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Speedy Beet

Tuesday, February 19, 2013 - 05:00 PM

Metronome (derekGavey/flickr/CC-BY-2.0)

There are few musical moments more well-worn than the first four notes of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony. But in this short, we find out that Beethoven might have made a last-ditch effort to keep his music from ever feeling familiar, to keep pushing his listeners to a kind of psychological limit.

Jad starts out talking with Alan Pierson, Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, about the fact that neither of them really like Beethoven's Fifth. It feels, they say, heavy and ponderous. But then Alan tells Jad a story: Late in life, Beethoven got his hands on a metronome, went back into his symphonies, and marked them with tempos that are shockingly fast -- so fast, in fact, that most conductors simply refuse to play them as marked. To investigate, we gather up a quartet of musicians to give us a feel for Beethoven's speedy beats, and we talk to composer and author Matthew Guerrieri about the way fast tempos push us and unsettle us. But is that really what Beethoven was going for? WQXR host Terrance McKnight says given his background and personality, Beethoven clearly didn't want his music to be easy and comfortable. So, as an homage to our new found vision of Ludwig van B., we ask Alan and his players to take the Fifth to a whole new level.

Big thanks to our Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians: Deborah Buck and Suzy Perelman on violin, Arash Amini on cello, and Ah Ling Neu on viola.

And check out The First Four Notes, Matthew Guerrieri's book on Beethoven's Fifth.


Matthew Guerrieri, Terrance McKnight and Alan Pierson


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Comments [99]

Geoff Manasse from Saigon (HCMC), Vietnam

OK, so you reprised the show you did in 2013 in the Cast Party for 2015. Too bad. I liked it less the second time than the first. Here are some reasons why without being excessively gushy about LVB.

1) Musicians only play to metronomes when they are learning a piece. In performance, it is impossible to play this music and make it sound good unless you can use fermatas and retards, which Beethoven included in the graph paper. You know, the stuff with five lines across the page? Of course it sounds stupid when you ask a string quartet play to a metronome. It couldn't even happen with a full orchestra unless everyone wore headphones because you would not be able to hear it. So unmusical. Ackkkk! No wonder you don't like Beethoven. If you think it is even entertaining to ask professional musicians to play so poorly, without any musicality, then I suggest you go back to listening to pop. There are plenty of examples of weak musicality the popular music scene and your observations are not irrelevant there.

2) Beethoven wrote tempi that would be defined as almost unplayable long before the invention of the metronome. It was call presto. Play as fast as you can without missing notes or having poor tonality. Listen to his Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 : Third Movement. Musicians of his time were uncomfortable with what Beethoven asked them to do. Notice how, even in this movement, the tempo fluctuates. It's less about the metronome marking than the varied pacing called for by a conductor. Conductors love tempo markings, not as marching orders, but as suggestions of how thing should go very generally. Things speed up. Things slow down. There is room for interpretation.

3) It's wonderful that Beethoven got a hold of a metronome before he died so he could be more precise about what he heard in his poor deaf head. Maybe his music would never have sounded quite like he thought it should in old concert halls. Maybe the acoustics were not up to what he imagined would work. However, today we have modern halls and more technically adept musicians. The music can transcend the discomforts of the 18th century and come alive again if you give it a chance. Save the metronome for the practice room where it belongs.

Oct. 13 2015 06:08 AM
Will from Portland, OR

Beethooven on his violinists trying to play the 5th:

Jul. 18 2015 06:27 PM
Cory Rehms

I liked the quicker version (A LOT). He had a lot of greats to try and live up to, so how do you differentiate yourself? Go HAM on that tempo.

