Sunday, January 31, 2010

Jennifer Higdon Wins a GRAMMY for her Percussion Concerto!

Among the winners of tonight's GRAMMY Awards is Jennifer Higdon, who won the Grammy for "Best Classical Contemporary Composition" with the London Philharmonic's recording of her Percussion Concerto with Marin Alsop conducting the London Philharmonic and soloist Colin Currie for whom the work had been composed.

The concerto had been performed by the Harrisburg Symphony in March 2008 with Stuart Malina conducting and the orchestra's principal percussionist Chris Rose, the soloist.

The orchestra performed her "SkyLine" (from CityScape) this weekend and a few seasons ago, her "Blue Cathedral," one of the most frequently performed modern works in the country.

While she was here to work with the orchestra and meet the public during the performance of her Percussion Concerto, she was unable to come up from Philadelphia for "Blue Cathedral" because she was in Los Angeles attending the Grammy Awards Ceremony: a recording of her "Concerto for Orchestra" had been nominated that year, but didn't win. Still, it was exciting (and loud) to have been there and experience everything live.

Though she'd been in town when the Cypress Quartet performed her string quartet "Impressions" with Market Square Concerts the previous weekend, she was unable to be here this weekend but not because of the Grammy Awards Ceremony: this time, she just had too much work to do finishing up some new pieces scheduled for premieres very soon.

She joked with Stuart that we should be performing more of her music in Harrisburg because so far they coincided with the Grammys or the piece that was performed was nominated for one. When she told me she wasn't going to be able to attend the ceremony this year, I joked that now she had a more likely chance of winning - we both laughed, "like carrying an umbrella in case it might rain and it never does." And so - she won!

So congratluations to Jennifer Higdon for actually having TWO works win Grammy Awards in her absence: the recording that won Best Surround Sound Recording (which is not technically a classical category) included John Adams' "On the Transmigration of Souls," two versions of Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings" (including the choral version) and Jennifer Higdon's "Dooryard Bloom," a setting of Walt Whitman's words for voice and orchestra.

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For more information and a list of the other winners of this year's Classical Grammy Awards, go to Thoughts on a Train.

- Dr. Dick

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Up Close & Personal: Beethoven's Violin Concerto (Part 2)

Augustin Hadelich performs Beethoven's Violin Concerto with the Harrisburg Symphony this weekend - Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm at the Forum - on a program called Winterscapes which includes Jennifer Higdon's SkyLine (the exciting opening of CityScape, composed in 2002) and Sergei Rachmaninoff's valedictory Symphonic Dances, a nostalgic look at the dances of Imperial Russia composed in 1940, 23 years after the Bolshevik Revolution swept away Rachmaninoff's familiar world.

This post continues a look at one of the greatest concertos of all times.

In so many ways, Beethoven's only violin concerto – and after all the work he must have put into it only to have it become an “epic fail” at its premiere may explain why he never bothered to write another one – is on a whole different level from most of the virtuosic concertos we're familiar with written later in the 19th Century. It is an expansion on the form he inherited from the previous generation – mostly Mozart's, since Haydn was a very limited supplier of concertos to the repertoire – just as his symphonies were expansions on what that form had been before him.

That the idea of the concerto would go in a different direction isn't so surprising, considering the almost four decades this concerto was completely unknown. Only Brahms seemed to have taken the Beethoven Challenge - not surprising, after having finally completed his first symphony in the wake of Beethoven's footsteps and, ironically, for the same violinist - Josef Joachim - who brought the Beethoven concerto into the repertoire.

If we listen to Beethoven's Violin Concerto in the context of his other works, we find something equally expansive as the 3rd Symphony, the “Eroica,” which he began working on 1803, a symphony on such a large scale it's usually credited with bringing down the curtain on the 18th Century and opening up the new (the equivalent to New Music as Stravinsky's “Rite of Spring” is to the 20th).

Yet Beethoven's own pupil, Czerny, commented that it was “considered too long, elaborate, incomprehensible, and much too noisy,” containing, as one major journal of the day put it, “an excess of whimsicalities and novelties.”

