Beethoven 4th Symphony in B-flat major, Op. 60

Second Movement video
Fourth Movement video

All of Beethoven's symphonies are staples of the repertoire, appearing in concerts by professional as well as student groups. Many different ideas exist about interpretation in Beethoven. After studying Beethoven with many different people (in particular conductor Otto-Werner Muller), I am a strong believer in a few things. First, Beethoven's dynamic scheme consisted of only four levels: f, p, ff, and pp - mp and mf do not exist in Beethoven symphonies! You should therefore divide the dynamic scale you can achieve on your instrument into four equal parts. This means there is a lot more dynamic range to a Beethoven piano or forte, then to a Mahler piano or forte, and you can add considerable expression to each phrase without going outside of the marked dynamic. This also means that forte is exactly halfway between piano and fortissimo, and should be played accordingly, and not too strongly, unless of course the music (or conductor) demands it. This carries over into: Second, Beethoven often writes f before the climax of a phrase is reached. Therefore, you should not stop your crescendo just because you see the marking. Third, Beethoven sometimes abbreviated sforzando with sf and sometimes with only f. Some of the best examples of this can be seen in the second movement of the ninth symphony after letter "A" where you have a f at the beginning of each of sixteen bars in a row. Familiarity with Beethoven's works will make it obvious whether f indicates a forte or a sforzando. Lastly, Beethoven has provided us with metronome markings for all the pieces, and these are almost universally followed by all ensembles.

The fourth symphony of Beethoven has many long exposed passages for the clarinet and the second movement solos are staples of nearly every audition. The first movement finds solos at letter C and after H that are thematically the same. Follow the general line of the phrase up and down dynamically, and avoid having the downward 7th in the fourth bar of the recap. solo wreck this line. Play the legato lines as legato as possible and the short notes very short. This seems self-evident, but this movement is an exercise in contrasting note lengths and playing extremes here is better.

The second movement's first solo is really a duet in octaves with the flute beginning in measure 10. The meandering line of the phrase is continuous for the next seven bars, and if one weren't playing a clarinet, one wouldn't breath at all. Try to mask your breaths, and play the seven measures as if they were one phrase (as they are). I recommend breathing after the bottom E in bar 12, and again two bars later after the long G. If you need another breath, take it after the E in the next bar. Discuss breathing and phrasing with the flute player prior to the first rehearsal if possible. You may stagger your breaths or phrase them together - neither is more correct. Letter B is a true solo, over the top of pizzicato strings. The phrasing is more or less the same as letter F, which is the main audition passage (because it is higher and therefore more difficult), so I will discuss only letter F.

Start the solo at letter F very softly, even though it is only p, because you will be heard no matter how softly you play over the strings, and you will then be able to make more expressive crescendos. Cantabile is the key word for this passage. Drive expressively toward the Bb in measure 2, make it expressive (possibly with a subtle <>) come away dolce on the sixteenth notes and fade out on the down beat. Do not play the C overly long! If the conductor is sensitive, you will be able to add a little retinuto for the sixteenth notes, and I recommend doing so in an audition. Slur into the C in measure 3, and play the Db with the two side keys. The strings have a regular rhythm at this point, so no more rubato is allowed, and you must NOT be late on your entrances. In an audition, the whole committee will be subdividing in their heads to see if you can count rests - so be precise. Take a small breath or none at all before the next passage, so as to disturb your body as little as possible. This helps you to maintain the placement of high notes in your mouth, mind, lips etc. and eases the entrance of the D. Try to enter on the D both softly and solidly - this note is the whole reason for this exerpt to even be on an audition. Play the motive expressively (this is also important to show the committee that you are not scared by the passage, but are comfortable with it) Take a huge breath and play the next motive in answer to the previous, but land on the A very softly to make the crescendo. The C can be stretched and G shortened ever so slightly, but do NOT be late to the A. I recommend a small dim. and tenuto on the C with a little dip in the phrase going to the G. This creates a loop effect in the phrasing of the motive. All of this intricacy on two notes contrasts nicely with a slow, steady crescendo on the A. During the crescendo, think not of getting louder, but of getting nearer or bigger to about the level of a Beethoven f. This will help you keep your tone even as you change dynamics. The subito piano comes on the downbeat of the next measure, not on the G. This subito may be used to create another "loop" phrasing to turn the musical direction around. If you absolutely must, take a quick breath after the F. Be sure to play a real 32nd note at the end of this measure (neither a 16th nor a 64th). Diminuendo to the 32nd note C and play as softly as you can. This crescendo should be quite large. You are joined gradually by the rest of the orchestra during this note, so be sure you are still heard as the primary voice as they enter. You may breath after the downbeat of the next measure. Play graceful and legato triplets. After leading to the Bb from the A play a slight dim. at the very end of the measure leading to the piano marked on the F in the next measure. Play a full (but not longer) 8th note and release. Be sure to adhere to Beethoven's tempo and not to play too slowly at an audition.

Letter E is a reprise of the opening duet, with a variation. Be sure to be precise with your rhythm on the triplets, and make the sf as pressure accents. G is another reprise followed by arpeggios traveling through the orchestra. Follow the line of notes dynamically and pretend to play the first note of the flute's (after your last note) - this will help you to hand off your line well.

The Scherzo presents little solos with no problems. The last movement, on the other hand, has some quite difficult passages. At letter A, the alberti accompaniment solo must be played loudly enough to be clearly heard, and staccato. The 16th note solo is an excellent reason to learn to double tongue. While not marked with a dynamic, a Beethoven p is appropriate. In an audition, you may play the passage as slow as 152 to the quarter-note, if you can tongue it all. Otherwise, add a slur or two (or three or four) for two notes and play it at 160. The first place to add a slur is from the C before the grace note to the D after it. This slur is extremely well masked by the grace note. The next place to add is preferable at the end of the passage, going from D to C in the final measure. It is likely that you will be able to start at tempo and tire as the passage progresses, so adding slurs at the end is preferable. Doing this enables you to remove them at the last instant in performance if you don't need them. Other good spots are from the C to the B at the beginning of the second measure, and from the top A to G in the third measure. Be sure to play the pp as a subito, and the ff as well. In auditions, the excerpt usually ends after the first note of the ff.