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Beethoven - COMPOSING SYMPHONIES

COMPOSING SYMPHONIES (Illustration) Famous Historical Events Social Studies Nineteenth Century Life Biographies Famous People Film Tragedies and Triumphs World History Music

When he was in Vienna, Beethoven would take long walks. Thinking about his music, he would have pen and paper with him. This image depicts an artist’s interpretation of Beethoven on his daily walk, in the Vienna suburb of Kahlenbergerdorf, on a good-weather day. Painting by Rudolf Klingsbogl.

 

While Beethoven was writing the Appassionata, Europe was in chaos.  Although not political, Beethoven was sometimes asked to entertain French officers who were stationed in Vienna.  He was not happy to do so and resented that some people thought him "a performing seal."

One night, Beethoven’s patron - Prince Karl Lichnowsky - asked his friend to play for a few Frenchmen.  Ludwig absolutely refused.  Extremely angry that Lichnowsky expected him to perform - when he didn’t want to - Beethoven stormed out in the rain, music score in hand.  He reportedly said:

Prince, what you are you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am through my own efforts. There have been thousands of princes and will be thousands more; there is only one Beethoven!  *

Rain streaks can still be seen on on the original Appassionata manuscript.

Soon after this tempestuous episode, the maestro learned that he had a new nephew - Karl.  Although he was happy about the birth, he did not quickly visit his brother and the newborn.  He remained upset with Karl and Johanna for conceiving a child before they were married.

After leaving Prince Lichnowsky, in anger, Beethoven found a new patron who asked an intriguing question.  How was it possible for a composer, who was losing his hearing, to still create music?

Although he could not hear all the notes with his ears, Beethoven said, he could hear them in his mind:

They are all there - in my head.

The notes for Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony (another name for  Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68) reflect his love of nature.  They also reflect the degree of sorrow Beethoven must have felt as he continued to lose his hearing.  The much-loved work was first performed on the 22nd of December, 1808.  The maestro also debuted his 5th Symphony that night.

The concert (featuring eight separate works) was extremely important for Beethoven’s reputation and his purse.  He began with the Pastoral.  The orchestra had only one rehearsal with its conductor.

As though a single rehearsal weren’t difficult enough, Beethoven's conducting style had become very hard-to-follow.  Sometimes, during a rehearsal, the orchestra would simply stop (because the musicians could just not go on with him).  It was then left for someone else - who could act as an intermediary between the composer/conductor and the players - to take over.

For those reasons, and more, the December 22nd concert (at the Theater an der Wien) was nearly a disaster.  There was so much new work - and it was so difficult to play - that the orchestra's members were afraid they would make mistakes.

The concert was four hours long.  After an intermission, the gathered audience heard the first-ever performance of Beethoven’s dramatic 5th Symphony.  How it ever came off - with just one rehearsal - remains a mystery (or, perhaps, a miracle).

The audience also heard something unusual that night.  Beethoven’s 5th is a different kind of symphony.  One cannot really say it has a melody - it just keeps building to a climactic explosion in the finale.  It does, however, have a connection to something else - the 4th Piano Concerto in G major, op. 58.   

Beethoven personally performed his 4th Piano Concerto at the concert.  In the piece, we can hear bits of the 5th Symphony.  In a way, it's like the two works are having a conversation (albeit, with pieces of discord between them).  Perhaps that is the reason why Beethoven performed the works back-to-back (separated by an intermission) during that famous 1808 concert.

Although the evening was a success, Beethoven never played the piano, with an orchestra, in public again.


*  (See Beethoven, the Man and the Artist: As Revealed in His Own Words, By Ludwig van Beethoven, Compiled and annotated by Friedrich Kerst; Translated into English, and edited with additional notes, by Henry Edward Krehbiel, page 73.)

 

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5124stories and lessons created

Original Release: Mar 01, 2009

Updated Last Revision: Nov 04, 2016


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