Apr. 08 2015 02:43 AM
Taras Bohonok from United States

Honestly, I'd contribute it to vanity. I learned to play the piano and played Beethoven as a child. As I grew up, I liked to compose digital music. When I was younger, I wrote a few musical pieces with a set tempo. As I got older I wanted to digitize it. So i did. Once I had it complete, the first thing I did was to amp up the tempo. This immediately increased it's complexity and made me feel as if I originally thought of it at that speed, ergo, made me feel a bit smarter for being able to create music at such an intricate level. If Beethoven already created 8 symphonies, that means they were created to the tune of the original tempo. That is their true form. Anything that comes after that seems superficial to me. If you show me 8 photographs of yourself and I say to you, I have Photoshop that will enhance your next picture, make it look that much more intricate, detailed, refined.. wouldn't you want to go back and get your last 8 touched up too? Hell people today have apps that just do that; make your cheekbones look thinker, instantly make you look leaner. Vanity. Let us not forget, Beethoven was human. digitized music wasn't around. He was a "celebrity" during his time. Compare him to Dr. Dre, an innovator of his genre, a creator. How simple would it have been to just ramp up the tempo to this new "Metronome... simple tick marks on paper, which instantly would make your somewhat simple piece into a complex monster, not easily reproduced, complex, ... revered.

Mar. 19 2015 01:29 PM
Jordan Williams

The indifferencepoint is pretty in beat with my heart, try it

Feb. 20 2015 09:58 PM
Agatha B. Christie from Florida

This is a very interesting to think about, some of the most commonly known songs throughout the world are completely different at different tempos. It's amazing that there could be so many reasons for the symphonies having these outrageous tempos in the pieces by Beethoven. From over estimation of tempos, a broken metronome, muddled hearing after he became deaf, miss numbering of tempos after originals were lost, and Beethoven wanting to push the limits of a players ability to play a symphony.

Nov. 03 2014 09:25 PM
Elinor L. Rousseau

This was a very interesting podcast about a piece of music that sounds so familiar to us and how it can or should be different. I don't have a side to take in the theory of his tempo markings for his symphonies, but I think that they should be played in a way to push the audience to be sort of uncomfortable out of their seats. Especially now because classical music is dying, increased tempo markings could be a way to reach a younger audience with a liking of faster pop music. Other wise this was really interesting and kind of changed my perspective of Beethoven's works.

Oct. 26 2014 07:57 PM
Lorelei C. Whitman

Beethoven was a genius composer who came long before his time. Facing the inability to hear his work, Beethoven created difficult pieces of literature to play, but are so pleasing to the ear. After listening to this podcast, I feel that the tempo markings that Beethoven wrote were correct. Music is the unspoken language and he(like most composers) was trying to transcend a message to the audience. By having highly trained musicians, Beethoven could be able to go at any tempo needed to protrey his work. All in all, it is really up to the listener to infer the effect of the markings made on the pieces.

Oct. 17 2014 05:00 PM
Bill from usa

When I was young I wanted all my music to be fast. Now that I'm old even the 5th 1st mvt. play at the usual speed is too fast.

Aug. 26 2014 05:50 AM

What was the name of the first string quartet piece they played to show how fast it had to be.

Apr. 13 2014 11:16 PM

Those who like hearing Beethoven's symphonies played at the composer's marked--and often zippy--speeds will find much to enjoy in the recordings of conductors John Eliot Gardiner, Roger Norrington (1-8), and David Zinman.

Apr. 09 2014 12:05 PM

I feel that Beethoven was an inspiration to me & when he decided the faster motion of music I felt in-tuned with the music. Even though most people that I saw comment thought otherwise.

Apr. 09 2014 02:43 AM

I feel that bee

Apr. 09 2014 02:38 AM
Raffy from Aruba

I will start by saying that I was aware I was going to have issues with this podcast prior to listening to it because I am biased to toward the feeling that Beethoven is the greatest composer of all time.

1. I didn't think it was very scientific to say that a "that isn't what one would expect from [classical music]". Why should [classical music] ( I have an issue with the term as well but not enough space to explain) be one way or the other? Isn't this kind of boxes the same as saying that limestone is a rock and thus inorganic? And doesn't this limit our way of thinking rather than expand it?

2. I extremely enjoy your show and at the end I was entertained in the way that you approached Beethoven. Fun to hear and watch in my head. But I have to say you missed a big important part which is the heart, the emotion behind his songs and that would have given your story more depth. Beethoven's telling a story, the story of his time expressing optimism, disappointment, regret, extreme happiness, love etc. You can clearly see his passionate personality through his music. But to conclude this you have to listen to his whole work and not limit to that famous 5th symphony (also my least favorite).

3. Finally I love that your show did solve an issue which I had and that is that I found some of the versions of his symphonies, particularly the 5th symphony. Thanks for clearing up that the intention was for it to be played at higher pace.

