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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 (Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, Drahos)
BBC Music Magazine
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)
Symphony No.1 in C Major, Op. 21
Symphony No.6 in F Major, Op. 68 "Pastoral"
Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, the first heralding the
new century, in 1800, and the last completed in 1824. Although he made few
changes to the composition of the orchestra itself, adding, when occasion
demanded, one or two instruments more normally found in the opera-house, he
expanded vastly the traditional form, developed in the time of Haydn and
Mozart, reflecting the personal and political struggles of a period of immense
change and turbulence. To his contemporaries he seemed an inimitable original,
but to a number of his successors he seemed to have expanded the symphony to an
intimidating extent. In his early years in
Bonn Beethoven had planned a symphony, the natural
ambition of any composer.
His first extant composition in this form, however, was
written towards the end of the century and first performed in Vienna at the Imperial
Court Theatre on 2nd April, 1800. The symphony was dedicated to
Baron van Swieten, the arbiter of musical taste in Vienna, who had encouraged
Mozart and provided the texts for Haydn's later oratorios.
The programme for what was in fact Beethoven's first
benefit concert was a substantial one. A Mozart symphony was followed by an
aria from Haydn's Creation. Then came a piano concerto by Beethoven,
with the composer as soloist. The Schuppanzigh Quartet was joined by three
wind-players to perform a septet, by Beethoven. After this came the symphony.
As so often in Beethoven's career, reviews were decidedly
cool, and we may gather that all did not run as smoothly as it should have
done. There was a quarrel about who should direct the orchestra, and the
players did not listen to the soloist in the concerto, while in the symphony
the wind instruments were particularly unenthusiastic in their performance. The
symphony later formed part of a concert in 1803, when Beethoven's oratorio Christ
on the Mount of Olives was first performed. On that occasion it was well
enough received, in spite of the length of the programme.
The First Symphony is scored for pairs of flutes,
oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, with the usual strings,
and the Pastoral Symphony for additional piccolo and trombones.
The sixth of Beethoven's nine symphonies, the Pastoral,
was first performed at a concert in Vienna in December 1808. The occasion was
an important one for the composer, since it was likely to prove the only
significant source of income for him that year. In preparation for the event he
had put aside work on his projected opera Macbeth and on the alternative
text of Bradamante, both supplied by Heinrich von Collil1, and assembled
a programme of phenomenal length. The works played included the Fifth
Symphony, the Fourth Piano Concerto, a piano fantasia, items for soloists
and chorus and, in conclusion, a Fantasia for the Pianoforte which ends
with the gradual entrance of the entire orchestra and the il1troduction of the
choruses as a fil1ale, the Choral Fantasia
Predictably the concert was an embarrassment to
Beethoven's friends, compelled to sit for four hours in the bitterly cold
Theater-an-der-Wien. As one otherwise sympathetic observer reported, it proved
possible to have too much of a good thing, and still more of a loud. The
concert was under-rehearsed, and Beethoven had met considerable opposition from
members of the orchestra. In the Choral
Fantasia instructions about repeats had been
misunderstood, so that the work had to be started again, and Beethoven
intervened with audible comments on mistakes.
Nevertheless the Sixth Symphony, which happily
opened the concert, was well enough received, in spite of its unusual length.
The advertisement for Beethoven's December concert billed
the Pastoral Symphony as A Recollection of Country Life, to be
described by the composer, in a careful attempt to dispel any suspicion that he
had written a crude imitation of nature, as more an expression of feeling than
tone-painting In some ways the work may be seen as a conclusion and summary of
a tradition of music inspired by the country, although the Wordsworthian
suggestion of emotion recollected in tranquillity is very much of its period.
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BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 1 and 6 (Nicola...