
I was interested in this cd because I have heard the Academy of Ancient Music play Mozart and Haydn and have been very impressed. I wasn’t so impressed by this performance. While I see the general value of using an “authentic” approach to Beethoven, there are often contradicting messages written on the scores of the symphonies concerning tempo. Beethoven might have written a very fast metronome marking for a piece, but also might have written “Allegro ma non troppo”. The two messages contradict, and there are several examples of this in the Ninth. I believe Hogwood follows the metronome indications to the letter, but is this really what Beethoven wanted? At least for me Hogwood takes just about the whole symphony way too fast and what results, in my opinion, is a loss of feeling. The grandeur I associate with this piece is almost non-existent here. Incidentally the singing is quite good, but overall I was disappointed.

2.0 out of 5 stars Too fast, January 23, 2000
By J. Buxton “cantabile” (Waltham, MA United States) – See all my reviews
(REAL NAME) This review is from: Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 “Choral” (Audio CD)
Okay, I admit this is a matter of taste. This symphony is simply played too fast, and I don’t care how “authentic” or “original” it claims to be the drama of the work just doesn’t hold together at these speeds. What is more the Academy strings sound thin. While it may be true this is how the symphony may have sounded in Beethoven’s day, don’t you think Beethoven would have approved of the advancements made in the sound of modern instruments? The singing is fine, but again I get the feeling the soloists feel rushed. It is exciting in moments, but as a whole it is disappointing. If you’re really into authentic performances, the Charles Mackerras/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic on EMI Classics for Pleasure is better.


  1. There is a clear note (no pun intended) of sincerity in this review. I am sure that Dr Gabb has thought deeply on these matters and his judgement should be respected.

  2. With my general air of depression at watching the Child Savers have their “Stephen Lawrence moment”, it was rather refreshing to be nudged into listening to this stirring piece. On a LIbertarian note, I often wonder what the classical music market would look like without the State, funding all those grand opera houses and BBC orchestras and things like that.

  3. Ian oddly enough I do not think that the cultural world would look much different. Although, unlike Sean Gabb, I am deeply ignorant of culture.

    Remember the state took over cultural institutions after World War II – it did not create them.

    In the German language (Swiss) edition (1940 – did not make much of an impact something else was going on at the time) of what was to eventually to become “Human Action” Mises is supposed to have mentioned in passing (unlike my father I can not read German – so I can not check) serous culture as something the state had an interest in.

    Then Mises came to the United States and found that classical music (and so on) was all funded voluntarily (as it was in those days – some as comercial companies, some as charitable trusts) so the 1949 “Human Action” did not contain this error.

    One example worth considering is the Carl Rosen (spelling alert) opera company.

    It was actually founded (in the late 19th century) by people who liked the Germanic system of state funding for culture – but the could not get state funding, so it was set up as a commercial operation.

    By the 1930s it had its own private train and went all over the country performining different operas (in a way that is supposed to be totally impossible).

    Anyway after World War II the longed for moment finally arrived – the state took over culture in Britain.

    And it closed down (closed down) the Carl Rosen opera company.

    By the way……

    Remember that the old critics did have an excuse for treating Hayden like Beethoven – as Beethoven was a student of Hayden’s.

    Of course the old critics did not really study Hayden in his own right – and for an odd reason.

    Hayden was too sane – there was nothing wildly odd about him.

    There was a deep confusion in 19th century (and 20th century) critics between being “passionate” (in the sense of wild and ecentric) and being serious and important (Beethoven is both – but someone can be serious without being passionate). A cult of feeling……

    I think they would have down played (again no pun intended) both Bach and Mozart – if they had dared to do so.

  4. Ian B – Everything that hasn’t done so already is turning rapidly to crap. But even the British ruling class has yet to deprive us of this vast and forbidding masterpiece.

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