BEETHOVEN’S SHADOW PROGRAM NOTES

By Composer in Residence Bruce Brown

Maestro Matthew Aubin has chosen the title “Beethoven’s Shadow” for the third concert in the JSO’s 2021/22 season, Rejoice: Reuniting Through the Joy of Music. He could easily have used that designation for the whole year. It is no exaggeration to say that the powerful music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) exerted tremendous influence, directly or indirectly, on virtually all the composers who followed him. Brahms spent about 20 years writing his first symphony, which we heard on the first concert, and said: “You can’t have any idea what it’s like always to hear such a giant marching behind you.”

Hector Berlioz, whose Symphonie fantastique graced the second concert, used timpani to depict distant thunder in an homage to Beethoven’s Pastorale symphony. In March, we will hear the overture to The Boatswain’s Mate, an opera that pays tribute to Beethoven by quoting his fifth symphony in a later section. Robert Schumann said that in Chopin’s concertos, like the one we will hear in April, Chopin “introduces the spirit of Beethoven into the concert hall.”

Tonight’s program will feature a brand-new composition that draws inspiration directly from Beethoven, as well as two of Beethoven’s own works that followed a crucial turning point in his life and career. A duo of the JSO’s favorite guest performers, cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Marika Bournaki, will return to our stage, along with violinist Arnaud Sussmann, to perform one of those pieces, Beethoven’s unique triple concerto for violin, cello and piano.

Underpinnings for Orchestra

Composer Larry Alan Smith (b. 1955) has said writing music can be like whittling a piece of wood, and he’s not completely sure what a piece will be like until it is finished. “I start playing with notes and thinking of rhythms and emotions and instruments and so it takes shape slowly,” he said, “I sketch with my pencil and paper and if things go according to plan music gets down on paper.” The New York Times described Smith as “a young composer of great gifts” after his debut in the Big Apple, and he has gone on to develop an international career as a composer, performer, educator and arts executive.

Smith studied with the legendary French teacher Nadia Boulanger and received BM, MM, and DMA degrees at Juilliard, where he received the Joseph Machlis Prize for outstanding distinction in composition. He was appointed to the faculty at Juilliard as his doctorate neared completion, and he taught there from 1980 to 1986. He has also served in faculty and leadership roles at the Boston Conservatory, the North Carolina School of the Arts, the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, and for several prestigious musical organizations in the United States and in Italy. He has conducted orchestras and chamber ensembles in England, Brazil, Italy, Poland, Croatia, Germany and the United States, and he frequently performs his own piano compositions. To top it all off, he is a prolific poet.

Dr. Smith has offered to provide us with snapshots both “before” and “after” the creation of his new work for the Jackson Symphony Orchestra. The following are his “before” comments:

It is mid-August, and I am about to start writing the new orchestral work for Jackson. At this point, I have a duration (7-8 minutes), the instrumentation (an orchestra consisting of not more than 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 3 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and strings), and a subject/theme that is meant to inspire the work (Ludwig van Beethoven and his COVID-delayed 250th birthday celebration). Now . . . all I need are a few notes (pitches) . . . maybe 10,000 or so! By the way, I also have a title: Underpinnings for Orchestra (2021). This title signifies the approach I will take to utilize technical aspects of Beethoven’s writing to build my own work. While I will know what the “underpinnings” are, they will not include obvious quotes of his music. Beethoven’s role (and my admiration for his genius) will lie deep within the work, and my own sound and compositional style will be front and center. I am often asked how I go about creating my music. It would be great if I could tell you that, as in many images of Pope Gregory I, a dove sits on my shoulder providing me with divine inspiration. No . . . it is a little less romantic than that. I go for walks or I sit at a desk (or a piano) and generate ideas before putting anything down on paper (or into my computer). It is intentional and demanding work that is more like the chiseling of the sculptor who transforms a block of marble into a meaningful and expressive work of art. The block of marble awaits, and I am eager to get started. Stay tuned. We will see how things develop.

Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano, in C Major, Op. 56 “Triple”

Both of Beethoven’s works on this program come from the period when the crushing blow of his deafness became impossible to ignore. He started to hear “ringing and buzzing” in his ears as early as 1796, when he was 26 or 27. In 1802, in the village of Heiligenstadt, he wrote a testament to his brothers Carl and Johann that has become famous for its anguished acknowledgement of his infirmity:

O you men who think or say that I am malevolent, stubborn or misanthropic, how greatly do you wrong me, you do not know the secret causes … how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense … which I once possessed in highest perfection … but little more and I would have put an end to my life – only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce, and so I endured this wretched existence.”

