I gave this introduction on the air before playing Toscanani’s live recording, with the NBC symphony, of Beethoven’s third (July 5, 2011, at 7:08 a.m. EDT). I understand that some of you violently disagree with me and would rather not consider this point of view at all. To you, I apologize.
I have no idea how complicated it was to operate the WPRB radio station in the 1970′s. It was difficult enough that there were usually, I believe, two people: an announcer and an engineer. Perhaps it was hard to find individuals with both the skill to announce, and the skill to manage the wiring and all those controls. However, during winter break, a single person operated the station, and it was usually an engineer.
That is how, one wintry day, I listened to an engineer give a long introduction to Beethoven’s third symphony. He was obviously reading from the record jacket, and, time and again, he mentioned Beethoven’s “Erotica”.
When the music started, I called the station. “Are you sure about that word ‘Erotica’? I asked.
‘That’s what it says here,” he said.
“Take another look,” I suggested.
After a pause, he said, “Oh S—.”
However, the third IS Beethoven’s Erotica Symphony.
Let me explain.
This symphony is one of the first truly romantic compositions, with real pounding climaxes. That first climax, in the first movement of this symphony: is it simply a new kind of abstract music? Or did Beethoven play a trick on his contemporaries, secure in the knowledge that none of those stupids would ever figure it out?
Consider the powerful chords that lead up to the musical climax. That’s Thrusting music, and, seriously, it mimics the thrusting of a couple engaged in intercourse. The thrusting gets even more urgent as the climax approaches, with syncopated thrusts that suggest the urgency of both partners. After these thrusting chords, we hear a few soft notes in the strings. I won’t explain what I believe these chords represent, because, well, WPRB is a family broadcasting station. After those chords, we hear some gentle romantic music: the afterglow.
Finally, before the return of the main theme, the first horn breaks in with the theme, four measures early. This is an obvious joke about a physical affliction. I will refer to this condition by its latin name, Ejaculatio Praecox, because, well, WPRB is a family broadcasting station.
I wish to thank harpsichordist and musicologist Kenneth Cooper for this interpretation of Beethoven’s third.