One hour before each of our Classical Weekend concerts (at the Lensic Performing Arts Center in Santa Fe), audience members with a thirst for knowledge about the music on the program will be treated to our “Meet the Music” presentation, featuring Thomas O’Connor (music director and conductor) with special guest John Clubbe (Ph.D., English and Comparative Literature). John has written many scholarly articles about Beethoven and his times and has been kind enough to share his notes with us on his upcoming talk for us on Beethoven’s First Symphony.
Here is just a taste of what we can expect for this January’s Meet the Music:
Beethoven’s First Symphony
Beethoven was nearly thirty when he completed his First Symphony. The symphony had become in his lifetime the most elevated type of orchestral music, and Beethoven had made lengthy preparations for composing one. He had the patience to wait and not attempt the conquest of the symphony until he had made himself master of much of the domain of Kammermusik, that is, chamber music, which included most music except opera.
Beethoven had come to Vienna from Bonn in 1792, at age twenty-one. In Vienna he had quickly gained supporters. He early achieved fame there as a pianist, most of all as an improviser on the piano. He also acquired a reputation as being a somewhat difficult individual. By 1800, when the first Symphony was initially performed, he had composed ten piano sonatas, among them the “Pathetique,” as well as his first sonatas for piano and violin and other compositions. Writing his first six string quartets, and his first eight trios, served him as excellent preparation for writing a symphony. Several of these early works exhibit distinctly symphonic elements. Over the previous fifteen years he had also begun other symphonies, including one in C major and another in C minor, before completing that which became his First Symphony. He took his time because he knew it had to be good. In trying to rival the achievement of Mozart and Haydn as a composer of symphonies he was facing the toughest competition of his young career.
The symphony was first performed at Beethoven’s Akademie on April 2, 1800. An Akademie was a kind of benefit or subscription concert put on by an individual to display his talents. Vienna at this time had few concert halls, so Beethoven had to rent the Hoftheater, the court theater, and make the other arrangements, including selling tickets. Beethoven had often performed or played his works in the palaces of the Vienna’s music-loving aristocracy. This Akademie of April 2, 1800, would be the first time he would appear before the general public. He didn’t attempt an Akademie until he had been confirmed as Vienna’s leading pianist and as the city’s leading composer of piano sonatas. Beethoven carefully thought out what he would put on his program.
First up was a “grand symphony” by Mozart (we don’t know which one), then an aria and a duet from Haydn’s recent Creation. This was followed by Beethoven’s Septet, Opus 20. After the intermission the audience heard his first Piano Concerto, opus 15, which is actually the Second he wrote. The Septet is often performed today, as is the Concerto. After this, Beethoven, as was his wont, improvised for a while. This is where he truly dazzled everybody who ever heard him. The concert concluded with his First Symphony. If you’re counting, that’s three pieces by Mozart, but four by Beethoven. You can draw your own conclusions. One might be that there was a new man on the musical scene, and Beethoven wanted to leave no doubt who it was. Oh yes, he also dedicated the Septet to the then Austrian empress, the music-loving Maria Theresa.
Learn more about Beethoven (and Barber and Vaughan Williams) one hour before each concert at our Classical Weekend!
Saturday, January 25 at 6pm
Sunday, January 26 at 3pm
Lensic Performing Arts Center (Santa Fe, New Mexico)
© Santa Fe Pro Musica 2014