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February 19, 2006

The Toscanini Beethoven symphonies

I've been listening to a reissue on CD of the old Toscanini recordings of the nine Beethoven symphonies, recorded with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. This, by and large, is the set of performances that I listened to when I was young, and it brings back fond memories.

I was listening earlier today to the Eroica symphony. Toscanini's interpretations are somewhat controversial, but I love what he does with the Eroica. (I think this is actually a different recording from the one in the original LP set I listened to.) Toscanini, of course, can't get all the credit. The first movement of the Eroica is a work of absolute genius. No matter how many times I've listened to it, I'm still in total awe.

There's a wonderful line about Richard Feynman, the great 20th century physicist.

"There are two kinds of geniuses: the 'ordinary' and the 'magicians'. An ordinary genius is a fellow whom you and I would be just as good as, if we were only many times better. There is no mystery as to how his mind works. Once we understand what they've done, we feel certain that we, too, could have done it. It is different with the magicians. Even after we understand what they have done it is completely dark. Richard Feynman is a magician of the highest calibre." - Mark Kac
The same would apply to Beethoven.