Beethoven: Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale”

It was Beethoven’s deep love of nature that was the inspiration for his Symphony No. 6 “Pastorale.” Countess Theresa of Brunswick, a student and close friend of Beethoven, wrote: “He loved to be alone with Nature, to make her his only confidante. When his brain was reeling with confused ideas, Nature at all times comforted him.” Others reported that Beethoven refused lodging without nearby trees, could not be dissuaded from long daily walks even in heavy rain (for which he refused an umbrella), that he wandered around jotting down themes in his ever-present sketchbooks, and that he assumed a frightening presence by lapsing into the appearance and behavior of a vagrant. In a letter he wrote, “My bad hearing does not trouble me here.”

Anton Felix Shindler reported that Beethoven’s favorite book was a copy, dog-eared from use, of Christian Sturm’s Reflections on the Works of God in the Realm of Nature and Providence from which he copied passages such as: “One might rightly designate Nature the school of the heart; she clearly shows us our duties toward God and our neighbor.”
Heiligenstadt in Beethoven’s time

Although completed in the summer of 1808 in Weisenthal, near Heiligenstadt (then a rural resort near the bank of the Danube), sketches for the Pastoral are found in Beethoven’s notebooks as early as 1803. The most telling are two attempts that year to transcribe the sound of a stream, which eventually would emerge as the undulating introduction to the second movement. Although Beethoven provided descriptive titles for each movement, he cautioned against interpreting his intentions literally. He wrote in his sketchbooks: “The hearers should be allowed to discover the situations.” “Pastoral Symphony: no picture but something in which the emotions are expressed which are aroused in men by the pleasure of the country, in which some feelings of country-life are set forth.”

Beethoven said from the outset that his sixth symphony be titled “Pastoral Symphony, or a recollection of country life. More an expression of feeling than a painting.” The label is found in a letter Beethoven sent to his publisher in 1809. The titles of each movement were published in the program book at the first performance and on the engraved first violin part.

I. “Erwachen heiterer Gefühle bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande” (“Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country”) – Beethoven draws us in immediately with a gorgeous flowing theme over a rustic open-fifth drone (think rustic bagpipes).

II. “Szene am Bach” (“Scene by the brook”) – The mood of calm contentment continues as the strings invoke the sound of a gently babbling brook. Barely a minute from the end of the movement, the steady lilting activity halts as Beethoven introduces three bird-songs: a nightingale in the flutes, a quail in the oboes and a cuckoo in the clarinets. Lest there be any doubt, he actually labels each one in the score.

III. “Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute” (“Merry gathering of the country folk”) – We encounter country folk for the first time, intruding upon the solitude with a lusty peasant dance, though not for long. Nature will soon reassert itself to show who’s really the boss

IV. “Gewitter, Sturm” (“Storm, Tempest”) – Augmenting the instruments used so far, Beethoven adds a piccolo, trombones and tympani to add wind, rain, thunder and lightning to his musical portrayal of Nature’s tempest. The movement ends in a ravishing transition of a gently rising flute scale which signals the subsiding storm, parting clouds and the glorious light of the sun upon Nature’s pastoral landscape.

V. “Hirtengasang. Frohe, dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm” (“Shepherds’ song. Happy and thankful feelings after the storm”) – The final movement is perhaps the most heartfelt of all. It begins with an Alpine hunting call that evolves effortlessly into a bucolic Rondo, perhaps one of the simplest of Beethoven’s works, completely saturated with the joy of Nature.

Honegger: Pastorale d’été

There must have been a remarkable sunrise on one August morning in 1920, when Arthur Honegger put pen to paper to capture a musical image of the resort village of Wengen in the Bernese Alps. Nestled beneath the Eiger and Jungfrau mountains the village is filled with typical Swiss houses and farmsteads and from car-free streets and alleys the view of the massive Alps invited sounds of the Alphorn, songs of birds and wildlife and the deep drone of alpine mountainscapes for Honegger.

At the head of the score the composer inserted a quote from the French poet Arthur Rimbaud: “J’ai embrassé l’aube d’été” (“I embraced the summer dawn”) and he titled his piece Pastorale d’été (Summer Pastoral). The music begins with a languorous soaring theme by the horn, which is then taken up by the strings. Flute and clarinet tell us the birds are already singing. The middle section is lively and is colorfully orchestrated and the harmony shifts as if one is turning one’s head toward another view. The main theme returns to close the piece with the peaceful sounds of the opening. The work was dedicated to Alexis Roland-Manuel a French composer/critic, and Professor of Aesthetics at the Paris Conservatory.

