Montgomery Philharmonic 2014 - 2015 Concert Season – SINGULARITY
Ludwig van Beethoven – He Changed the World – October 12, 2014
In the early 1800’s, Beethoven began to write symphonies, chamber music, and piano sonatas, and he also accepted piano students. The first signs of tinnitus began to appear at this time, and by 1811 he was having great difficulty playing his own work, the Emperor Concerto; by 1814 he was completely deaf. Beethoven’s deafness has been attributed to lead poisoning. He kept his wine in a ceramic container that had a lead-based glaze, and a recent analysis of a few strands of his hair found that it had abnormally high levels of lead. Beethoven’s last period of composition began in 1815. At this point, he became an innovator in various forms of composition and his music had a striking intellectual depth and intensity of expression.
- Born: December 16, 1770, in Bonn, Germany
- Died: March 26, 1827,in Vienna, Austria
- Full Name: Ludwig van Beethoven
- Compositions: 9 symphonies, 7 concerti, 1 opera, 1 ballet, numerous works for piano including 32
- piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, and dozens of other chamber music works
- Parents: Maria Magdalena Keverich, Johann van Beethoven
- Siblings: Kaspar Anton Karl van Beethoven, Nikolaus Johann van Beethoven, Ludwig Maria van Beethoven
Ovt, Creatures of Prometheus, opus 43
Overture, The Creatures of Prometheus, opus 43 (1801)
The first concert of our 2014‒15 season begins with works by Ludwig van Beethoven, all of which were written during the same 15-year period of time. This was the most prolific period for Beethoven and marks what is generally known as the beginning of the second creative period during Beethoven’s life—his heroic period.
Beethoven wrote one full-length ballet during his lifetime—The Creatures of Prometheus. The work was written with Salvatore Vigano, the famous dancer/choreographer, in mind because Vigano had spoken with Emperor Francis during the second of his two residencies in Vienna in 1799. The Emperor had just learned that Beethoven had dedicated the score of his Septet, Opus 20, to his wife, Maria Theresa, so the composer was on the Emperor’s mind. Beethoven was approached and Vigano’s plan for the ballet was explained, so Beethoven agreed to take on the composition. The legend of Prometheus was popular during the early 19th century and Beethoven was especially interested in the fact that Prometheus helped humans understand the arts, so everyone involved with the ballet had high hopes. Although Emperor Francis did not like the ballet, it was very popular in Vienna because both Vigano and Beethoven were held in such high regard.
Prometheus gives the listener a peek at what was yet to come in Beethoven’s future compositions. The overture starts ominously with large chords that were discordant and very sudden for that time. After the slow introduction, the strings begin the allegro section with soft scale passages leading to a bold allegro section pulsed by the brass and woodwinds. The second section of the allegro begins with soft woodwinds, followed by the strings imitating them; it ends with loud and soft sections using both the winds and strings. Transitional material by the woodwinds follows. The final section begins as the opening allegro with the strings and continues as a repeat of the first and second sections of the allegro. The overture finishes with a bold coda that utilizes all of the forces of the orchestra in scale passages and large tutti chords.
Two Marches for Military Band, WoO 18 & 19
Two Marches and Trio for Military Band, WoO 18 & 19 (1808)
Beethoven wrote five military marches during his lifetime. These marches were used to entertain and rally the German army much the same as was happening in England, where its military bands were playing marches. WoO stands for Werke ohne Opuszahl (“works without opus number”); this designation was used in the catalogue published by George Kinsky and Hans Halm in 1955 to refer to 205 of Beethoven’s pieces that were unpublished, and did not, therefore, have opus numbers. Beethoven wrote eight pieces for military band. These pieces were not limited to marches, but included serenades, scherzos, and ecossaises as well.
Beethoven wrote marches WoO 18 and 19 for Archduke Anton while he was on summer holiday in Baden. March 18, nicknamed the “York” march, was premiered at a tournament honoring Empress Maria Ludovika’s birthday. March 19, although also written in 1810, was not published until well after Beethoven’s death because, needing money, he added a trio to this march in 1822 so that it would appear to be a new piece. Beethoven made several attempts to package and sell Marches 18, 19, and 20 to publishers. C.F. Peters, for instance, asked to take a look at the works but found them to be inferior, so Beethoven was unsuccessful and the marches were not published until long after he had died.
Full score of Military March WoO 18 – 19
March for Military Band, WoO 24
March for Military Band, WoO 24 (1816)
Beethoven wrote the March for Military Band, WoO24, at the request of Lieutenant Commander Franz Xaver Embel. This march, nicknamed the “Turkish” march, would be his last march for military band. Although there are sketches of themes used in this march that date back to 1915, Beethoven actually composed the march in the spring of 1816. At the time of the commission, Beethoven was already working on a piano sonata , but he chose to interrupt working on that in favor of the march commission.
Full score of Military March WoO24
Symphony No. 2
Symphony No. 2, Opus 36 (1801-02)
Beethoven wrote the Second Symphony during one of the most difficult periods of his life—just shortly before he left for the Austrian resort of Heiligenstadt. His time there marks one of the lowest points in his life because he was trying to come to grips with his increasing deafness. Beethoven was told to go to Heiligenstadt to rest so that his hearing could improve, but unfortunately it did not. In the book “Beethoven’s Hair,” we learn that the likely reason that he became deaf is because of lead poisoning from drinking wine out of a ceramic tankard that had a lead-based glaze. The lead leached into his wine and contributed to his deafness.
Whether or not the symphony was actually composed while Beethoven was at Heiligenstadt is controversial. We do know that the symphony was started late in 1800 and finished in 1802 and that he left for Heilligenstadt in April 1802. What we do not know for sure is the exact date when this symphony was finished. Some scholars think that the symphony was finished before he left for Hielligenstadt, while others have found evidence that the symphony was completed as late as October 1802.
The symphony did not sit well with the critics at all. “Beethoven’s Second Symphony is a crass monster,” wrote the critic of Vienna’s Zeitung für die Elegante Welt, “a hideously writhing wounded dragon that refuses to expire, and though bleeding in the Finale, furiously beats about with its tail erect.” Another, less venomous critic of the time thought the symphony was forced and admonished its “striving for the new and surprising.” Even the generally admiring critic of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung had some reservations about the work: “It would undoubtedly gain . . . by the curtailment of a few sections as well as the sacrifice of certain far too unusual modulations. ”
Interestingly, the Second Symphony was an immediate success with Beethoven’s public and the orchestra members. People loved the sudden dynamic changes. They loved its brusqueness and fierceness. The unifying concepts in the symphony are not themes, harmonic structure, or rhythmic cells but, rather, sharp contrasts: rough and smooth, fortissimo and pianissimo, the use of sforzando accents in the horns and strings in soft passages—stinging punctuation amid smooth textures. The lack of modulations in the final movement places the symphony at the door of the Romantic period of music, without crossing over the threshold. With his Second Symphony, Beethoven gives us a peek into what is yet to come and his ability to not only change music, but to change the world with music.
Instrumentation – 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in Bb, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in C & F, 2 trumpets in Eb & C, timpani, violin 1, violin 2, viola, cello, double bass