Lastly the sound in the head and unto real space is a matter of good acoustics and is a complete discipline of its own. Maybe an interesting topic for one of your shows!

Mar. 06 2014 05:08 PM

So... Anyone knows what the exact musical pieces are that are being played in this episode (e.g. the string pieces in the background starting at the 7 minute mark, and at 13:24)? Just wondering, since there are no tracklist to be found anywhere. :(

Cheers! (and fantastic episode ;p)


Feb. 02 2014 03:01 PM

Just listening to this, and the experiment with the Phil playing at various tempos is quite fascinating.

The hearsay theory that I'd heard is that Beethoven read the metronome markings incorrectly, assuming the number at the lower end of the pendulum instead of the upper end. I've never tested out the various tempos, though.

Dec. 24 2013 10:17 PM

I enjoyed this cause I've been listening to Beethoven's symphonies at their marked tempos for a while using the Amazing Slow Downer. I love taking typically slow and very carefully wrought renditions of music (celibidache style) and then speeding them up to a nice exciting tempo. Best of both worlds...lots of nuance, tight, clean ensemble, and fast as hell! I like to imagine this is what beethoven heard in his beautiful crazy head...

Dec. 09 2013 11:37 PM
reloj7 from us

What a waste of time!. First of all the metronome in the 1800's had a different speed overall than what we know today.

Second, the style of playing was very different than what we are accostumed today. Not to mention the technique and materials used to make strings or any other instruments at the time.

Third, if you "can't stand"one of the greatest geniuses in history, what the heck are you doing in the music business.

Fourth, there are/were a lot of composers that wrote tempi faster or slower than how they would play their own pieces. An example?: Shostakovich.

So pleaseeeee, stop trying to "play" Beethoven's music at the suggested tempo and start enjoying the artistry and magic of his music. How can you measure art?

Dec. 04 2013 12:19 PM
Bjoern Cox

That was incredible. Thank you.

Dec. 04 2013 12:09 PM
Red_Chaos1 from 78758

>anonatall from 95469

I think it's meant as a play on beat vs. Beethoven's name. Hence Beet.

Dec. 04 2013 11:12 AM
Daniel from London, UK

Good lord but that was some good sound editing. Makes sense I guess, but it really adds to the listenability of a podcast if it all just flows so well.

Dec. 04 2013 10:39 AM
anonatall from 95469

Wrong spelling of "BEET" is beneath you.

Aug. 23 2013 07:28 PM

I don't guess people know that if he couldn't hear a metronome, that he could see and feel it? I'm sure he can feel, and observe the difference to know that the metronome doesn't beat on it's longest points away from the thing... Surely he could observe that it pass across the center and caused a click.

This is how modern classical'ers are ruining music today, they do not understand originality, he can mark whatever he wants on his scores...

Jul. 30 2013 07:31 PM
Henry from The Woodlands, TX

OMS! That was just orgasmic.

Jul. 21 2013 12:07 AM
yaners from pdx

The 5th sped up to 160 sounded like Jazz!!

Jul. 18 2013 06:11 PM
James from York, PA

Wow, who knew Beethoven was the father of heavy metal! haha. I want to hear all his music at that increased speed.

Jul. 16 2013 11:48 AM

Plus, these people were all likely living on large amounts of coffee for the first time as well. This definitely sounds like the work of a highly caffeinated artist.

Jun. 21 2013 03:04 PM


They meant to make it "Beet". As in Speedy "Beet"hoven.........

Jun. 19 2013 01:00 AM

"BEET"? is a vegetable, try "BEAT"

Jun. 14 2013 11:01 AM
Karen Huddleston

Is it weird that I really like the sound of his music sped up?

May. 31 2013 08:27 PM
George from Chicago

This is not a particularly new concept, but I'm happy to see it explored on Radiolab! Please, if you have any doubts, check out Sir John Eliot Gardiner's excellent cycle of Beethoven's symphonies (1994), which includes extensive evidence for the composer's marked tempi, along with a terrific essay by the conductor on a bonus cd.

May. 05 2013 11:09 PM
Kirk from Ontario

Great show...I got chills when you were bringing the beethoven at 160 bpm.

