This is part of Christoph Eschenbach's 2005-06 season Beethoven cycle with the Philadelphia Orchestra. It was originally aired on NPR's Performance Today in a Beethoven "marathon" of consecutive symphonies, and has received wide public and critical acclaim. Of the three in the recorded history of The Philadelphia Orchestra, only the Eschenbach and the Muti are currently available.
Recorded live September 24 (Symphony No. 5) and November 22 (Symphony No. 4) 2005, Verizon Hall, The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Beethoven’s Fifth did not immediately become the world’s (or even the composer’s) most famous symphony. During his lifetime the Third, the “Eroica,” was performed more often and the second movement of the Seventh (movements were often heard separately) deemed “the crown of instrumental music.” But over the course of the 19th century the Fifth gradually came to epitomize both Beethoven’s life and musical style. It often appeared on the inaugural concerts of new orchestras, such as when The Philadelphia Orchestra first sounded in November 1900. The Fifth Symphony picked up further associations in the 20th centur y, be they of Allied victory during the Second World War or through its appearance in commercials and popular culture. It is easy to account for both the popularity and the representative status of the Fifth. (The celebrated music critic Donald Francis Tovey called it “among the least misunderstood of musical classics.”) With the rise of instrumental music in the 18th century, audiences sought ways to understand individual works, to figure out their meaning. One strategy was to make connections between a piece of music and the composer’s life. In this no life and work has proved more accommodating than Beethoven’s, whose genius, independence, eccentricities, and struggles with deafness were well known already in his own time. Music and Meaning In the fall of 1801, at age 30, Beethoven revealed for the first time the secret of his increasing hearing loss and stated in a letter that he would “seize Fate by the throat; it shall no t bend or crush me completely.” It has not been difficult to relate such statements directly to his music. The struggle with “Fate” when it “knocks at the door,” as he allegedly told his assistant Anton Schindler happens at the beginning of the Fifth, helped endorse the favored label for the entire middle period of his career: Heroic. The Fifth Symphony, perhaps more than any of his other symphonies, more than those with explicit extra- musical indications like the “Eroica,” “Pastoral, ” or Ninth, seems to present a large-scale narrative. According to this view, a heroic life struggle is represented in the progression of emotions, from the famous opening in C minor to the triumphant C-major coda of the last movement some 40 minutes later. For Hector Berlioz, the Fifth, more than the previous four symphonies, “emanates directly and solely from the genius of Beethoven. It is his own intimate thought that is developed; and his secret sorrows, his pent-up rage, his dreams so full of melancholy oppression, his nocturnal visions and his bursts of enthusiasm furnish its entire subject, while the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and orchestral forms are there delineated with essential novelty and individuality, endowing them also with considerable power and nobility.” In Beethoven’s Time Beethoven wrote the Symphony over the space of some four years, beginning in the spring of 1804, during the most productive period of his career. Among the contemporaneous works were the Fourth and Sixth symphonies, the Fourth Piano Concerto, Violin Concerto, Mass in C, three “Razumovsky” string quartets, the first two versions of his lone opera Fidelio, and many other works. Large-scale pieces like the opera, or commissions like the Mass, interrupted his progress on the Fifth, most of which was written in 1807 and early 1808. The Symphony was premiered later that year together with the Sixth (their numbers in fact reversed) at Beethoven’ s famous marathon concert at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien on December 22, which also included the first public performance of the Fourth Piano Concerto (the composer was soloist), two movements from the Mass, the concert aria Ah! Perfido, and the “Choral” Fantasy, Op. 80. Reports indicate that all did not go well. Second-rate musicians playing in third-rate conditions after limited rehearsal had to struggle their way through this demanding new music, and things fell apart during the “Choral” Fantasy. But inadequate performance conditions did not dampen enthusiasm for the Fifth Symphony, which was soon recognized as a masterpiece. The novelist, critic, and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote a long and influential review, ushering in a new era in music criticism, that hailed “Beethoven’s romanticism … that tears the listener irresistibly away into the wonderful spiritual realm of the infinite.” A Closer Look Another reason for the great fame and popularity of this Symphony is that it distills so much of Beethoven’s musical style. One feature is its “organicism,” the fact that all four movements seem to grow from seeds sown in the opening measures. While Beethoven used the distinctive rhythmic figure of three shorts and a long in other works from this