The comment is often made about Beethoven's odd-numbered and even-numbered symphonies, as if he consciously decided which ones would be more dramatic, more ground-breaking and “greater” than the others, more lyrical, less adventuresome, less likely to engage an audience.

It's not that Beethoven wasn't interested in “engaging his audience,” but writing a work merely to capitalize on an earlier success was not part of his aesthetic make-up, even though he wrote “Wellington's Victory” with an eye to popular success and produced vast amounts of imminently forgettable music geared to making an income (all those folk-song arrangements come to mind, some 125 of them).

Whether the idea was to give his audience a break – thinking in terms of what people hear in the chronological order he was producing them in, not as a body-of-work to be cherry-picked for concerts here or concerts there – or that his mind merely looked for other solutions that interested him, we know that ideas for such contrasting works often occurred to him at the same time. In his sketch books, in the midst of the creative work bringing about one symphony, you can often find a theme that will become part of another symphony he might not begin work on for a few more years: it simply didn't fit this one or maybe hadn't piqued his interest as much at the time.

In 1803, while working on the “Eroica,” he sketched ideas that would eventually find homes in his 5th Symphony (1807-1808) and his 6th Symphony, the “Pastoral” (1808). Yet the first two movements of the 5th Symphony appear to have been fully sketched in 1805, then laid aside for a newer one which became the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat, which he completed in 1806.

Beethoven was a very “organic” composer, building his music out of the simplest building blocks. The opening of the 5th Symphony with its famous “fate-knocks-at-the-door,” “V-for-Victory” motive is the most famous example. He becomes almost obsessive over these small units which he uses to hold things together, something theorists later called “motivic saturation.” For instance, the “turning” motive in the first measure of the Op. 18, No. 1 string quartet is repeated 109 times throughout the first movement, 130 times in the original version!

While the opening of the Eroica Symphony may be more arresting, the opening of the Violin Concert (see score, above right) may seem insignificant by comparison, not the chorale-like melody you hear in the woodwinds but the four bland taps on the kettledrum in the opening measure. Now, initially, you might think that's just a “time-beating” device to introduce the first theme, a kind of up-beat to the important stuff. But then you hear it in the violins as the melody expands and eventually you realize it's repeated 16 times before the solo violinist enters 89 measures into the movement!

Here is a YouTube video with Itzhak Perlman recorded in 1992 with Daniel Barenboim conducting the Berlin Philharmonic in the opening half of the concerto's first movement:
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Though it seems like just another rhythmic device, it actually becomes an important piece of the fabric, like a bit of glue that holds things together and underlies both the first and the second themes. I count about 85 statements of that little “bup-bup-bup-bup” figure in a movement that is 535 measures long – perhaps not the kind of saturation you hear in the 1st quartet or the 5th Symphony, but too many times to be just a coincidence.

When Beethoven arranged the concerto for piano and orchestra, he wrote out the cadenza for the first movement – nothing unusual in that, except, unlike most cadenzas which were to be improvisatory in nature if not actually improvised, here the piano is accompanied by – the kettledrums! Perhaps he thought more of that little opening figure than we might imagine?

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Now, let's track the other works he'd completed during 1806, leading up to the composition of the Violin Concerto, premiered just before Christmas Day that year.

As I'd mentioned in Part 1 of this post, he'd completed the three Razumovsky Quartets during that year. They may not have been written in order and he probably worked on them more or less simultaneously, at least in the opening stages of composition. Though he'd been working on them in some way or another since the previous year, on the first page of the autograph copy of Op. 59, No. 1, Beethoven writes “begun on 26th May – 1806,” the day after his brother Carl married Joanna Reis (who was already three months pregnant with the son who would later become famous as Beethoven's Nephew). Though I found nothing specific about the date he completed them, most sources mention it was “late in the year, 1806.”

That year, he also put the finishing touches on one his greatest piano sonatas, the “Appassionata” Sonata in F Minor, even though he'd begun work on it in 1804. He had revised his opera Leonore (only in 1814 did it become Fidelio) writing a new overture, the one we know as “Leonore Overture No. 3” though it was the 2nd one to be composed and which was such a grand symphonic conception in itself that it swamped the first act of the opera. This version was performed in March of 1806 and proved only less of a failure than its first version the year before.