I also think there is an interesting connection in the "human time" at just over 90 bpms. I just read "Born to Burn" by Christopher McDougall and "Eat and Run" by Scott Jurek. Both of these books explore how inherent running is to being human and what is our "natural" running form. Conclusion: from all cultures, very long distance runners all end up finding an optimally efficient form of our ancestors by having a stride rate guessed it, about 90 bpm.

I love radiolab's explorations and how they stretch my brain.
a million thanks.

Apr. 27 2013 10:00 AM

Does anyone knows the name of the track around 13:15 by any chance?

Apr. 04 2013 05:05 PM
jack b

"Can you go to 160?" Puhleeezzze! Not having caught this podcast on the original release date, it's disappointing a month later to not see any comments regarding The Great Kat. Howz about something north of 200bpm from this vixen goddess of shred:

Shame this wasn't incorporated into the episode. She definitely plays it the way it was meant to be played. How can we know that...cuz The Great Kat IS Beethoven reincarnate (self-proclaimed). And cuz the only real music is METAL.

Mar. 26 2013 01:32 AM

What is the trumpet track at the end of the episode ?

Mar. 25 2013 04:34 PM

Hi this the man
But I want to know if aside of this wierdness what is happening um as far as me I don't have any travel plans
What is she doing and why not communicate I'm Turing everything and rather get an atourney since I do not have the patience and really am not emotionally up to this since you know my boy was kidded so this is the inhumanity. Jokes tears out there wtfbakersfield

Mar. 23 2013 04:05 PM
Ray Richards from Ridley Park, Pa.

It would be great if a musicologist wrote a book just on "Beethoven's Innovations in Classical Music". It would be a large book. From the point of view of innovative writing and universal musical appeal, he must be the all time greatest composer!

Mar. 23 2013 02:19 PM
phil rittner from New Britain CT

I love hearing anything about Beethoven, any time. I am a classical pianist, and Beethoven has always been my favorite. I have to say I've always been surprised that his metronome markings are such a topic of debate. His music doesn't sound like his music if you ignore the markings. Editors over the past few hundred years have marked up his sonatas to the point that they sound like Mozart if you follow their suggestions when playing them. I don't think it should come as a surprise that he liked to push the envelope. He almost single-handedly forced the creation of the 88 key piano. He scored his later symphonies for strange new instruments(the ophicleide, anyone?), pushed the evolution of brass writing(being one of the first to write for valved instruments, as opposed to natural horns), and pushed vocal writing to its limit. I have always been bothered by the fact that people immediately jump to all sorts of strange theories about his metronome markings, or simply assume he was wrong. Clearly, the man was a trailblazer, and he liked his music fast. I don't know that we need to search out deeper mystical meanings. He was a rebel then, and people are still fighting him, almost 200 years after his death.

Mar. 21 2013 12:22 AM
Lailee from Toronto

Does anyone else have problems with the player ? This doesn't play on my browsers. I've tried Chrome and IE. Neither of them can play this.

Mar. 15 2013 11:05 AM
Prasanna from Hyderabad, India

Here's the law in case anyone is still looking

Mar. 14 2013 04:45 AM
Maria from Berkeley Ca

Yes, liberating.
I got up and danced.
Rock on Beethoven!!!

I re-listened several times BTW.


Mar. 14 2013 04:31 AM
Sloppy from Stockholm, Sweden

Thanks, that was a great episode. There is something to be said for seeing a staunch view of history just shaken about, smacked against the wall and see some "life" inside it.
As so often illustrated in this show, history hides many little things. Things that, apparently, some don't feel are important or more likely will cause people to question a giving things validity in our culture; totally unaware that it only adds and justifies the culture it is part of.

Anyways, i could go on but just..... Thank you.

Mar. 13 2013 02:30 PM
Friday from UK

Very enjoyable programme, thank you.

Mar. 12 2013 03:46 PM

This is a pretty interesting read:

He has a recording of the 5th and 7th which includes a 2nd companion CD where he discusses the choices he made.

Mar. 09 2013 04:01 AM
Richard Kirk

Maybe the size of a symphony orchestra is also a factor. I remember hearing Simon Rattle's recording of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue scored as it originally appeared for a jazz band with a banjo continuo. That ripped along, but I sense the tempi would struggle with a full orchestra. If nothing else, the time sound takes to to cross a big orchestra will make it hard.