time (Tovey remarked that if this indeed represents fate knocking at the door it was also knocking at many other doors), it clearly helps to unify the entire Symphony. After the most familiar of openings (Allegro con brio), the piece modulates to the relative major key and the horns announce the second theme with a fanfare using the “fate rhythm.” The softer, lyrical second theme, first presented by the violins, is inconspicuously accompanied in the lower strings by the rhythm. The movement features Beethoven’s characteristic building of intensity, suspense, a thrilling coda, and also mysteries. Why, for example, does the oboe have a brief unaccompanied solo cadenza near the beginning of the recapitulation. Beethoven’s innovation is not simply that this brief passage may “mean” something, but that listeners are prompted in the first place to ask themselves what it means. The second movement (Andante con moto) is a rather unusual variation form in which two themes alternate, the first sweet and lyrical, the second more forceful. Beethoven combines the third and fourth movements, which are played without pause. In earlier symphonies he had already replaced the polite minute and trio with a more vigorous sche rzo and trio. In the Fifth the Allegro scherzo begins with a soft ascending arpeggiated string theme that contrasts with a loud assertive horn motive (again using the fate rhythm). The trio section features extraordinarily difficult string writing, in fuga l style, that defeated musicians in early performances. Instead of an exact return of the opening scherzo section, Beethoven recasts the thematic material in a completely new orchestration and pianississimo dynamic. The tension builds with a long pedal point—the insistent repetition of the same note C in the timpani—that swells in an enormous crescendo directly into the fourth movement Allegro, where three trombones, contrabassoon, and a piccolo join in of the first time in the piece. This finale, like the first movement, is in sonata form and uses the fate rhythm in the second theme. The coda to the Symphony may strike listeners today as almost too triumphantly affirmative as the music gets faster, louder, and ever more insistent. Indeed, it is difficult to divest this best known of symphonies from all the baggage it has accumulated through nearly two centuries and to listen with fresh ears to the shocking power of the work and to the marvels that Beethoven introduced into the world of orchestral music. —Christopher H. Gibbs Program note © 2005. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60 Composed in 1806 For today’s listener, who knows all of Beethoven’s symphonies, it takes some historical imagination to appreciate how his contemporaries successively received these new works and how the composer continually challenged their expectations. From our perspective, the legendary brilliance in particular of the Third, Fifth, and Ninth symphonies inevitably tends to eclipse the symphonies around them and obscure how novel other works were when they were first performed. The challenges began with Beethoven’s First Symphony, with its “wrong key” opening. As we heard on the first half of this concert, the Second Symphony was in no way a retreat, as commentary today often suggests, but continued the experimentation. The Third, the mighty “Eroica,” clearly marked a turning point in Beethoven’s compositional development because of its length, complexity, extra-musical program, and aesthetic ambition. People thought: What would—what could—Beethoven do next? One critic from the time offered the following opinion about the Fourth: “That the composer follows an individual path in his works can be seen again in this work; just how far this path is the correct one, and not a deviation, may be decided by others. To me the great master seems here, as in several of his recent works, now and then excessively bizarre, and thus, even for knowledgeable friends of art, easily incomprehensible and forbidding.” A Neglected Work Biographical and historical accounts often tend to skip over the Fourth and jump ahead to the famous Fifth. Indeed, Beethoven’s Fourth is the least known and performed of all of his symphonies (of course, one of the nine has to be) and would probably turn up even less were it not for the sake of completeness on recordings and in performance cycles such as the Philadelphians are undertaking this season. The relative neglect of the work began in Beethoven’s own time. In 1814, when he was at the height of his popular fame and success, a critic for the leading music journal in Europe commented that there were available extended discussions of his works, adding “the master’s [Fourth] Symphony in B-flat major has certainly already been briefly and strikingly described several times, but has never been exhaustively reviewed. Does it deserve less than any of the others?” It seems that then, as now, the Fourth was overshadowed. As a perceptive critic remarked in 1811: “On the whole, the work is cheerful, understandable, and engaging, and is closer to the composer’s justly beloved First and Second symphonies than to the Fifth and Sixth. In the overall inspiration we may place it closer to the Second.” Beethoven wrote the Fourth during the late summer and fall of 1806, while staying in the palace of Count Franz von Oppersdorff in