Behind the Musik: Beethoven Pastoral Symphony

Download the Program Notes and Program Listing

PROGRAM NOTES
By Allen Whear, violoncello

VIOLIN CONCERTO

The year 1806 was particularly fruitful for Beethoven, when numerous masterpieces including the Fourth Symphony, Fourth Piano Concerto, “Rasumovsky” Quartets, and two of the Leonore overtures, were completed. Having already transformed and expanded the symphony, piano concerto, and string quartet, Beethoven finally turned his attention to the violin concerto. Although he had himself played violin and viola in Bonn, and written extensively for them in chamber music, so far he had produced only an unfinished sketch for a violin concerto in C major and the two Romances with orchestra. The occasion for the new work was a benefit concert to be given on December 23 at the Theater an der Wien by and for Franz Clement (1780–1842), a Viennese violinist and leader with whom Beethoven had been friendly for a number of years. Beethoven’s new concerto was completed only two days before the premiere, so Clement must have had formidable sight-reading abilities. Works by many other composers also appeared on the program, and between movements of the concerto Clement treated the audience to a work of his own, played on one string with the violin upside down. You will not hear such fare tonight; authenticity has its limits!

New trends in violin technique and execution were sweeping Europe, particularly from France, where Tourte developed a more powerful bow and players such as Viotti and Kreutzer espoused a robust style. Beethoven was aware of these developments, and his “Kreutzer” Sonata three years earlier embraced this dramatic approach, and even carried the subtitle “in uno stile molto concertante come d’un concerto.” But Clement was not of this avant-garde school of playing. He used the older style bow, and was noted above all for his sweet, singing sound and his flawless command of the upper registers. These lyrical qualities are perhaps what most influenced Beethoven’s violin writing in the concerto.

Standard practice in Beethoven’s time was for performers to improvise or write their own cadenzas. He did not leave one for his Violin Concerto—except for an example found in the piano transcription, involving, oddly enough, timpani—and over the years the most commonly performed cadenzas, written by the likes of Kreisler and Joachim, have become so familiar that many do not realize that they are not part of the original work. In keeping with original practice, Elisa Citterio is providing her own cadenzas.

Four simple timpani strokes launch the concerto, in classical sonata form and on a symphonic scale. Typically of Beethoven’s middle period works, a large pattern is needed to honour and elaborate upon formal traditions while featuring a soloist as well as an orchestra. Indeed, the length of the first movement is unprecedented, roughly equivalent to an entire Mozart concerto. When struck on a dissonant D-sharp by the violins, the four-note motive asserts itself not just as an introduction to the principal theme, but as a key structural element and harmonically transforming device throughout the movement. Although the violin part demands great virtuosity, the overall effect is serenity and lyricism, rather than display.

Strings are muted for the Larghetto, which unfolds like a loosely designed set of variations. As the orchestra patiently reiterates the theme in an array of instrumental colours, the violin hovers and weaves an intricate fantasy above. An abrupt orchestral fanfare followed by a brief cadenza ushers in the finale. The Rondo is based on a jaunty hunting theme that may have come from Clement, in the 6/8 meter favoured by Mozart. Beethoven avoids the danger of repetitiveness by infusing an element of sonata development and a variety of violinistic effects. At the keystone of the rondo form is an interlude in G minor where the violin and bassoon engage in a singing dialogue. In Beethoven’s time, virtuoso violinists most often preferred their own compositions, and his Violin Concerto only received sporadic performances for several decades. It was an acclaimed performance by 13-year old Joseph Joachim with Felix Mendelssohn conducting in London in 1844 that cemented the work’s reputation, and it has maintained its iconic place in the repertoire to this day.

SYMPHONY NO. 6

In the same venue almost exactly two years later, Beethoven presented his own benefit concert, or Akademie, on December 22, 1808, unveiling the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, as well as other works. These sibling symphonies, although written concurrently, show two distinct sides of Beethoven’s character. Before hearing the opening of the Sixth Symphony, remember the dramatic and arresting start to the Fifth: its terse, four-note motto developed throughout the movement, and the work’s symbolic struggle with destiny culminating in glorious victory. Consider the “Pastoral” Symphony the antidote to the drama of the Fifth, and savour the symphony’s opening, the composer’s expression of his love of nature: “Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside.” With soft dynamics, droning fifths in the bass, and simple harmonies, Beethoven invites us to relax from the outset, as if taking us by the hand and sharing his delight. The bucolic atmosphere is further enhanced by the use of constantly repeating melodic and rhythmic patterns instead of motivic development—without ever feeling monotonous—while fulfilling the architectural requirements of sonata form. Beethoven’s avowed intention was “more an expression of feeling than painting,” to distinguish this from program music conjuring specific images and events.

