The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Did Beethoven borrow from Beethoven? And how do you think the Madison Symphony Orchestra did with Beethoven’s Ninth? Plus, the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) finish up their spring concerts this weekend. | May 15, 2015

REMINDER: This weekend the Wisconsin Youth Symphony Orchestras (WYSO) finish up their spring concerts at Mills Hall and Overture Hall, where the music students will perform a Side-by-Side concert with the professional players of the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

Here is a link to more information and details:

WYSO Youth  Orchestra

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, you have to hand it to music director and conductor John DeMain as well as the orchestra players, the chorus members and the guest soloists: The Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson) sure knows how to finish up a season with a bang.

A very Big Bang.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

Last weekend in Overture Hall, they closed the current season with a stratospheric performance of Beethoven’s Ninth.

Sure, all parties — especially concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) — also did a terrific job in performing Leonard Bernstein’s violin concerto-like “Serenade” (after Plato’s “Symposium”), which preceded the iconic Beethoven symphony.

Naha Greenholtz [playing

But it was the Beethoven symphony that grabbed everyone’s ears and didn’t let go, earning a well-deserved and instant standing ovation.

This was Beethoven at his exciting best.

All the musicians played tightly and DeMain (below, in a photo by Prasad) managed to make the old radical piece sound radically new, with a driving rawness and roughness (lots of loud and highly accented percussion) coupled with flawless precision and great balancing of the winds and strings as well as the brass.

This interpretation was both dramatic and transparent in a way that both thrilled you and helped you to understand the music and its structure.

John DeMain full face by Prasad

A couple of years ago I remarked that DeMain – who came here from the Houston Grand Opera as primarily an opera conductor – had developed into a great Brahms interpreter.

Now I can say the same thing about his having become an outstanding Beethovenian.

But I did have one question:

Am I the only one who hears the slow movement of Beethoven’s early “Pathétique” piano sonata in the opening of the slow movement of his Ninth Symphony?

Listen for yourself and decide by using these YouTube videos:

First, here is the Pathétique’s slow movement, played by Daniel Barenboim, that has been used as a theme song by many musicians including Karl Haas:

And now here is the slow movement, also with Daniel Barenboim conducting the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra made up of Israeli and Palestinian students, of the Ninth Symphony:

Maybe I am hearing things that aren’t there.

Or maybe musicologists have long established the similarity between the early and the late work as fact -– though I cannot recall having seen it mentioned.

What do you think of the comparison?

Can you think of other pieces that sound as if they were twins separated at birth? Leave names – and maybe a YouTube link – in the COMMENTS section.

And what did you think of the final concert by the Madison Symphony Orchestra?

The Ear wants to hear.



  1. The Pathetique’s slow movement IS a lot like the slow movement of the 9th symphony. You should try playing them at the same time! Even when the Pathetique’s a minute behind their melodies still seem to sound a lot alike. I noticed that Clementi’s Sonatina in C Major Op. 36 No. 3 Movement 1 sounds SO MUCH like Mozart’s Sonatina in C Major Movement 1 K 330. It literally sounds like one of the composers copied the other line by line! I don’t know which one did because I tried to find out when Clementi composed his sonatina but I couldn’t find the information online anywhere. I also noticed that it seems like Clementi mixed all of his former Sonatinas in Op. 36 with some new elements in Sonatina in G Major Op. 36 No. 5 First movement, and in Sonatina in D Major Op. 36 No. 6 it sounds even more like he mixed all of his former Sonatinas in Op. 36 with some new elements.

    Comment by fifiandlulucrew — May 17, 2015 @ 8:12 am

  2. Beethoven, not as much. But he did write the Eroica Variations for piano and the Chorale Fantasia that pre-dated the 9th Symphony.

    Comment by Daniel Polowetzky — May 15, 2015 @ 8:41 am

    • Daniel,
      You are right. And it goes further. I think the theme of the Eroica variations for piano came from The Creatures of Prometheus Overture and was also used as a main theme in the Symphony No. 3 “Eroica.” But the transcribing or re-scoring of pieces seems historically much more common in the earlier eras, especially the Baroque age.

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 15, 2015 @ 9:20 am

  3. Many composers do recycle their own works. Handel also did it often. But I don’t think Beethoven did it a lot.

    Comment by welltemperedear — May 15, 2015 @ 8:34 am

  4. The borrowing is obvious and well known.

    Comment by Daniel Polowetzky — May 15, 2015 @ 7:35 am

    • Thank you for writing and replying.
      I will take your word for it being well known. But I don’t recall seeing it elsewhere and I also just spoke to someone who is playing and studying the slow movement of the Pathetique but who didn’t hear the parallel to the slow movement of the Ninth.

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 15, 2015 @ 7:56 am

      • Bach arranged his compositions for different ensembles. Some of his harpsichord concertos were originally for violin.
        He did the same for chorales some of which occurred in cantatas and other settings.

        Comment by Daniel Polowetzky — May 15, 2015 @ 8:13 am

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