upper Silesia, far away from the bustle of Vienna. The Count employed his own orchestra, which performed the Second Symphony for Beethoven, who soon agreed to write a new symphony for the Count, to whom it was eventually dedicated. The Fourth was premiered at a private concert in the Lobkowitz Palace in Vienna, in March 1807, on a program that also included the first performance of the Fourth Piano Concerto (with the composer at the keyboard) and the Coriolan Overture. There was little published commentary at the time. One of the first reviews, in January 1808, generally praised the Symphony: “The first Allegro is very beautiful, fiery, and rich in harmony, and the minuet and trio also have a distinct, original character. In the Adagio one might sometimes wish that the melody were not so much divided up among the various instruments.” By the end of Beethoven’s life, once contemporaries were accustomed to how far the composer had expanded the boundaries of music, they viewed the Fourth as classical fare. One critic opined: “There are no words to describe the deep, powerful spirit of this work from his earlier and most beautiful period.” A Closer Look Although Beethoven had not used a slow introduction in the Third Symphony, for the Fourth he returned to one, as he had in his first two symphonies and as were often found in the later symphonies of Haydn, his former teacher. (The Adagio in this case is particularly similar to Haydn’s Symphony No. 102, in the same key.) The kind of feature some critics found “bizarre” was the jabbing dissonances the build up in the introduction before a rousing Allegro vivace, rich with melodies. The Adagio is an expressive and relaxed rondo in E-flat major. The third movement (Allegro vivace), combines elements of Scherzo and Minuet and has the trio section played twice, which creates a five-part structure instead of the usual three-part form. The Symphony concludes with a dazzling perpetual motion Allegro, ma non troppo that nods again to Haydn. —Christopher H. Gibbs Program note © 2005. All rights reserved. Program note may not be reprinted without written permission from The Philadelphia Orchestra Association. ABOUT THE ARTIST One of today’s leading international conductors, Christoph Eschenbach is now in his third season as music director of The Philadelphia Orchestra. Held in highest esteem by the world’s foremost orchestras and opera houses for his commanding presence, versatility, and consummate musicianship, Mr. Eschenbach has been acclaimed for his creative insight and dynamic energy as a conductor, a collaborator, and ardent champion of young musicians. Highlights of his current Philadelphia Orchestra season include performances of all nine Beethoven symphonies paired with music of our time, with works by Dutilleux, Higdon, Lindberg, and Rouse. His 2006-07 Orchestra season will feature tributes to Mozart and Shostakovich, and the continuation of the Orchestra’s five-season long, first-ever Mahler cycle. Mr. Eschenbach made his Philadelphia Orchestra debut as a pianist in 1973; his Philadelphia conducting debut was in 1989. In addition to his work with The Philadelphia Orchestra, Mr. Eschenbach continues as music director of the Orchestra de Paris. This season he also leads the Vienna Philharmonic and the Hamburg NDR Symphony. A prolific recording artist, Mr. Eschenbach has made numerous recordings, as conductor, pianist, or both. His discography includes works of Adams, Berg, Berio, Berlioz, Brahms, Bruckner, Glass, Lourié, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Messiaen, Mozart, Picker, Pintscher, Rouse, Schnittke, Schoenberg, Schumann, Strauss, Tchaikovsky, and Webern. Before turning to conducting, Mr. Eschenbach had earned a distinguished reputation as a concert pianist. He began winning major competitions at age 11, and made his United States debut in 1969 with George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. Mr. Eschenbach learned the art of conducting under, among others, Mr. Szell, who personally took him as his protégé, and with whom he worked for over three years. In addition, Herbert von Karajan was his mentor for nearly 25 years, and Mr. Eschenbach credits him as having had a tremendous influence on his development as a conductor. Mr. Eschenbach made his conducting debut in Hamburg in 1972. In 1981 he was named principal guest conductor of Zurich’s Tonhalle Orchestra, and was chief conductor from 1982 to 1986. Additional posts include music director of the Houston Symphony (1988-99); chief conductor of the Hamburg NDR Symphony (1998-2004); music director of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival (1999-2002); and music director of the Ravinia Festival, summer home of the Chicago Symphony (1994-2003). Among Mr. Eschenbach’s most recent awards are the Légion d’Honneur of France and the Officer’s Cross with Star and Ribbon of the German Order of Merit. In 1993 he received the Leonard Bernstein Award, presented to him by the Pacific Music Festival, where he served as co-artistic director from 1992 to 1998. Additional information about Mr. Eschenbach can be found at his website, www.christoph-eschenbach.com. 9/2005 PRODUCTION CREDITS Producer: Charles Gagnon Balance Engineer: Charles Gagnon Recording Engineer: Charles Gagnon Editor: Charles Gagnon Christoph Eschenbach Bio Photo: Jessica Griffin