KSO teams with Russian pianist on a Ludwig van program
by Alan Sherrod
Just before Christmas in 1808, Viennese concertgoers braved a four-hour all-Beethoven public concert at the Theater-an-der-Wien. Ludwig van Beethoven himself was the pianist and conductor on the lengthy program that included the premieres of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, excerpts from the C major Mass, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and as a finale, the â“Choral Fantasy.â” Not surprisingly, the lengthy concert seemed to have drawn heavily on the listening patience of even the most dedicated concertgoers. Critic Johann Friedrich Reichardt said, â“There we sat from 6:30 till 10:30 in the most bitter cold and found by experience that one might easily have too much even of a good thing.â”
Knoxville concertgoers will, however, have probably just the right amount of a good thing as the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra presents an All Beethoven concert this weekend. The program will include two works that premiered on that Viennese winter evening in 1808: the Symphony No. 6 in F, op. 68 (â“Pastoralâ”), and the Fantasia in C Minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, op. 80. Also on the program is the Leonore Overture No. 3, op. 72a.
Maestro Lucas Richman will open the concert with the Leonore No. 3. This overture, the second of four overture versions composed for Beethovenâ’s opera Fidelio (originally titled Leonore and based on the play by J.N. Bouilly), appeared with the operaâ’s revival of 1806. It is clear that Beethoven struggled with the reconciliations and compromises that face a composer writing music drama, specifically the issue of summarizing dramatic action in an overture while maintaining an abstract musical structure. Like the Leonore No. 2 before it, and the later Leonore No. 1, the overture does attempt to track the situations of the story. After descending the steps to the Floristanâ’s dungeon cell, Beethoven introduces the theme of the aria â“In des Lebens FrÃ¼hlingstagen.â” At the end of the development section, we hear the trumpet call which announces Floristanâ’s liberation. Beethoven expands even more in the following recapitulation before embarking on the powerful Presto to end the overture.
Beethoven intended his Fantasia in C Minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra to provide a grand finale for that winter concert in 1808â"a finale that would combine all the forces he had at his command for the evening. Unfortunately, the piece was apparently left to the last minute and received only the briefest of rehearsals. Beethoven himself was the pianist for the performance and actually improvised the opening piano Adagio, committing it to paper after the performance. Following the opening solo are a number of variations on Beethovenâ’s earlier song Gegenliebe. Listeners will notice the similarity of the theme to the finale of Beethovenâ’s Ninth Symphony. While the text of the Ninth is taken from Schillerâ’s Ode to Freedom, the text of the â“Choral Fantasyâ” is in praise of music. For the â“Choral Fantasy,â” Richman and the KSO will be joined by pianist Margarita Shevchenko and the Carson-Newman Chorus.
To conclude the program, Richman has selected the Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 (â“Pastoralâ”), which also premiered on that December evening in 1808. While the subtitle â“Pastoralâ” was Beethovenâ’s own and there were precedents for programmatic music based on nature, he was anxious to avoid the current popular distaste for musical imitation of natural soundsâ"so much so that he later added that pastoral referred to â“more an expression of feeling, than painting.â”
The symphony is in five movements with headings that are Beethovenâ’s: â“Awakening of happy feelings on arriving in the country,â” â“Scene by the brook,â” â“Merry gathering of country folk,â” â“Thunderstorm,â” and â“Shepherdâ’s Song: Happy and Thankful Feelings after the Storm.â” Itâ’s interesting to note that Beethovenâ’s original subtitle was â“Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life.â” â“Recollectionsâ” is an important word here, as it indicates that Beethovenâ’s intention was not tone painting, but an intangible representation of human existence in a natural environment. In this way, Beethoven was assuredly anticipating Romantic program music of the remainder of the 19th century.
What: Knoxville Symphony Orchestra with Margarita Shevchenko and the Carson-Newman Chorus present All Beethoven
Where: Tennessee Theatre
When: Thursday, Nov. 15, and Friday, Nov. 16, at 8 p.m.
How Much: $10-$78
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