Classical Music Discussions: Symphony #7

Previous threads:

Symphony #1
Symphony #2
Symphony #3
Symphony #4
Symphony #5
Symphony #6

It’s been a very long time since I posted one of these threads. I’ve been very busy through most of the fall with my performance schedule, I was waiting to see how pay-to-post would affect the boards, and I wasn’t sure how much material I had left to explore. For those who are new in the last few months, there aren’t many rules, like in the “Lost” or “24” threads. I want to discuss symphonies by any composers, just in numerical order. So, you can talk about recordings, performances, general appreciation, etc., just limit it to the particular number of the thread. In fact, according to Dex’s rules, you may bump one of the older threads above, but only if you have something to add that hasn’t already been mentioned.

So what made me decide to resurrect this idea? This preview article in Sunday’s Washington Post about the upcoming world premier of Philip Glass’ 7th, “A Toltec Symphony”. So what’s a “Toltec”?

Sounds like an interesting time, especially with the (optional) pipe organ, chorus and chanted northern Mexican melodies. I found the rest of the article interesting, in that I never knew Glass was from Baltimore, and I didn’t know the details of Einstein on the Beach. Still, I’m not much of a fan, certainly not enough to trek on down to the Kennedy Center this weekend.

Well, I hate to see a thread sink too quickly (unless it deserves it, which this certainly doesn’t), so – if you’ll forgive the lack of musical insight – here are a few ramblings from someone whose enjoyment of music vastly exceeds his knowledge:

Beethoven: his #7 is one of my favorite pieces of music ever. I’ve heard it performed many times, but the ones that stick in my mind are by good orchestras doing free (or low-cost) open-air concerts. So, I think of wine, cheese, crusty french bread, and grapes, even though that’s probably not what LvB intended! (He’d have liked that image for the 6th, though). The downside of the open-air concerts are memories of frowning at people who are saying “pass the grapes” at the beginning of the second movement (i.e. while it’s still fairly quiet, and they haven’t realized that the orchestra’s actually playing).

Dvorak: a good #7, but not his best symphony. I’ve got George Szell and the Cleveland Symphony, 1960.

Haydn: I suppose he must have written one to get to all the later numbers (or did he just skip over a few and hope no-one noticed? "Oh yes, I did write a seventh symphony, but the dog ate it. Here, have a dozen or so of the later ones. I won’t miss them"). I can’t for the life of me place it, however. Now of course, some smart Doper is going to tell me that it’s one of the most famous symphonies ever, and changed the course of musical history. Harumph.

Mahler: a darned good #7. One of his best, and that’s saying something. I likes me some Mahler. Hmm, perhaps I’ll listen to it on CD tonight (NYPO, Berstein, 1965).

Shostakovich: I do like his #7 (“Leningrad”) but I have to be in the right mood. I’ve played this for friends and had them beg me to turn it off, and have used it to hush noisy apartment neighbors in a “battle of the speakers” (Keep your gangsta rap at a slightly lower volume in the future or I’ll send the Nazi tanks over to sort them out, just like last time!). (NYPO, Bernstein, 1962)

That’s all I can think of off the top of my head, and taking a quick look at the CD liner notes of the recordings that I’ve identified above.

All in all, I’d say that 7 is a “lucky number” in the symphonic world, for me as a listener at least. But I’m sure I’ve forgotten several other composers, so there are probably some real stinkeroo #7s out there.

[Even if I made fun of Haydn earlier, he’s going to get his revenge when he remains the subject of this series of threads long after anyone else. Your future “Symphonies #104” thread is going to addess a severely limited field there, av8rmike :smiley: ]

To clarify the above: I realize that there are several other composers who made it past #6 (Mozart, Schubert, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky, plus composers like Alan Hovhaness and Havergal Brian… hmmm, now who else?) but I can’t think of anything to say about their #7s.

It has just come to my attention that “Sinfonia Antartica” by Ralph Vaughan Williams is actually his 7th Symphony, although I never think of it as such.

It is one of the first pieces of music I ever checked out of a local library (as a teen). Its genesis was as the score to “Scott of the Antarctic” (1948), which I may have seen on the TV (it’s an Ealing Studios production with a positively “ripping” stiff-upper-lip cast: John Mills, Kenneth More, James Robertson Justice) and then learned that the film music was actually “real music” that the local library would probably carry on LP!!

Anyway, film footage of icebergs = Sinfonia Antartica for me.

[Unfortunately, film footage of sand dunes also = Sinfonia Antartica, thanks to Monty Python’s Scott of the Sahara.]

I haven’t heard it in years: perhaps it’s time to check out one of the two CD recordings from my current city’s library (not the same library as mentioned above, where they probably still haven’t forgiven me for playing one of their LPs “wet”).

Thoughts on Beethoven’s Seventh:

It has a slow intro (actually Poco Sostenuto) that really works for a change. Usually these things are dull and unbalance the structure.

It has perhaps the greatest symphonic movement of all, the glorious second movement.

The scherzo is great as well, especially the trio, and the last phony return of the trio that gets squashed with five mighty chords.

The last movement, for me, is one of Mr. B’s most disappointing efforts. This great symphony ends with a trite, bumptious clog dance. Too bad.

Well, I have more to talk about, even if no one else does. (though, where are GorillaMan, Tusculan, Ukelele Ike, and some of the other regulars? :))

To expand on the Beethoven thoughts: One discussion I’ve usually heard about his seventh is the astonishing importance of rhythm. The first movement’s primary theme is that jaunty, almost gigue-like one introduced by the flutes and is passed around the whole orchestra.

The second movement’s primary theme is almost a Johnny One-Note, but it’s the slow, ploddingness of the rhythm that makes it memorable. When the full orchestra takes it up, one can imagine Beethoven in the advanced stages of hearing loss, pounding away at his piano.

The scherzo’s rhythm is in stark contrast to the second movement, jerky one moment, smooth the next. Even the trio section has a bit of jerkiness to the rhythm.

However, in the fourth movement, I think the rhythm is much less pronounced. It definitely takes a back seat to the melodic development. I would be interested to read more of the historical background and context of the symphony to see if there’s been any discussion of why the fourth movement seems so different from the rest of the symphony.

Stay tuned, I’m not done with seventh symphonies! :wink:

Well, no, not exactly, but his 6th, 7th, and 8th (called “Morning,” “Midday,” and “Evening,” respectively) are probably the most famous & popular of his really early symphonies. They’re for small orchestras and have neat bits where one or another of the instruments gets to really stand out.

Prokofiev and Sibelius both made it up to 7; this thread is their last chance to be mentioned.