In addition to the quartets, he also wrote his 4th Piano Concerto in G Major (completed that summer) and then the 4th Symphony – having put aside the C Minor Symphony which would now become No. 5 – which he completed in the fall.

If one writer put it later that the symphonies are “speeches to the nation, to humanity,” so in a way we have gone from the public personality of the “Eroica” and the beginning of the 5th (including the heroic nature of the opera that would become Fidelio) to the more introspective world of the three quartets, Op. 59, which by contrast exhibit the more personal, individual side of Beethoven, like “interior monologues addressed to a private self,” as Solomon writes in his biography.

By comparison to its fellow concertos, the G Major Piano Concerto is a similar “even-numbered” contrast to the dramatic C Minor Concerto (1800) and the extroverted, brilliant “Emperor” Concerto (1809). Some have quipped the 4th Concerto should be called the “Empress” Concerto, since it is more lyrical and elevated: where the “Emperor” is militaristic, the 4th is more poetic, especially in its incredible slow movement.

The 4th Symphony, by comparison to its two closest companions, seems a let-down, more conservative (the curse of the even-numbers) and perhaps the least well-known (or well-liked) of The Nine. The circumstances that went into his composing it (mostly during the summer) and most of the sketches have not survived. Schumann likened it to “a slender Greek maiden [thinking in terms of the classically lined statues we might see in ancient Greek temples] between two Norse giants” [burly symbols of Teutonic romanticism long before Wagner turned them into characters in his operas of “The Ring”]. Regardless, this symphony is on a whole different, more interior plane than the 3rd and 5th – looking at different ways to approach the idea of what a symphony could be.

And it is in this context that Beethoven composed his Violin Concerto – and fairly quickly, apparently, since most sources mention it was begun in November and completed barely in time for its December 23rd premiere (I can find no mention of themes appearing in earlier sketch books). For Beethoven, this is a remarkably short amount of time for such a large-scale work.

And that large-scaleness is also surprising, compared to what concertos were usually like, both in Beethoven's day and in the generations to follow. But then, don't forget that while his symphonies influenced composers almost immediately – pro or con – the Violin Concerto was virtually unknown to the general public (or perhaps even a private one) from its premiere in 1806 to its triumphant revival with Joachim and Mendelssohn in 1844.

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Let's consider Vienna's reaction to Beethoven's newest music in 1806. We've already seen how Leonore failed twice in 1805 and 1806. Beethoven's pupil, Czerny, commented that the 3rd Symphony at its 1805 premiere was “considered too long, elaborate, incomprehensible, and much too noisy,” containing, as one major journal of the day put it, “an excess of whimsicalities and novelties.”

His later biographer, Thayer, commented that “Perhaps no work of Beethoven's met a more discouraging reception” from musicians and audience than the three Razumovsky Quartets. More discouraging than the Violin Concerto's?

Then there's this review, from a Viennese newspaper on Sept. 11, 1806, quoted in Nicholas Slonimsky's wonderful collection of bad reviews, “The Lexicon of Musical Invective”:

“... and all impartial musicians and music lovers were in perfect agreement that never was anything as incoherent, shrill, chaotic and ear-splitting produced in music. The most piercing dissonances clash in a really atrocious harmony, and a few puny ideas only increase the disagreeable and deafening effect.”

He was writing about the Leonore Overture No. 3.

And so the audience awaited the new violin concerto, performed 3½ months later.

Considering a typical concerto was maybe a half-hour long, how would that audience react to one where the first movement alone clocked in at about 25 minutes? How did they react to this new concerto just on this scope alone? Perhaps the way a London critic reacted to the “Eroica” when he heard it in 1829 (also quoted in Slonimsky's Lexicon):

“The Heroic Symphony contains much to admire but it is difficult to keep up admiration of this kind during three long quarters of an hour. It is infinitely too lengthy... If this symphony is not by some means abridged, it will soon fall into disuse.”

I have been unable to find any contemporary reaction to that first performance of Beethoven's Violin Concerto, but length aside, the fact Franz Clement was supposedly sight-reading the finale and had no rehearsal with the orchestra for the last movement – not to mention adding his improvised “sonata played on one string with the violin upside down” between the first and second movements – how could the performance have won it any fans?