Mar. 08 2013 11:25 AM

The 5th at 160 was pretty incredible. I've always liked the 5th symphony myself, but played at that speed was dizzying. Actually, it reminded me a lot of metal music.

Mar. 08 2013 10:16 AM
Tim from Villanova

I teach a two week segment on jazz in my humanities course. The whole thing is based on the line between control and chaos. How cool this that I can now include someone like Beethoven in with Ornette Colemen and Charlie Parker. This peice is now on the syllabus. I am brining up a whole new generation of radiolabheads

Mar. 06 2013 09:21 PM
Laura from Seattle, WA

I listened to the Speedy Beet podcast on my bus ride this morning and MAN! that was a great segment. The end in particular, about Beethoven's speculated interest in keeping his music dangerous and unpredictable, totally got me. Sitting on the bus, grinning with tears in my eyes. (Not sure what that was about but I try to just go with it.) Awesome. Thanks so much and KEEP IT UP.

Mar. 06 2013 11:27 AM

I wonder if people's natural tenancy to slow down or speed up a beat has anything to do with the reason that crowds have an impossible time clapping together in a rhythm for very long. My dad and I were noticing this problem particularly at the Boise State men's basketball games this season. There are certain moments in the fight song where the crowd's beat falls apart, but then comes back together just moments later - it happens without fail. I've noticed it in a lot of other settings too.

Mar. 05 2013 11:47 AM
Janis from southern CA

Interesting -- although I have to join the chorus of people who say that he simply misread the metronome. It's not an uncommon error to interpret the thing as a downbeat every other click instead of a beat per click (one-and-two-and instead of one-two-three-four). I've done it, and still have to keep myself from falling into it. It's the most natural thing in the world. For someone who couldn't hear the clicks and who hadn't encountered one until he was an adult, it's far more likely that LVB simply made the sort of mistake that almost everyone makes when they first confront a metronome.

Mar. 04 2013 03:57 PM
Elizabeth Elliot

After Beethoven went deaf, he no longer experienced the effect of resonance. Because he only heard his own pieces in his head, he would have heard them faster in his own mind. Had he been able to hear them out loud again, he would have realized that resonance would have made it necessary to play them much slower than in his head.

Mar. 04 2013 03:56 PM

I believe Paavo Jarvi recorded the symphonies at the marked tempos. Great recordings.

Mar. 04 2013 01:46 PM

I want to nth the torrent suggestion or something similar. I hope you can explore existing, clever ways to deal with the bandwidth issue besides a brute force pay-it-off. When I donate, I want my money to go to paying other costs for show production, or for my money to pay Radiolab's staff for their work.

Mar. 04 2013 01:19 AM

Has anyone recorded Beethoven at his original tempo markings? I would love to have a copy of it.

Mar. 03 2013 12:40 PM
Manoj from Southington, Ct

Well done. Wonderfully written podcast!

Mar. 03 2013 01:22 AM
Arthur from Cambridge, MA

This podcast episode featured some of the greatest storytelling I've heard on Radiolab, or anywhere. Congratulations all!
I concur with the rest, would love to hear the full symphonies, played as marked.

Mar. 02 2013 12:30 PM
Eric Anderson from Here

As a first time Radio Lab podcast listener I loved the episode. It worked out really well that I was walking in the woods and it was snowing as the quartet started to play at 160 bpm. Really upped my pace. Thanks and look forward to more shows.

Mar. 02 2013 12:12 PM

@ izzy and wolfgang

He couldn't hear a metronome, but he could put his hand on it while it was running and feel it clicking.

Mar. 01 2013 01:54 PM
izzy from seattle

btw I have to agree with "Wolfgang in Heidelburg" - the metronome click would not be audible to Beethoven, and he might have assumed it clicked at the end of each swing, like the grandfather clocks he was familiar with.

