Beethoven - Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68

First Movement video
Second Movement video
Third 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.

Beethoven's sixth symphony is the most popular piece to have on any clarinet audition and presents new challenges to every clarinettist each time they refine their ability and standards. In the first movement, you have a few little solos before the main audition one. Despite not being the melody, some conductors will insist that you play loudly in the 8 bars leading up to B. If you can get away with it, defer to the melody in this passage. Four bars before D should be played sprightly. Legato slurred notes, short staccatos, a general <> for the two bar motive, and a slight accent on the D all help this passage come alive. Take a cue from the oboe for phrasing, as they play similar thing many times in this piece before you do. During the solo that begins in measure 426, it is good to play dolce for most of the solo. A wonderful exception is to make the skip of a 6th and the three notes that follow it in measure 429 espressivo with a little swell upwards through the triplet and more legato notes. You may even be able to stretch them slightly, because you can steal time from the longer G. Be sure to hand off to the oboe well at the end of this passage.

The solo that starts at letter K is on almost every audition, and sometimes they want you to play the two measures before K to set the tempo - I prefer this. The embellished stepwise sequence up (B, C, D) should be followed dynamically without destroying the subito f. Play each motive with identical nuance, and be absolutely precise about the placement of the 16th notes. It is a common error to play them too quickly an the 8th too long. You may lead into the f with the last two notes before it. The whole orchestra plays the next arpeggio with you every time, and in performance, you may drop out here to catch a breath if you need to. Play all the triplets fairly short and bouncy. Show the phrase in measures 480-2, by making the second note of each measure a new beginning leading towards the next measure. The next few measures should be played the same way, but are easier because they are f. Play each repetition more strongly than the last, and reach your climax in measure 488, where you immediately start a dim. The main thing the committee wants to hear in this passage (aside from absolute precision) is a real dim to a real pp without getting slower or playing longer notes. This is difficult and requires much practice, but is worth the effort. Little accents on the low B each time can help. In performance conductors may slow down or even do this whole passage in a slower tempo. Do not play it this way at an audition, and stick to the tempo of 126.

The solo at the end of the second movement is even more common on auditions then the first movement solo. The solo in bar 7 is in octaves with the bassoon, and the phrasing is similar to the last solo. The one difference of note is the fp in bar 12: crescendo up to the f and play a very sudden p without sounding harsh. The solo at letter D is often heard on auditions with the bar before D, so that you may more directly let the committee know your tempo. Make a nice swell in this bar - up and back, with the Bb as the high point. This solo is heard primarily to catch you not counting your rests in the proper tempo. Subdivision is extremely important. In a way listening for that makes no sense, because in performance, with the conductor beating and the strings playing running 16th notes, it is very hard to play too early or late. Each of the three entrances bordered by rests should be done with a little swell surrounding the appogatura 8th note. Try to keep the line through the rests if you can. Do not hold the quarter note overly long - fade it out exactly in time (this helps you stay accurate during the rests). The grace notes can be played a few ways, but I recommend against articulating them. I prefer to play the last two 16th notes preceding them and the three grace notes as a unit of 5 notes. I also play this unit slightly across the bar line, so that I am a little late to the down beat. This is OK, because you can make up the time on the long notes, and as long as you end in time, you will not destroy the line. Playing them this way gives you a little more time to play them gracefully. If you prefer, you may play all 5 more quickly and reach the 8th note F on time. The pick ups to measure 73 are the last in the sequence of four entrances, and the harmony finally moves to a cadence. Help show this by a nice blossoming crescendo to the C. Come down dynamically on the arpeggio, and play the following phrase (which is an embellishment of what you've just played) similarly, ending at a nice piano. The grace notes should be played at the approximate speed of triplet 16th notes (comprising the length of an 8th note in total), a little faster is OK, but not too fast or they are ungraceful. Take a huge breath before the grace note in bar 74 (it's the last you may have in the excerpt), play the grace note barely shorter than a 16th note, and start this all piano. Cresc. through the next bar to the subito in the bar after. During this bar of 24 16th notes, a little nuance/rubato can be done during the half-step from B to Bb. Try to show the relationship over the bar of C to B to Bb to A at the top of the arpeggios. It is common to slow down at the end of the last arpeggio, but by no means is it necessary. Reach the lower end of a Beethoven f by the end, and play a nice piano in the next bar. You may be more contrasting at an audition, because you are not trying to cut through a thick orchestration. Watch out for rushing in this bar, the articulation makes you want to move ahead - Do Not. At the subito, a little phrasing to follow the line is nice, or to go contrary is nice. If you can play a nice pp high D, do the contrasting. Hesitating after the D slightly is a nice effect. The 8th notes should be shortish, but not pecky (but not mooshy either), with lots of space between them. If you need a breath here, take one after the lower D, and play the spaces between the notes large enough, so that your breath space is no larger. You may slow down and slightly lengthen on the last two notes a little to set up the trill. I like to begin long trills like this slowly and accelerate the trill. Others like to play them all fast. Be true to yourself, because you will be bound to offend someone on the committee no matter what you do (and I believe this is a good approach to all such decisions regarding an audition - don't try to second-guess a committee unless you are CERTAIN that the conductor is there and insists on hearing a particular passage a particular way.) However you play the trill, crescendo through it and stay heard over the thickening orchestra. Pretend to play the resolution, but do not, and you will phrase the end properly. The rest of the movement is not heard at auditions, but the Coo-coo bird motive should be played very short and pecky, and in perfect time with the oboe.

The third movement is rarely heard at auditions. The solo starts with three notes out of the blue answering the oboe in measure 114. Play dolce and with a dim up to through the D. Measure 122 is played in the same vein, but starting with the second beat of bar 123, you are in a new statement of the theme. There is no time to make a break with tempo, so you must set this new phrase apart from the previous one with dynamics. Play the four notes previous to this p, and abruptly start the new phrase (on the D) with a healthy mp. Accent the tied notes over the next three barlines for a nice swing - remember, this is peasant music. Climb dynamically to the long note, but still save a lot for the monster cresc that follows. Drive all the way to the bottom, and then play a big subito p. The G must be soft, but loud enough to be heard - especially at an audition. If you are playing in a boomy hall during you audition, you will not have the usual acoustical padding and may have to tailor your performance a bit to suit this. This subito p is a good case. You may have to play it louder to be heard in a boomy hall that is still reverberating from your crescendo to ff. Play the tempo if you can articulate all the notes, or maybe as slow as 100. Otherwise, add a slur somewhere - I recommend form the A to the F# in bar 132. The solo at letter B is never on auditions. Play it in a nice meandering, peasant dolce - you've heard this theme a number of times at this point - play it in a similar fashion. Accent the tied Gs a bit to show the syncopation.

The last two movements are also never on auditions. The short pleading solo of mvmt. 4 is a chance to put as much expression as you can into three notes at a time. I like to play the second set of three should be played both piu pp and piu espressivo - this avoids a cheesy echo effect. You may play the second entrance more strongly if you like. The clarinet opens the fifth movement (after the storm). Play simply. Drive to the barline at the beginning of bar four and back away from it. You may be able to push and pull the tempo ever so slightly along with the dynamic - I think this helps the phrasing.