The end of the second movement in Beethoven’s manuscript score of Symphony no. 6, in which he labelled the flute as “Nachtigall” (nightingale), the oboe as “Wachtel” (quail), and the clarinet as “Kuckuck” (cuckoo). The score is in the Beethoven-Haus Bonn (BH64), and can be viewed on their website.

Beethoven’s earliest sketches for the Sixth Symphony included a fragment entitled “Murmuring of the brooks,” depicting flowing water. The muted strings, in lazy triplets, create a foundation of flowing, meandering water while broad melodies unfold in an unhurried manner. Although birdcalls have been implied throughout the movement, there is, near the end, a kind of cadenza where Beethoven specifically imitates the nightingale (flute), the quail (oboe), and the cuckoo (clarinet), all perfectly integrated into the structure. It’s as if Beethoven, despite claiming not to be interested in “painting,” wants to show—perhaps with tongue in cheek—how perfectly he could do it on a whim.

The Scherzo (“Merry gathering of country folk”) is a rustic dance complete with a village band in the trio section. Beethoven seems to poke fun at amateur country musicians: the merry oboe is elbowed out by the clarinet, while the bassoon struggles to play its three bass notes in the right place. Once the horn joins in, all tumble into a heavy contradance, growing ever louder until a trumpet restores order. The whole sequence is repeated until the coda, when ominous rumblings in the bass interrupt the revelry. A storm approaches …

“Storm. Tempest” introduces a raindrop motive in the violins, as the trembling below grows louder and rises chromatically towards F minor. Then full orchestral violence breaks out, augmented by piccolo, trombones, and timpani. Beethoven builds on a longstanding tradition of storm music; he surely found a model in Haydn’s Seasons. The reliable patterns of nature in previous movements are disrupted here with sudden dynamics and the most dissonant harmonies of the symphony. Gradually the storm subsides, as a miraculous musical rainbow emerges from the oboe, a broad tune derived from the initial raindrop motive. The bagpipe drones return, and Alpine yodelling paves the way for “Shepherds’ song: Happy and grateful feelings after the storm.” The leisurely pace of the earlier movements is restored in this serene rondo, until the coda, where the principal theme builds to what the Beethoven scholar Donald Francis Tovey describes as “a grand solemn tutti, glorious as the fields refreshed by the rain.” A muted horn recalls the alpine melody as the movement comes to a gentle close, and we reluctantly return to our urban reality.

© Allen Whear

Beethoven writing to his friend Therese Malfatti in 1810 about his forthcoming holiday in the country:

“I look forward to it with childish excitement. How delighted I shall be to ramble for a while through bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo which man desires to hear.”


PROGRAM LISTING

Bruno Weil guest conductor
Elisa Citterio violin soloist
Jeanne Lamon concertmaster

May 3–6, 2018, Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning

Concerto for violin in D Major, op. 61 (1806)
Allegro ma non troppo
Larghetto
Rondo: Allegro

INTERMISSION

Symphony no. 6 in F Major, op. 68, “Pastoral” (1808)
Allegro ma non troppo
Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande
(Awakening of joyous feelings upon arrival in the countryside)
Andante molto moto
Szene am Bach (Scene by the brook)
Allegro
Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute (Merry gathering of country folk)
Allegro
Gewitter. Sturm (Storm. Tempest)
Allegretto
Hitengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm
(Shepherd’s song. Happy and thankful feelings after the storm)

 

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A special message from Christina Mahler and Alison Mackay

Our upcoming 40th season is a time for celebration, and as with all anniversaries, a chance for reflection, particularly for those orchestra members who have been with us since the beginning.

Christina Mahler, cello, and Alison Mackay, double bass, have recently let us know that they will be retiring from the orchestra after the 2018/19 season.

Both Christina and Alison are performing a number of concerts next season, and there will be lots of time to celebrate each of their tremendous contributions to Tafelmusik, and to wish them well as they embrace this next step in their lives.

Alison’s legacy will also continue in her rich array of multimedia programs that are now part of Tafelmusik’s repertoire. She continues to dream up new ideas, and will share these with Elisa and the orchestra for consideration for future seasons.

Christina and Alison have asked us to share the following personal messages with you, and are very much looking forward to sharing Tafelmusik’s milestone anniversary with you next year.

A MESSAGE FROM CHRISTINA

It was 37 years ago that I moved from Holland to Toronto to play in Tafelmusik. Canada has truly become my home. I would like to thank all of you for your warm welcome and all of my colleagues for a remarkable 37 years of music making.

I feel honoured to have had the opportunity to play in Tafelmusik for all these years. It has been an amazing journey of collaborative chamber music making, which is in my view the highest musical goal.