Feb. 27 2013 01:52 AM
izzy from seattle

Other possible factors) why it might have gotten slower - sound technology in 1889-1930 (when the first recordings of Beethoven's music were made & popularized), as well as performers?
A lot of early sound & film recordings were of the "greats" - older actors and writers and singers past their prime, before they passed away. In the last couple decades we've been exposed to wunderkids playing with passion & energy, but if classical music was performed, taught & recorded only by older musicians, that could explain its ponderous reputation.
Also I've heard that the very early jazz musicians had to change instrumentation and slow themselves down because the recording instruments couldn't capture all the complexity, and if they played it as usual it would've sounded like a muddled hash.
Finally the Wikipedia about Weingartner (who conducted the first recordings) is interesting - supposedly they were more true to score - and he studied under Liszt, who was no slowpoke. However he used the orchestra at hand, like RKO's. (see )
But these are historical insights from a music idiot - any music/recording history aficionados out there?

Feb. 27 2013 01:39 AM
Wolfgang from Heidelberg, Germany

While listening to your great episode I actually thought about another stupid theory "Off By Factor 2": A mechanical metronome is basically a
pendulum which produces an accustic 'click' whenever the pendulum, swinging left to right and back passes the center. So it passes the center and clicks twice as often as it reaches its left or right maximum, respectively. Remember that B. was already completetly deaf when he saw hist first metronome. What if he simply misunderstood how it works: He just saw it, swinging right to left as the arms of a conductor and assumed that the beat was given by the rate whenever the pendulum reaches, say, its right maximum, which is exactly half the frequency as the metronome emitts its sound (which B. could not hear!). So we would have to divide all the metronome speeds given by the master himself by exactly factor 2 to get what he actually wanted! So, poor musicians, relax - There's no more demand for fingerbreaking highspeed virtuosity :-)

Feb. 25 2013 03:27 PM

I adored this podcast. As someone who has played his pieces and always been intrigued by his character, this gives me a completely new perception of him that I adore. It moved me almost to tears. Thank you, Radiolab!

Feb. 23 2013 05:12 PM


Make the show available for free only if it is accessed through the site, put up some ads, and charge for the podcast otherwise. People who don't want to pay for the podcast can just come to the website and you'll make some money from ad revenue. I also have no idea what I'm talking about.

Feb. 23 2013 12:33 PM

Sped up Beethoven sounds great, although I think an entire symphony at those speeds might induce some anxiety.

Feb. 23 2013 12:28 PM
Jerald Harscher from Cambridge, MA

Thanks guys -- great show! Just wanted to add another thing to consider while questioning the reliability Beethoven's tempo markings. If Beethoven was indeed deaf when he made these decisions he would have had a hard time with accuracy. One has to be able to actually hear the metronome when comparing how one hears the tempo internally. He could only have guessed it based on a very unreliable visual estimate --the swinging pendulum of his older technology. He could easily have been off a bit.

Feb. 23 2013 11:33 AM
Welburn Kemp

There's a Robin Thicke song ("When I get you alone"), which uses a sample from Beethoven's Fifth. He speeds it up to (I think) 107 bpm.

When I think of Beethoven's Fifth I think of it at Robin Thicke (/apparently Beethoven's) tempo. I must also be a musical genius.

Feb. 23 2013 05:32 AM

You guys ruined Beethoven for me. The 5th Symphony sounds so much better when its played faster.

Feb. 22 2013 05:02 PM
bea from Virginia

I've always thought of Beethoven's music as relentless, or relentlessly passionate. This makes sense to me. Thanks for a great 19 minutes of fun.

Feb. 22 2013 03:54 PM
Tim Harford

I loved the Beethoven short - but have you ever heard the last minute of the 9th Symphony? It's like a musical hurricane in, for instance, the classic Von Karajan recording. Either Von Karajan and other composers got the memo and sped everything up, or the 9th just proves that Beethoven was serious about the pacing of the others. Would love to hear more about this.

Feb. 22 2013 12:39 PM
geoff escandon

"No one can destroy the metal
The metal will strike you down with a vicious blow
We are the vanquished foes of the metal
We tried to win for why, we do not know"


Feb. 22 2013 11:00 AM
John Metz from Waterford, CT

I remember two 20th century composers who admitted that their metronome markings were way off-mark -- far too fast. One composer almost had a seizure when I took him to my studio and played his new piece at his metronome markings. He slapped his forehead and knocked his glasses off, "That's too fast!!" And Ingolf Dahl, upon hearing an LP recording of one of his works commented, "You have all the correct tempos, my metronome markings are all wrong."