Even today, an orchestra can play Beethoven badly and be chewed out in the press, but play an under-rehearsed world premiere on the same program and suddenly it's the composer's fault!

So let's consider Beethoven's work in the context of what other people had the chance to listen to during those years. Maynard Solomon mentions that these composers were more frequently heard than Beethoven in 1806:

Mozart – Haydn – Paer – Cherubini – Mayer – Righini - “and several other fashionable composers” which he does not name.

With the exception of Mozart and Haydn, these are exclusively composers of opera.

Frankly, I'd never even heard of Righini before I read this and while Mozart and Haydn would make sense to us now, it is very unlikely any of our concertgoers today will have heard much of Simone Mayer's music. Ferdinando Paer, who composed 55 operas, might be known as a historical footnote: in 1804, his opera Leonore was a success, setting the same story Beethoven used in his opera the following year which was not a success. Cherubini, at least, was one of the reigning monarchs of the European operatic stage at this time, but he wrote only one symphony and that wasn't until 1815.

As for Vincenzo Righini, a ontemporary of Mozart's most famous as a footnote for having written a Don Giovanni in 1777, a decade before Mozart's, he was also primarily an opera composer whose last work I could find mentioned was composed in 1803, though most of his work dates from the 1770s and '80s. You can hear two arias from his “Birth of Apollo” (apparently more a cantata than an opera) on Diana Damrau's recent Virgin Classics CD, “Arie di Bravura” - listen to tracks 2 and 4. Damrau made quite an impression on a TV broadcast as the Queen of the Night a few years ago.

But really – these composers were more POPULAR or more FREQUENTLY PERFORMED in Vienna the year Beethoven composed his Violin Concerto – which was such a disaster at its premiere, it remained almost completely unperformed for 38 years!?

But such are the whims of history. I keep this in mind whenever I hear people discussing ratings, a new movie's box-office success or the latest winner on American Idol.

- Dr. Dick

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Up Close & Personal: Beethoven's Violin Concerto (Part 1)

This weekend's concert with the Harrisburg Symphony – Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3pm at the Forum – features Augustin Hadelich (see left) returning to Harrisburg to play perhaps the greatest violin concerto ever written – Stuart Malina considers it possibly the greatest concerto ever written – the Violin Concerto in D Major by Ludwig van Beethoven.

(You can hear Stuart talk about the concerto and about the soloist in our podcast for the January concert, recorded last week.)

The concerto was not always so highly thought of. In fact, it was a failure at its premiere. Apparently it was never played again during Beethoven's life time and it was only 17 years after his death that it was “revived” and made its triumphant entry into the standard repertoire.

Beethoven wrote it specifically for one of the best violinists in Vienna at the time, Franz Clement. Ten years Beethoven's junior, Clement first performed in public a concert when he was 9, and a year later performed in London with another child prodigy, George Bridgetower (for whom Beethoven would later compose a violin sonata that would eventually become known as the “Kreutzer” Sonata). At the age of 11, Clement played a concerto on the program at Oxford when Haydn was given his honorary doctorate.

Beethoven first heard Clement play in Vienna when the boy was 14 not long after he himself had arrived in Vienna as a hopeful concert pianist intending to study composition with Haydn.

In 1802, then, Clement became the orchestral director of the Theatre an der Wien, the leading theater and opera house in Vienna. Out of gratitude for Clement's advice while he was working on his opera Leonore (to be premiered at the theater in November, 1805, but only later to be renamed Fidelio), Beethoven agreed to conduct his “Eroica” Symphony – labeled, for some reason, in the program as the Symphony in D-sharp Major rather than E-flat – at a benefit concert for the violinist in April, 1805, the first public performance of Beethoven's newest symphony. This program also included Clement playing his own concerto in D Major (one of at least six he composed) and Beethoven was so impressed with his technique and intonation, he agreed to compose a violin concerto for Clement which they would premiere the following year.

