Ludwig van Beethoven
Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Symphony 7 in A major, Op. 92
Rebecca Huber, concert master
Emily Dupere, Tomoe Mihara, Fumiko Morie, Helmut Riebl, violins
Rachel Stroud, Daniel Boothe, Veronika Manova, Elise van der Wel, violin II
Rezan Önen-Lapointe, David Rabinovici, Anna Waszak, violas
Anton Baba, Mark Dupere, Petr Hamouz, Ania Katyńska, violoncello
Tomoki Sumiya, double bass
Joanna Marsden and Antonia Molina Ruiz, flute
Allison M. Smith and Robert de Bree, oboe
Thomas Carroll and Elise Bonhivert clarinet
Luis Castillo Castillo and Gergő Farkas, bassoon
Renske Wijma and Krzysztof Białasik, horn
Nicholas Emmerson and Patrice Boileau, trumpet
Orlando Aguilar Velazquez, timpani
In 1792 when 22-year-old Beethoven settled in Vienna, the Habsburg capital was by far the largest and most prosperous city in the German-speaking lands. The musical scene there, which had been cultivated by Joseph II, attracted the finest musicians from many corners of Europe. The synthesis of diverse national performing styles in Vienna- including German and French string practice, Bohemian wind playing, and the operatic cultures of Naples and Venice- culminated in the development of the Viennese orchestra and the rise of the Classical style of orchestral composing, a fusion of musical forms, textures and techniques drawn from Italian opera, French dance music, Germanic instrumental music, stile antico counterpoint, and other exotic sources.
Vienna’s aristocracy was unusually devoted to supporting music and in particular, instrumental music. Many patrons including Prince Lobkowitz, the Esterházys, Karl Lichnowsky, Count Rasumovsky, Baron von Swieten, Archduke Rudolf and others organized concerts in their homes and employed string quartets, Harmoniemusik, or even private orchestras. Another unusual aspect of Viennese musical patronage at the end of the eighteenth century was a tendency for patrons to support the quality of compositions over their quantity, which may explain the relative frequency of works of very high quality in this repertoire.
In contrast with London and Paris which both had a healthy and regular public concert life, Viennese concert culture at the end of the eighteenth century was still dominated largely by the aristocracy and supplemented with benefit concerts and occasional public concerts for special events. Music was heard mainly in the theaters in the form of incidental music at plays and in singspiels and comic opera at the Volkstheater. Another arena for music accessibility lay in Vienna’s print culture, developed by Artaria who began to print music in the mid 1770s.
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) was born in Bonn, a provincial city, but like many young, ambitious musicians of the late eighteenth century, he was deeply attracted to Vienna, the city of Mozart and Haydn. In his early time in Vienna, Beethoven studied music and composition directly with Joseph Haydn, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, and Antonio Salieri. The young Beethoven enjoyed early success as a virtuoso pianist in private homes of the highest aristocratic circles, but by 1802 as his deafness became more apparent and he stopped playing in public concert, his music became much more experimental. Beethoven wrote his brooding Coriolan Ouverture in early 1807 for Heinrich Joachim von Collin’s 1804 German-language tragedy on the subject of the Roman general Gaius Marcius Coriolanus, hero of Coroli. The work was first performed in a private setting at Prince Lobkowicz’s residence in Vienna. The Coriolan Ouverture begins with a sombre tone, combining heroic tragedy and the inevitability of fate with eruptions of extreme violence. The lyrical second subject conveys compassion, nostalgia and grief.
Everything changed in 1809. Napoleon’s forces seized Vienna in July, and the destruction, turmoil and disruption caused by the occupations weighed heavily upon the city and its aesthetic and cultural life. The death knell for the mature Classical symphony sounded also in that year with the death of Joseph Haydn, Vienna’s beloved symphonist. In addition, the aristocratic patronage system which had previously supported composers as private entertainers changed drastically. In turn, the type of music which composers wrote also changed.
Beethoven was a special case, becoming one of the few composers in history to make a living by composing alone. He supported himself through his published works and also through public performances of his music, but his financial position was secured in the autumn of 1808 when Beethoven entered into a contract with Archduke Rudolf, Prince Lobkowitz, and Prince Kinsky with a including a stipulation that he never leave Vienna and the guarantee of complete artistic freedom. Essentially, as Beethoven had shrewdly arranged in this contract, he could compose whatever he wanted whenever he wanted.
Beethoven began work on his Seventh Symphony in 1811 in Teplice while Napoleon was at the height of his power. He completed it in 1812. It was premiered in December 8, 1813 as part of a benefit programme organized by inventor Johann Nepomuk Maelzel for Austrian and allied veterans of the wars against Napoleon. That evening, Beethoven also offered a piece he wrote for the Panharmonicum, one of Maelzel’s mechanical instruments. Wellingtons Sieg oder die Schlacht bei Vittoria, a programmatic work celebrating a major victory over Joseph Bonaparte’s forces in Spain, was performed fully orchestrated complete with cannon fire! Though immensely successful with audiences at the time of its premiere due to its sensationalism and inspiring anthem quotations, the charm of Wellington’s Victory Op.91 has not endured with later listeners.
Led by violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, the orchestra that evening included violinist Louis Spohr, cellist Mauro Giuliani, double bass player Domenico Dragonetti, clarinettists Joseph Bahr and Joseph Friedlowski, bassoonist Anton Romberg, Antonio Salieri on timpani, and many others. At the time of the premiere of the Seventh Symphony, it was still relatively rare for orchestras to be directed by a silent conductor. It is likely that most of the performance direction came from the violinist Schuppanzigh.
Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony pushes against the boundaries of the established Classical symphonic form, with the characteristic experimentalism of his middle period output. The Symphony begins with a unusually grand slow introduction, which is at times atmospheric and elemental. Most of the melodic material in the symphony is derived from the first few measures of this densely structured introduction. Initiated by the solo flute, a Bacchanalian Vivace flows freely from the Poco Sostenuto. Rhythmic and dance motives dominate its sonata form without a second subject. Perhaps, this motion inspired Richard Wagner to describe the Seventh Symphony as “the apotheosis of the dance.”
The sublime second movement, Allegretto, was the most popular during the first performance and was immediately encored. From its premiere, the Allegretto has frequently been performed out of its symphonic context. Symmetrically framed by chords from the winds, the Allegretto march theme is an obsessive ostinato which travels through all colors of the orchestra, coupled with a doleful counter-melody. Beethoven reverses the functions of melody and countermelody, and the variations build in complexity and culminate in strict fugato. Two interludes in A major provide brief consolation from the haunting ostinato, but these episodes cannot escape the inevitable return to the beating rhythms of first figure.
The third movement, Presto, is an expanded five-part scherzo in the surprising key of F major. A parody of nationalism appears in the pastoral D major Trio, based on an Austrian hymn but expanded to nearly absurd proportions.
Exuberant, infectious, spontaneous, sometimes terrifying energy is the main subject of the Finale. In the fourth movement, Beethoven relies on short, sharp rhythmic devices and shocking suspense before a mysterious, expansive coda after which he finds his most triumphant conclusion.