John Metz, DMA The Juilliard
Emeritus Professor, ASU

Feb. 22 2013 08:32 AM

I grew up listening to Glenn Gould's Beethoven piano sonatas and was always confused when I heard Beethoven played at slower tempos. Gould even plays the Moonlight Sonata (1st movement) pretty quickly (compared with many other recordings.
The 3rd movement is blazing fast.

Great podcast! Thanks!

Feb. 22 2013 01:25 AM
Jeremy from Sydney

Re-emphasising that there should be an official torrent tracker for the Radiolab episodes.

Those bandwith costs are ludicrous.

Feb. 21 2013 09:02 PM

Thank you for this interesting episode. To follow on the comments of TB from New York, I think delving into "historical" performance practices - that is, recognizing that the instruments available to Beethoven in his day and the style of performing music, which was likely somewhat different from the commonly thought of "classical" or "Romantic" style today - sheds light on the tempo issue. For example, string players in Beethoven's time had lighter bows and played on strings made of sheep gut, not metal. These instruments were not as powerful in terms of volume and capability to produce an loud, sustained tone, so a good guess among many performance scholars is that the style of playing perhaps was not as "portentous" or "heavy" - and quite possibly Beethoven's tempos would not seem so unusual. Performers today who champion historical techniques do often tend to use faster tempos than "traditional" performers (e.g., compare youtube videos for the Bach double violin concerto as performed by Perlman/Stern and Manze/Podger). From my own study of historical performance, I often found that faster tempos just made sense given the instrument in my hands and what we learned about stylistic practices at the time.

Feb. 21 2013 08:37 PM
Patty from North Carolina

This was amazing! I think that bit of the 5th Symphony at 160 BBM was awesome. I'd like to hear the rest! It creates a whole different "melody", to my ear. No doubt Beethoven *was* trying to do something fierce, if he wanted it played fast! It was always puzzled me that people think of classical music as necessarily soothing or peaceful. Why would it be? The composers were passionate human beings, just like the people who compose great music in any era.

Anyway, thanks for that show! I'm becoming a RadioLab fan very quickly! :-)


Feb. 21 2013 06:22 PM
TB from New York City

As mentioned below, check out the John Eliot Gardiner recordings. I've had these since the mid-90's. Fast tempos and also played on period instruments with period performance practices, these recordings will clean out your ears. Really exciting music making and probably much closer to what Beethoven had in mind than most of the ponderous performances you are used to. Also, if all you know of Beethoven is his symphonies, do yourself a favor and listen to the piano sonatas and, especially, the string quartets. A whole other world.

Feb. 21 2013 03:50 PM
Mike Shine from MA USA

Was Beethoven a Heavy Metal Shredder at heart?

Ben Wyatt... "BEET"thoven (play on words ;o) hehe)

Feb. 21 2013 01:32 PM
Ben Wyatt

great one. any reason it is "Beet" instead of "Beat"?

follow-up thought: Typical rehearsal arguments about tempo ("too fast/too slow") are usually based on an assumption about what the music should convey. When we have clear (metronome) indications from the composer, perhaps we should rather ask what the tempo he or she gives would convey and give thought to whether, perhaps that is in fact what was meant to be conveyed, even if this is not what we are accustomed to or had previously felt.

Rather than figuring out how to make the music answer our own questions, we can ask if the music as written is already the correct answer to some other question.

Feb. 21 2013 11:36 AM
Squarely Rooted

I was also going to mention "A Fifth of Beethoven:"

I think Ludwig would have dug it!

Feb. 21 2013 11:33 AM
Jake from Melbourne

Like a few have stated, torrents would be great. I wouldn't mind downloading a torrent using a link on this site and then putting the file into my iTunes. If it saves you a little money I'd be happy to go to this small inconvenience rather than streaming/downloading through iTunes.

It could catch on and you could be the first to start a bit of a revolution in the way podcasts are delivered!

Feb. 21 2013 08:57 AM
Chris Lamb

Did you really use a recording of a solo viola da gamba to illustrate "muddy" sound? :o

Feb. 21 2013 05:31 AM

I actually like Beethoven, and quite enjoyed this episode. My favorite conductor of him is John Elliot Gardiner, who has been consistently criticized for his tempos, since he argues we should take the markings seriously. Although he doesn't play them quite this fast.