Pastorale d’été was first performed on 17 February 1921 at the Salle Gaveau in Paris, conducted by Vladimir Golschmann. The work won a Prix Verley, a prize decided by the audience members present at the concert. The work is for chamber orchestra made up of strings and single winds: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn.

Handel: Scherzano sul tuo volto from Rinaldo

Scherzano sul tuo volto: Rinaldo (1711), was Georg Frideric Handel’s first London opera with a specially-written libretto partially derived from Torquato Tasso’s epic poem Gerusalemme liberata (1581). The drama is set during the siege of Jerusalem at the time of the First Crusade around1099.

Almirena, the daughter of the general of the Christian forces, has been promised in marriage to Rinaldo once the city of Jerusalem has been taken. In “Scherzano sul tuo volto” Rinaldo and Almirena celebrate their mutual devotion, but their happiness turns out to be short-lived as the enchantress Armida will soon abduct Almirena in an attempt to take Rinaldo for herself. The scene is a pleasant garden grove as Almirena sings:

The charming graces
Play in your face in their thousands.
The little Cupids
Laugh on your lips in their thousands.

In the lovely fire
Of your eyes
Love adds sweet sparks
To his powerful dart

Mozart Overture to Der Schauspieldirektor (The impresario), K. 486

It was a bleak, late winter day when the well-heeled citizens of Vienna mounted their coaches for the four mile drive to Schönbrunn Palace, the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph. They were heading for a “Spring Festival on a Mid-Winter’s Day,” as Franz Joseph called it, a party to honor Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen, Governor-General of the Austrian Netherlands, and his wife, the Archduchess Maria Christine, on February 7, 1786.

The site chosen for this Spring fling was the Orangerie at Schönbrunn Palace, a spacious greenhouse used for wintering over citrus trees and other plants from the gardens of Schönbrunn Palace. The preparations for the banquet included elaborate decorations of exotic flowers, blossoms and fruits, a service of excellent food and for entertainment two stages were erected, one at each end of the long glassed-in building.

PIC The Orangerie at Schönbrunn Palace. Note the stages at opposite ends of the room.

The Orangerie at Schönbrunn Palace. Note the stages at opposite ends of the room.

The Emperor had issued special orders for the evening’s entertainment, which was to consist of a newly composed, one-act opera buffa by Court Composer Antonio Salieri (Prima la musica e poi le parole — “First the Music and then the Words,” a theme treated again 150 years later by Richard Strauss in his last opera, Capriccio) and a one-act farce by the playwright Gottlieb Stephanie the Younger (Der Schauspieldirektor — “The Impresario”) with an overture and a few interpolated musical numbers by Mozart. Stephanie and Mozart had worked together four years earlier, when they produced The Abduction from the Seraglio.

Mozart was frantically busy composing music for his own Lenten concerts but most pressing were the preparations for The Marriage of Figaro, which was scheduled for its premiere at the Burgtheater on May 1st. He put Figaro briefly aside, however, and composed an overture, two soprano arias, a trio and an ensemble finale for The Impresario between January 18th and February 3rd.

Mozart lavished great care on his little overture, which would have been impressive enough to introduce a much grander work.

Mozart Piano Concerto No. 17 in G Major, K. 453

The year 1784 was a banner year for Mozart piano concerti. In that year he composed six of them not all for his own performances. The Piano Concerto in G, K. 453 was written for one of his most accomplished students, Barbara von Ployer, to be played in a concert at her father’s house in a Viennese suburb on June 10.

Mozart wrote to his father Leopold: “Tomorrow Herr Ployer is giving a concert in the country at Döbling, where Fräulein Babette is playing her new concerto in G…” I am fetching Paisiello (a prominent Italian composer whose opera Il barbiere di Siviglia was having a very successful run in Vienna) in my carriage, as I want him to hear both my pupil and my compositions.” Wolfgang reported that he was paid very well for this concerto.

European starling

European starling

According to Mozart’s expense book, on May 27, 1784, he paid 34 Kreutzer for a pet starling adding it to his beloved personal bestiary that already included a canary, a dog, and a horse. Sturnus vulgaris, European starlings, are virtuoso mimics, and Mozart taught his to sing the variation-theme from the finale of this concerto, though he was amused to find that the bird always held the sixth note (G) too long, and always sang the ninth and tenth notes (both also G) as G-sharp. When the bird died in 1787, Mozart administered last rites, read a poem he had written in its honor, and buried it with great solemnity in his garden at Alsergrund.