As instrumentalists, we are very similar to dancers and athletes in terms of the demands our profession puts on our bodies. Even a few years ago, I believed that I would go on playing in Tafelmusik forever. But as those years passed, my visits to the chiropractor and physiotherapist have increased to the point where I realize it is time for me to slow down and plan my retirement from Tafelmusik’s fast-paced schedule. Therefore, next season, Tafelmusik’s fortieth, will be my final year.

Working with Jeanne Lamon for my first 35 years with Tafelmusik has been wonderfully fulfilling. I am also very excited to have the opportunity to work with our warm and inspiring new Music Director, Elisa Citterio. I really look forward to the programs that we will play together before my departure next season.

It is not easy to say goodbye to you, our home audience. Our relationship has been very meaningful and important to me. We have grown together in our understanding of the music we all love. Although this represents the closing of a major chapter in my life, it is not the end of the book. I very much hope to be playing the cello in concerts for a long time to come.

I’m sure that Tafelmusik will find a wonderful principal cellist to replace me. The future is very bright for Tafelmusik and I will always hold the orchestra and the audience very close to my heart.

A MESSAGE FROM ALISON

The 2018/19 season will mark my fortieth year as a member of the Tafelmusik Orchestra, and since I was 26 when I joined, it will be time to bid a fond farewell and pass the job on to one of the gifted bass players of the next generation. It has been the privilege of my life to share the stage with my beloved colleagues, each of whom is a brilliant and brainy virtuoso, and I will be forever grateful to orchestra founders Kenny Solway and Susan Graves for inviting me to join, to Jeanne Lamon for 35 years of inspiring leadership, collaboration, and profound shared experiences, and to Elisa Citterio for her passionate commitment to Tafelmusik and for her warmth as a colleague and friend.

For me, the Tafelmusik musicians, staff, donors and audience members are a family with whom I feel a deep personal connection in our shared love of our organization. The Music Directors and Managing Directors of the orchestra have given me unique opportunities to experiment with the ways in which baroque music is presented in performance, and the players have participated in our special projects with untold hours of extra work and flair on stage beyond my greatest hopes.

Excited about the future of Tafelmusik, I look forward to my final season with zest and then to joining you all in the audience to see what new magic will unfold.


If you wish to send remarks and wishes to Christina or Alison, please forward them to info@tafelmusik.org.

My Tafelmusik … with Rick Earls

In our ongoing series of featuring long-term supporters, “My Tafelmusik” invites donors to share their story with us. Individual support is integral to Tafelmusik. It funds live concerts in Toronto and across the world, education programs for young people, innovative new multi-media and recording projects … in addition to bringing renowned guest artists to our stage.

Here is Rick Earls’ story.

I first was exposed to classical music going to the TSO and Mendelssohn Choir concerts with my mom in the late 1960s, then gained an appreciation for opera listening to LPs from the Seneca College library in the early 1970s.

I have been going to Tafelmusik concerts for about 35 years. It has been such a wonderful experience to hear baroque music coming from such brilliant musicians. What a treat! My wife, Sally, has not been able to attend concerts for about seven years due to complications from a broken hip, but hopes to “face the music” again in the near future.

I took my wife Sally on dates to the NBC and COC in the mid-70s, then discovered Tafelmusik in 1981. We used to go to 90 to 100 concerts per season, now cut back to about 70 with 13 organizations.

We enjoy the high quality of performance and diversity of programing with Tafelmusik. I look forward to continued excellence and diversity in programing under Elisa’s leadership. When we go to the concerts I feel that I have been educated on baroque music and instruments and how people lived many centuries ago. We had an opportunity to visit Salzburg and Vienna on an Austrian trip in 2000, and when I hear music that composers from this area have written, it brings me a lot of joy.

Some of our memorable Tafel-moments:

  • Coming out of the Church of the Transformation in Markham after a Messiah concert just as snow began to fall and then the church bells struck eleven.
  • Running into some orchestra members at the hotel we were staying at in Stratford during the Summer Music Festival.
  • Getting glowing comments from some colleagues who attended a concert in Kingston that I told them about.
  • The surprise on my sister-in-law’s face after I gave her Julia Wedman’s solo CD after she swooned over her solo playing in a Bach Brandenburg Concerto.

Supporting the musical community runs in our family — my great-grandfather John Earls , who founded the Toronto Marlboroughs, was also a major player in a 1894 attempt to create a Toronto Philharmonic Society, but it only lasted two years.

We believe strongly in financially supporting Tafelmusik and many other arts organizations so that they can boldly go forward into the 25th century where no man has gone before (oops — make that 21st century and orchestra).


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inspiring the love of baroque and classical music. Give today!