And McLir above is right. Listen to those Gould recordings, especially the Opus 27, which he plays with no pedal. It will open your ears.

Feb. 21 2013 05:01 AM

As PatrickM said, torrents can help with the bandwidth issue. It could be offered as an alternative to the stream.

Feb. 21 2013 12:10 AM
Jad Abumrad

Love the idea of distributing the show as a torrent, but the vast majority of our audience use apps like iTunes & Stitcher. There's no way around the bandwidth costs.

Feb. 20 2013 06:13 PM

If you're having bandwidth issues, you should make a torrent.
I'm sure a bunch of fans would love to lend some unused uploading capacity.
Especially if you tell people that's how you'd prefer them to access the show online, your audience is capable of taking up their own slack.

Feb. 20 2013 04:13 PM
Jeff Youngstrom from Issaquah, WA

It was only towards the end of this episode that I realized I'd been using my podcast player to speed the whole episode up to 150% of normal rendering the whole thing kinda surreal. Listened again at normal speed. Great stuff.

Feb. 20 2013 03:31 PM


"Vierordt's Law (Woodrow, 1951) states that shorter time intervals, usually less than one second, are commonly overestimated, while longer ones are more likely to underestimated (Dictionnary of Psychology, 2001)"

"Music in the Human Experience: An Introduction to Music Psychology" By Donald Hodges, David Conrad Sebald

Feb. 20 2013 02:22 PM

Can someone clarify the name of the Austrian doctor, who came up with the law that says people tend to want to slow fast tempos down and speed up slow ones? I cannot find a reference to him anywhere, I'm sure I'm spelling it incorrectly: Carl Von Fort? Karl Von Fiord? No idea.

Feb. 20 2013 02:07 PM
Balazs from Denver, CO

You can play music at any speed if you have a digital copy of it. It's only a question of knowing how long say the first movement of the 5th should take at a certain BPM and you can scale things from there. Does anyone have that info ?

Feb. 20 2013 01:39 PM
Miss L from New York, NY

I come from a working class background and upon my first exposures to classical music, Beethoven was the only composure I liked. His music spoke to me… it was more edgy. I always thought of him as the classical punk.

Feb. 20 2013 12:37 PM

I did not like Beethoven either -- the word I would have used is "portentousness." That is until I heard Glenn Gould and others play some short piano pieces. These are zippy, thrilling and playful. I hear a great sense of humor in those piano pieces that is completely lacking in the usual performance of the symphonies. I'd love to hear Beethoven's symphonies at their marked tempos.

2nd movement of the 13th Sonata, Op.27 No.1 from Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould:
Bagatelle Op. 33, No. 5 in C Major from the Music Animation Machine:

Feb. 20 2013 11:29 AM

For those looking for recordings done at metronome marking speeds, David Zinman did all the symphonies at that tempo. Great recordings and definitely different than you're used to.

Feb. 20 2013 09:01 AM
one rag from my only property - the couch

wish i could bonus up you guys, but ouch, now even a church mouse is richer than me

Feb. 20 2013 08:26 AM
Jon from Sweden

As Dr. Know, I also wonder if anyone know of any recordings of Beethoven at the markings speed

Feb. 20 2013 07:59 AM
Andrew Rowland

I know this isn't about the podcast propper, but a word about bandwidth cost: Consider providing a torrent solution so people can listen without costing you money.

Feb. 19 2013 11:51 PM
Dr. Know

Fascinating episode - well done! Does anyone know of Beethoven recordings in 'true' tempo?

Feb. 19 2013 10:24 PM
Lauren Buchsbaum

He asserted it as speculative theory, not a proven fact.

Feb. 19 2013 09:05 PM
Tom Cronin

Really surprised you didn't mention Walter Murphy's "A Fifth of Beethoven" which is listed as 108.8 bpm. Being familiar with the disco version, your "sped up" version didn't sound too fast at all. I assume Mr. Murphy felt the same as you, that speeding it up might attract a new audience.

Feb. 19 2013 09:03 PM
fact check

Terrance McKnight mentioned Beethoven had African ancestry. Is there some sort of proof for this? I looked over his wiki article and found nothing to back up the claim.
BTW, love the show.

Feb. 19 2013 08:08 PM

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