The orchestral exposition of the first movement of this concerto is made of an extravagance of melodies, an elegant parody of a military march. Where a traditional classical concerto would give two contrasting themes, this exposition offers no less than six, each one evolving out of the one previous. Contemporary Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf said of Mozart: “I have never yet known any composer who possessed such an astonishing wealth of ideas. I wish he were not so lavish in using them. He does not let the listener get his breath back…” Our soloist will be playing Mozart’s own cadenzas.

The C major slow movement is harmonically dramatic with several powerful modulations and extensive chromaticism giving weight to music of great transparency. The opening statement from the piano swerves from major to minor, and from simple expression to passionate outburst.

The finale is a set of variations on the tune the starling sang. The variations grow in complexity and ingenuity until the fourth, which plunges headlong into the minor mode, laden with chromaticism. The final variation leads straight to a comic-opera finale, the official coda. Surely Paisiello, whose talent seldom ventured beyond the opera house, would have marveled at what seems to be a ready-made opera finale.

Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C Major, K. 551 “Jupiter”

In June of 1788 Mozart moved his family from his apartment in the centre of Vienna (now called the Figaro House, near St. Stephen’s Cathedral) to a more spacious suburban residence at Alsergrund 135 (today Währingerstraße 26), a seven-room apartment with a garden attached. The rooms were spacious and it is speculated that Mozart intended to use the large rooms for rehearsals of music he was about to compose.

In making this move and finding himself a bit short of cash, Mozart quickly wrote a letter to his friend and fellow Mason, Michael Puchberg on June 17, 1788, asking for a loan:

“In case you couldn’t part with such a sum [one or two thousand Gulden] at the moment, I beg you to lend me at least a couple of hundred Gulden until tomorrow, because my landlord on the Landstraße (a previous suburban rental) was so importunate that (to avoid every inconvenience) I had to pay him on the spot, which put me in a messy situation! Tonight we will sleep in our new quarters for the first time, where we will stay both summer and winter; – on the whole I don’t mind this, I even find it preferable; I haven’t much to do in the city anyway and because I’m not exposed to so many visitors, I will have more time for work; – if I have to go into the city on business, which will not often be the case anyway, any fiacre will take me there for ten Kreuzer, moreover the apartment is cheaper and more pleasant during the spring, summer and autumn, because I also have a garden.”

It was in this house that Mozart would compose his last three symphonies (Nos. 39, 40, and 41, all from 1788), and the last of the three Da Ponte operas, Cosi fan tutte, premiered in 1790.

Evidently the music for Symphony 39 was already in Mozart‘s head as he made the move to Alsergrund and he finished it on June 25; No. 40 followed on July 26 and No. 41 on August 10. That’s two months give or take a few days, a compositional speed record for such masterpieces. We have no direct evidence as to why Mozart wrote the symphonies since he had never composed music without a specific performance and specific performers in mind, but in succeeding years he made long journeys hoping to improve his fortunes: to Leipzig, Dresden, and Berlin in the spring of 1789, and to Frankfurt, Mannheim, and other German cities in 1790. The symphonies may have been shown or played then.

For many years the origin of the nickname “Jupiter” for Mozart’s last symphony was unknown. Musicologist H.C. Robbins Landon has found mention of Mozart’s symphony in the diaries of Vincent and Mary Novello, a nineteenth-century English couple who travelled widely and interviewed the composer’s widow Constanze in 1829. According to them, the name was bestowed by Johann Peter Salomon, the entrepreneur responsible for Haydn’s two visits to London in the 1790s.

The opening theme of the first movement follows one of Mozart’s favorite patterns, one he had learned from Johann Christian Bach (London Bach) and had begun using as early as his First Symphony: an energetic gesture, followed by a soft, almost pleading phrase. Also of note toward the close of the movement is Mozart’s self-quotation from an arietta he had written a year earlier to be inserted in Pasquale Anfossi’s opera Le gelosie fortunate.

The other-worldliness of the slow movement is brought about partly by the use throughout of muted strings and the absence of trumpets and timpani. It was Mendelssohn who discovered that the masterstroke of the main theme reappearing just before the final cadential section was an afterthought. Mozart had added an extra leaf in the autograph score at that point just to include it.

Mozart’s graceful minuet is almost completely derived from its opening theme, a graceful sigh, which develops a contrapuntal life of it‘s own as the movement progresses. Mozart bases the little melodic figure in the more lightly textured trio on the same figure, now slightly embellished. The loud outburst in the trio’s second half seems to preview the main motive of the finale.

