Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93

Video demonstration here.

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.

On nearly every audition, the eighth symphony is smaller in scope than any other symphony of Beethoven's since the second and is full of important clarinet material. The first movement is either in a fast three or a slow one - often both, depending upon the music. The first solo is in the fifth bar of the piece, and is the "answer" phrase to the phrase of the first four bars. The high point of the phrase is the A half-note, and its stressing should be followed by a slight dim. Do not clip the D in measure 7, as you think might be stylistically correct. In most cases like this, we are taught to play the last note of a two note slur clipped, but the common performance practice these days is to play these figures longer in this piece only. I'm not sure why that is, but it is very important to remember, especially in the Trio when taking auditions. The next big first movement solo comes 8 bars after letter D. It is the opening phrases again, but this time all in the clarinet solo. Again, don't clip the end of the two-note slur. Of course if you have not been told one way or the other, it is always safe to imitate what you have heard the rest of the orchestra do up to that point.

In measure 244 begins another small solo, in answer to the previous tutti version. Begin at a healthy p level with a slight pressing accent on the syncopation tie. After the A in 246, a tiny break and a small stress on the D is nice to illustrate the skewed rhythm of the passage. The next two bars contain suspensions and the resolving notes (C# and B respectively) should not be rushed through and perhaps even stretched a little to give the listener a chance to hear the resolution before moving on to the subsequent figuration. The second of these two bars, the one with the ritard. in it, should be felt in 3 and played with a slight echo in dynamics as well.

The big solo of this movement is 4 measures after letter G. In a flatter key, it is again the primary motive. Do not try to play pp, and be smooth with all of your connections. Make sure the articulation in bar 307 between the two Ds is heard. Putting a slight accent on the second D and following it with a small crescendo upwards is good. Doing the same in the next two bars helps the modulation along.

The second movement is never asked on auditions, but is difficult to play correctly. This movement is Beethoven's homage to the metronome, and the soft, short, light notes in the woodwinds, aside from being very difficult to play soft, short, light, and together, are meant to represent a metronome. Play them as steadily as you can. If you have to make a choice, play shorter rather than softer. If you take smaller breaths and don't have as much pressure behind each note, they may come out easier. Remember to stop each note with your tongue for maximum shortness.

The third movement is a return to the conservative Menuetto that Beethoven began rejecting with his second symphony, and the trio is a huge clarinet solo that is on virtually every audition. It is often on the first round of auditions because it illustrates many things about a player’s ability all at once. It demonstrates intonation in every register, rhythm, nuance, legato and above all control. In spite of the staccato markings, NO note in this passage is to be played short. This seems contradictory, but it is just never done. Don't bounce, don't clip.

The first strain of the trio is easy and is quite a nice warm up for the difficult second strain. As with every excerpt, be in time and at the correct tempo, but committees are very fussy about the speed and rhythm in this excerpt and will be merciless if you are off at all. The pickups to measure 49 should be very dolce and simple. Play an exact triplet in the next bar, neither rushed or stretched, but very smooth. Do not emphasize the notes, or play them with less volume as you might other figuration. Maintain the cresc. line through them. The two Bs at the end of the bar are fairly legato and lead to the next bar. After the dotted-quarter note B, you may dip a little in nuance to let the last three eighths of the bar lead to the next. In measure 51, move through the first two beats with increasing expression, and make a real jump back to p on the third beat. Again here be very careful not to distort your rhythm in the slightest degree. Helpful in making the subito sound more dramatic but not gross is to play the first two beats as if they were marked espressivo and the last again dolce. Filling up the second beat in time as much as you can without distortion also helps this effect. Unless instructed not to, play the repeat and count all the measures of rest religiously. Some people like to hear repeats the same, but I prefer to play repeats with heightened contrast.

Measure 55 starts the high passage. Begin at about mp with long but articulated eighths and play bar 57 as an echo. 58 should start at 57's level but cresc. through the bar to a higher level than you had in 55. A true forte is required in 60, because you are playing above the entire orchestra, and you need the contrast so that you can play the next passage in a healthy p and still sound soft by comparison. Measure 61 should be phrased identically to measure 49. Do not take time in 62, but be as smooth as you can with the big skips. Half-holing on the second D of the measure will help it come out without popping or being too soft. Crescendoing through this measure is both a help and a hindrance, but it must be done or it will be too boring. Committees like this piece to see how well you can phrase. Beethoven is not as juicy as Tchaikovsky or Ravel, but here is your chance to be expressive. The cresc. makes it harder to play the skips, but you also don't have to play a p high D at the end of the bar. Keep the cresc. right up to the bar line, and then fall back to a very dolce p in bar 63. Find a fingering for the high G that does not fail and stick with it. I use the overblown B (thumb/reg. LH-1, RH-sliver and Ab/Eb key) and then "yodel" down to the B. The change in registers provides a little break of its own that nicely mimics legato articulation there so I don't have to tongue the B and break up the line. In any case, all articulation in this passage should be legato. Measure 66 is easy to rush in an audition - be careful. The D is the down pulse and the Gs are the embellishment of it. Do not bounce on the Gs. The G in 67 belongs to the others, and not to the eighth-notes that follow, so flow downward with phrasing beginning on the F#. This is the model for measures 71 and 73. 70 can be played with a little more cresc. on the Gs than in 66. The articulation should be one of a flat rock skipping across a pond. Articulate with only a little separation (NOT short) through the line and don't let the tonguing break it up. Play even crescendos in bars 72 and 74 making sure that the B is louder than the high D arriving at a Beethoven f by the end of the bar. Do not take time on the subito p, and be careful of rushing throughout measures 69-75. Measure 75 has a slight dim. Be sure to start loud enough in the next bar to get good contrast from your pp in the penultimate bar. In this bar the phrase breaks between the 3rd and 4th eighth-note with the latter belonging to the last bar. You can show this phrase-break with a slight cresc. through the last 3 eighths which will also help you by giving you a higher dynamic in which to play the last bar. The last bar is usually played with a rit. and always with a dim. up to the high G. My favorite fingering for this G is: Thumb/Reg. LH-1,3 RH-1,2 Ab/Eb. Whichever fingering you find, make sure it's infallible and in tune! If you are out of tune on this note, it will hang in the air until the orchestra starts up again or you play your next audition excerpt. Of course, it doesn't have to be the same fingering as in measure 63.

The last movement is not asked on auditions, but it doesn't hurt to be ready to play it. The biggest solo happens twice pretty much in the same manner (measures 236 and letter I). Without bouncing, make sure the articulation is audible between the two Es and As. The quarter-notes in measure 239 should again be played along the line and not too short (the skipping rock again). The last four bars can be more expressive than the first four or less, or completely different. Just don't be boring and play it the same.