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

Apr 2, 2019

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.

On Sunday, April 7th at 1 PM on WRTI 90.1, Nathalie Stutzmann conducts The Philadelphia Orchestra in a program featuring Beethoven's 4th Symphony, his first Piano Concerto, and Haydn's Surprise Symphony.

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. 

"Alot, 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.