YouTube compilations of clips from historic performances reflect the incredible evolution and variety of recorded classical music
Igor Stravinsky: The Rite of Spring
This compilation features 37 chronologically ordered audio clips of the ‘augurs chords’ from Stravinsky’s 1913 ballet. These instantly recognisable chords are played around 200 times in the second part of the work, ‘The Augurs of Spring’ – but never, perhaps, so shockingly as when they crash in, abrupt, jagged and unpredictable, at the very beginning. That’s the part we’re looking at (and listening to) here.
The recordings in this video are sadly uncredited in terms of record labels, but the YouTuber does include details of the conductor and year of recording (although their identification of the various ensembles is a tad unreliable). The clips range from the 1920s through to the 2010s, starting with Stravinsky himself playing the work on piano in 1921.
By listening to the same excerpt interpreted by dozens of different ensembles, you can not only compare the various performances and pitches, but hear how individual conductors’ interpretation developed over time. And as if all that wasn’t interesting enough, there’s also the fascinating – and audible – evolution of the recording equipment it was all captured by.
The guys over at WQXR have done a similar (and slightly more reliable) version of this video, with 46 clips stitched together to recreate the first three minutes of Stravinsky’s score. However, the clever chronological ordering of clips makes this one our favourite.
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 (‘Eroica’)
Be warned: everything about this next video seems designed to make the viewer go completely insane. Beethoven’s third symphony opens with two explosive E flat major chords, but this video sees them repeated a staggering 57 times in recordings dating from 1924 to 2011. We know because we counted – and now we feel like we need a lie-down.
What’s really striking in this video is the wild variances in pitch. In only a couple of instances can this be attributed to the use of period instruments (for example, the Academy of Ancient Music/Christopher Hogwood 1985). Most of the time, the difference in sounded E flat major is down to subtle discrepancies between European and US concert tuning standards, but also the quality of the equipment used to record the performances.
Nothing, however, can explain or excuse the massive brass fail in the mid-1960s.