In a postscript he wrote: “O Providence – grant me at least but one day of pure joy – it is so long since real joy echoed in my heart…” Shortly after that he wrote the first sketches for his “Eroica” symphony (see below). A bold new style emerged in his music, and he rose up with a new vision of himself and of art as a heroic and individualistic achievement.

In 1804, Beethoven wrote a letter to his publisher telling him that he had written “something new,” a concertante for orchestra with three different solo instruments, violin, cello and piano. As he often did, Beethoven continued to revise and rework the Triple Concerto until it was published in 1807. Pieces with two or more soloists were popular in Vienna then, but it seems this was the first concerto written for this particular combination, a “piano trio.” Beethoven dedicated the concerto to Prince Lobkowitz, who allowed Beethoven to hold trial performances of this concerto, along with his “Eroica” symphony, in his palace with his private orchestra.

The three soloists engage in a lively conversation in the first movement. In the second movement a rich flowing melody is heard mainly in the cello.  The elegant third movement is based on the triple-meter style of a polacca, a Polish folk dance also known by the French term “polonaise.”

Symphony #3 in E-flat, the “Eroica”

Beethoven wrote most of his “Eroica” symphony in late 1803 and completed it in early 1804. The “Eroica” is often cited as the end of the Classical era and the beginning of the Romantic period. It has a much wider emotional range than earlier symphonies, and its first movement alone is almost twice as long as most of them. The finale of this symphony also replaces the customary short, breezy romp with an elaborate set of variations and a fugue. Prince Lobkowitz asked Beethoven for six months of exclusive rights to perform the Eroica privately, and he paid a handsome fee for the privilege. Beethoven saw that as an opportunity to refine the piece, and he took advantage of it to make corrections and revisions. The first public performance took place in the Theater an der Wein in Vienna, on April 7, 1805, with Beethoven conducting.

“Eroica” is Italian for “heroic,” and Beethoven intended to dedicate the work to Napoleon Bonaparte. Then, on the 18th of May, 1804, Bonaparte named himself Emperor of France. Ferdinand Ries describes what happened next in his biography of Beethoven:

In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Bonaparte, but Bonaparte while he was first consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven’s closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word “Bonaparte” inscribed at the very top of the title page … I was the first to tell him the news that Bonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, “So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be re-copied and    it was only now that the symphony received the title “Sinfonia eroica.”

Music critic J.W.N. Sullivan said of the “Eroica:” “the first movement is an expression of Beethoven’s courage in confronting his deafness, the second, slow and dirgelike, depicting the overwhelming despair he felt, the third, the scherzo, an indomitable uprising of creative energy and the fourth an exuberant outpouring of creative energy.” The powerful music of the second movement, a funeral march, was performed at the funerals of Felix Mendelssohn, Serge Koussevitsky, Franklin Roosevelt and Arturo Toscanini, and it played a prominent role in the memorial service after the “Munich Massacre” at the 1972 Summer Olympics.

PROGRAM SCHEDULE

Larry Alan Smith
TBD
Commission in honor of Beethoven's 250th
Following his New York debut concert, Larry Alan Smith was praised by The New York Times as “a young composer of great gifts.” Since that time, he has developed an international reputation as a composer, performer, educator and arts executive. Many of today’s outstanding soloists, chamber ensembles and orchestras have performed and commissioned works by Larry Alan Smith.

Read more on hartford.edu

Ludwig Van Beethoven
Concerto for Violin, Cello and Piano in C major, Op. 56 “Triple” (1803)
Arnaud Sussman, violin
Julian Schwarz, cello
Marika Bournaki, piano
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Concerto for Violin, Cello, and Piano in C major, Op. 56, commonly known as the Triple Concerto, was composed in 1803 and published in 1804 by Breitkopf & Härtel. The choice of the three solo instruments effectively makes this a concerto for piano trio, and it is the only concerto Beethoven ever completed for more than one solo instrument. A typical performance takes approximately thirty-seven minutes.

Read more on Wikipedia

— INTERMISSION —

Ludwig Van Beethoven
Symphony No.3 in E-flat major Op. 55 “Eroica” (1803)
The Symphony No. 3 in E♭ major, Op. 55, (also Italian Sinfonia Eroica, Heroic Symphony; German: Eroica, is a symphony in four movements by Ludwig van Beethoven. One of the composer’s most celebrated works, the Eroica symphony is a large-scale composition that marked the beginning of Beethoven’s innovative middle period.

Read more on Wikipedia

RUNTIME: 2H

MUSIC PREVIEW