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The Problem with Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony


Learn why the Philadelphia Orchestra had to cut Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony from their program and replace it with his Sixth.


[Beethoven plays] Davyd Booth: As soon as we got there, we had heard rumblings that Mrs. Mao had expressed disfavor at Beethoven's Fifth.

Jindong Cai: The Fifth is about fate.

Communists don't believe in fate.

Nicholas Platt: I said maestro there is a strong request from the top, to play Beethoven's Sixth, the Pastoral Symphony.

And he looked at me and he said well you know I hate that symphony, and I didn't bring any scores.

And at that point I started to make things up.

I said Beethoven's Sixth is program music.

It describes life in the countryside.

And the Chinese Communists came to power on the back of a peasant revolution.

Herb Light: Ormandy felt that the Sixth Symphony was not showing off the orchestra to his liking. That's the only reason he rebelled against them.

Eugene Ormandy: On the way into town the musical head of the Friendship Committee sat with me and a translator. And the first question was, 'Don't you like the Sixth Symphony of Beethoven?'

I said, 'Oh yes, very much.'

'Why didn't you program it?'

As we arrived in our hotel in Peking (Beijing) he says to me, 'Don't you like the Pastoral Symphony?'

I said, 'Yes, I told you that an hour ago.'

He says, 'Well will you play it?'

I said, 'We can play it, but we don't have the music.'

'Don't worry we have it!'

NP: We did get the scores.

From Shanghai and from Beijing.

It was a big jumble of scores that came in.

Emilio Gravagno: And the parts that we got didn't have our normal markings in them, bowings and things like that.

HL: Every one was individually handwritten and was full of mistakes.

And we would be playing along and oop, wrong note.

Larry Grika: You're talking about the Philadelphia Orchestra.

You're talking about Beethoven.

It wouldn't have mattered if some pages were missing.

[Beethoven plays over videos and photos from the Philadelphia Orchestra's trip to China] Anthony Orlando: Here we are the Philadelphia Orchestra, on the front page of 'The People's Daily.'

And there's Mr. Ormandy and there is myself in there and all of my colleagues.

And it was just an incredible realization that what we were doing was in fact very historic.


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