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Enjoying Beethoven's Humor in His Fourth Symphony with Conductor Nathalie Stutzmann

Simon Fowler
Nathalie Stutzmann

Beethoven had a funny side, and conductor Nathalie Stutzmann says you can hear it in his Symphony No.4, a work that's often been overshadowed by his grander symphonic compositions. WRTI's Susan Lewis has the story.

Beethoven wrote his Fourth Symphony in 1806, the year after the premiere of his powerful and grand Third Symphony, Eroica.

"The Fourth Symphony is very interesting because what can you write after Eroica? " says Nathalie Stutzmann.  She suspects that with the Fourth, he was trying to surprise his audiences, once again.

"He starts with a magic chord and a completely, mysterious start. You are in the dark and you don't know where to go. You are lost, completely lost in translation." 

While Beethoven was known for his strong personality, he also had quite a sense of humor, she says. 

"A lot, Like Haydn! They were funny guys, very basic ones. And a favorite a joke of Beethoven's was to put himself just behind the door, and just [say] "BOO!"  to surprise people coming!  Oh my God!  And it's full of this in his music."

Conveying that humor is not always easy.

"Honestly, you need a top orchestra. It needs a lot of fantasy, and I think it needs to have this humor and not to take yourself too seriously. And that's not too easy. It's very challenging for everyone," she says.  "It's probably the reason why it's not played as often as the others."

Beethoven's Fourth Symphony premiered in Vienna in 1807. 

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.