Speedy Beet Listen to our podcast on Beethoven's need for speed
One blizzardy February afternoon, Jad and a handful of Radiolabbers headed to midtown Manhattan to meet a fleet-fingered string quartet.
The plan was to play snippets of Beethoven's Third and Fifth symphonies at the surprisingly fast tempos Beethoven marked on his scores (listen to Speedy Beet for more). But Alan Pierson and some brave Brooklyn Philharmonic musicians were game to see Beethoven's markings, and raise 'em. And we've got the camera phone footage to prove it.
Here's Beethoven's Third at 190 BPM:
As fast as this feels, it's only slightly faster than Beethoven wanted it performed -- he marked it at 180 BPM.
For Beethoven's Fifth, we couldn't resist trying to break a land speed record...here it is at 160 BPM (Beethoven wanted it at 108):
While we're at it, here's a playlist of different versions of Beethoven's Fifth. We unscientifically determined the tempo of a few of these with a metronome while listening to the same passage played by the Brooklyn Philharmonic players (log in to Spotify to use the player):
88 BPM: Arthur Nikisch conducting the Berlin Philharmonic
102-4 BMP: Glenn Gould
105 BMP: Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra
109 BMP: John Eliot Gardiner with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique
And...the one that seemed to land exactly on Beethoven's chosen tempo of 108 was Walter Murphy's "Fifth of Beethoven," from the movie "Saturday Night Fever."
We'll leave you with one last (blazingly awful in a wonderful kind of way) version...
Thanks to Megan Tan for help compiling this speedy playlist.
Brenna is a writer, radio fiend, and filmmaker who lives in Brooklyn. She studied History and Literature at Harvard, took her love of roustabouting on the road as a travel writer, and came home to New York as a public radio producer and independent filmmaker. She hails from the Adirondack Mountains, where she makes frequent getaways for ice-fishing, hunting, and chopping wood.
Tim came to Radiolab in 2009, after many years of playing music and working in non-profits, cafes, record stores, and dilapidated factories. He continues to write and record songs under the name Soltero, which can be heard here.