The finale’s opening four-note motive (C-D-F-E), having originated in Gregorian chant, was well known in Mozart’s day as the start of the hymn Lucis creator. Mozart employed it in several earlier vocal and instrumental compositions as did numerous other composers. Mozart takes this motive along with a wealth of other ideas and combines them in a contrapuntal tour de force which at one time includes quintuple counterpoint (five tunes fit together to play simultaneously) and that concludes with a magnificent fugal coda.

The quintuple counterpoint

The quintuple counterpoint

Beethoven Symphony No. 3 “Eroica”

When Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) arrived in Vienna in 1796, he began a rapid rise to fame as a performer and later as a composer.  Roughly concurrent with his arrival he started to experience trouble with his hearing, a condition that worsened with time.

Under the guidance of Haydn, Albrechtsberger, Förster, Salieri and others, he quickly mastered the classical style and his early works were well received.  Despite this success, he began to feel that he had absorbed everything his teachers had to offer.  The decision facing him was whether to devote his life to emulating the Viennese classicists or to seek a new avenue of expression.  To those close to him, he spoke of a ‘new path’.  To many others, he didn’t speak at all.  His hearing, by then, had deteriorated to the point where he was avoiding social contact.

In the autumn of 1802, while resting in Heiligenstadt, Beethoven drafted a tortured letter in the form of a will that has come to be known as the Heiligenstadt Testament.  In this document, he bequeaths his belongings to his brothers but writes mostly of his realization that his hearing was worsening and would likely leave him completely deaf in time. Though he struggled for the words, his fears were eventually laid to rest and his determination led him in the direction of a new, revolutionary style of musical expression.

Soon after his return from Heiligenstadt, Beethoven approached his work with renewed energy.  His philosophy and style of composition underwent a transformation and his music from that point on possessed a new expressive dimension.  Within weeks of returning to Vienna, he began his first sketches for the Eroica.  Clearly, the Testament had been a means of exorcising his fears but the Eroica would became an impassioned codicil to that will, a yearning to strike out on a new path. Self-determination and triumph over adversity may well be the program of the Eroica with Beethoven as hero.

Much is made of Beethoven’s intention to dedicate his symphony to Napoleon and his change of mind when he learned of Napoleon’s assuming the title of Emperor. Beethoven did indeed scratch out the name Napoleon on the title page of his symphony. It seems that Beethoven was making plans for a move to Paris and thought that this dedication would ease his introduction. When it became apparent that this move would not materialize but that Prince Lobkowitz was interested in licensing the symphony for a period of time, Beethoven removed the so called dedication and renamed the symphony “Eroica.”

One of the most perplexing issues of the Eroica-Napoleon connection has been: why did Beethoven include a funeral march followed by a joyous scherzo and finale?  Nineteenth century commentators were at a loss to explain the seeming contradiction of death and celebration in the context of an homage to Bonaparte.

Additionally, early writers noted thematic similarities between the Eroica and Beethoven’s own ballet, Die Geschöpfe des Promethus (The Creatures of Prometheus) Op 43 as well as his Variations, Op 35 and 12 German Contradances WoO 14.  They were able to trace, passage by passage, the parallels to be found in the music but never touched upon the deeper kinship between the Eroica and Prometheus.  The distinguished Beethoven scholar William Kinderman, citing the work of Constantin Floros, has now proposed the possibility that the whole of the Eroica symphony is an allegory for the Promethus legend.  That is to say, the Prometheus legend as portrayed in Beethoven’s ballet.

In the various Greek versions of the legend, Prometheus is punished by being chained to a rock where upon an eagle eats his liver every day only to have it regenerate each night.  After years of suffering Prometheus is finally freed.  In the version staged by Beethoven and the dance master Salvatore Vigano, Prometheus is put to death for his transgression and is later re-born.

Tracing the sequence of certain events in the ballet and comparing the resulting scenario to the progression of movements in the Eroica we arrive at a convincing fit.  Kinderman:

“Floros’s work has shown that the links between the ballet and the symphony are more substantial than has usually been assumed. Floros traces various rhetorical and formal parallels between the opening Allegro con brio of the symphony and, in particular, the eighth piece of the Prometheus music, the ‘Danza Eroica’. Still more important is the affinity of the two following pieces of the ballet, the ‘Tragica scena’ (no. 9) and ‘Giuocosa scena’ (no. 10, in which the dead Prometheus is restored to life), to the progression from the Marcia funebre to the scherzo in the symphony.”  Beethoven, William Kinderman; Oxford University Press, 1997

That the Eroica could be a symphonic expansion of the Prometheus ballet, with the main character symbolizing the tortured and misunderstood artist, is more than plausible.  The scenario – heroic, tragic, joyous – seems to be more than a coincidence.