Placing the record on the turntable, I did my best to channel Steve Staruch. “And now,” I said, “the Symphony No. 1, in C major. The Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Herbert Von Karajan.”
I lifted the needle. The record refused to spin. I realized my omission.
“After I plug this in,” I clarified, “we will hear the Symphony No. 1, in C major.”
I plugged the turntable into the outlet strip and again lifted the needle. The turntable spun, but the auto-return kicked in and returned the arm to its cradle.
“Pardon me,” I said, lifting the arm yet again. “Now, we will indeed hear the Symphony No…”
“Jay!” exclaimed my exasperated girlfriend. I nodded silently and dropped the needle.
The record is the first of 85 that constitute the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection, a massive collection issued by Deutsche Grammophon and Time Life to commemorate the composer’s 200th birthday, in 1970. The records were recently given to me by my father, who still owns a turntable but typically prefers to listen to his computer or iPod.
From my earliest childhood I remember the set, the behemoth of my father’s record collection. Resplendent in pristine blue slipcovers, the records were a physical manifestation of the cultural weight of classical music generally, and Beethoven specifically. Even the Beatles and Bob Dylan had tiny amounts of shelf space compared to the stormy German composer.
The set was rarely played; my father appreciates classical music, but on an average day is more likely to reach for the Bee Gees than Beethoven. Many of the records in his Beethoven set–perhaps even most of them–have never so much as been touched by a needle in their 40-plus years of existence.
Since before the term “bucket list” was a thing, it’s been on my bucket list to listen to the entirety of the Beethoven Bicentennial Collection. With Beethoven’s sestercentennial coming up in six years, I figure that if I start now, I can proceed at a nice leisurely pace and still wrap up right around his 250th birthday on December 16, 2020.
To hold myself to it, I’m going to blog about it: one post for each two sides in the set. (That would be one post for each record, but the sides are pressed for multi-record changers, so side one of a five-disc set is pressed on the flip side of side ten, side two with side nine, and so on.) As I listen, I’ll blog about Beethoven, yes–but also about anything and everything else that occurs to me as I listen.
For those listening along at home, the first five-record set is part one of two sets of symphonies and overtures. Symphony No. 1 fits tidily on the first side of the first set, and the second side contains the first three of the second symphony’s four movements. Why does the set start with the symphonies? That’s a subject for my next post.