A contemporary critic described his playing in 1805:

"His is not the marked, bold, strong playing, the moving, forceful Adagio, the powerful bow and tone which characterise the Rode-Viotti School; rather, his playing is indescribably delicate, neat and elegant; it has an extremely delightful tenderness and cleanness that undoubtedly secures him a place among the most perfect violinists. At the same time, he has a wholly individual lightness, which makes it seem as if he merely toys with the most incredible difficulties, and a sureness that never deserts him for a moment, even in the most daring passages.”

Clement was famous for being able to play complex music from memory after just a little preparation. He also tended to complement his more “serious” performances with light-hearted showmanship.

This may have backfired for Beethoven's concerto: the work was barely completed in time for the performance (not an unusual issue with the composer) and apparently Clement had to sight-read the finale without a rehearsal! Since the concerto was extremely long and far more serious than the standard fare the audience would have been used to – and presumably this audience was ill disposed toward new music – Clement “broke” the concerto into two more manageable chunks by playing a sonata of his own in between the first and second movements – a sonata that he improvised, played on one string with the violin being held upside down.

It's pretty easy to realize why the concerto might not have been a success.

I'm not sure what impact this had on Beethoven's relationship with Clement who, in 1811, decided to branch out into a career as a traveling virtuoso, Clement was on an extended tour of Russia where he ran into difficulties – not the least of which was Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812 and all the war's subsequent impact on the Russian economy and social life. He finally returned to Vienna in 1813 and was forced to take an inferior playing “gig” outside the city before going off to Prague where he became the concertmaster there. Now 38, he returned to Vienna in 1818 and spent six years conducting at Theatre an der Wien again, but never regained the potential of the career he'd exhibited when he was 26 and Beethoven had composed a concerto for him. He died in Vienna in 1842 at the age of 62, largely forgotten.

As for the concerto itself, it too was largely forgotten. We tend to think of it as this great masterpiece striding across the repertoire like a colossus, if not just the greatest violin concerto ever written but quite possibly one of the finest concertos – period – ever composed.

But it wasn't always so. Very few violinists took it up after that premiere when it was judged a failure. In order to salvage it, Beethoven even turned it into a piano concerto – his rarely acknowledged Piano Concerto in D Major, Op.61a – which he published in 1808 at the same time he published the original Violin Concerto as Op. 61. The violin concerto was dedicated not to the violinist who commissioned and performed it but to his old friend, Stefan von Breuning; the piano arrangement was dedicated to Breuning's wife, Julie.

It wasn't, actually, till 1844 – two years after Clement's death and seventeen years after Beethoven's and 38 years after the premiere – that the Violin Concerto began to “enter the repertoire.” A few other violinists did play it but with no great success. Then Felix Mendelssohn conducted it in London with the violinist Joseph Joachim, a name we recognize as one of the greatest violinists of the 2nd half of the 19th Century. It was basically “a triumph” for both the violinist and for Beethoven's long-neglected work.

However, it's important to note that Joachim at the time of this “revival” was all of 12 years old.

It's hard to imagine such a major work by a composer so highly regarded as Beethoven (even then) being overlooked for almost forty years!

Despite its initial entrance into the world, Beethoven's Violin Concerto was written at a very busy and very happy time in the composer's life. He wrote the concerto in 1806 (when this portrait, right, was painted), the year he also composed these works:

- the String Quartet in C, the 3rd of the Three Razumovsky Quartets (completed in the spring of 1806)
- the 2nd version of the opera Leonore (later, Fidelio) with the “Leonore” Overture No. 3 (premiered in March, 1806)
- the Piano Concerto No. 4 in G (completed in the summer of 1806)
- the Symphony No. 4 in B-flat (completed in the fall of 1806)
- the 32 Variations in C Minor for solo piano (written in the fall of 1806)
- the Violin Concerto in D Major (completed in December of 1806)

The following year may not seem as productive, perhaps almost fallow by comparison, but he did write the “Coriolan” Overture, the Mass in C Major and began work on his Symphony No. 5 in C Minor as well.

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This busy period of Beethoven's creative life is often referred to as his “Heroic” Decade, beginning with the maturity of his first quartets, stepping out into the new century with his first symphony and the third piano concerto, all completed in 1800 and basically ending with the “Emperor” Concerto in 1809. While not everything he composed during this time fits such a generic description, it seems to be the driving force behind most of the major works: grand in scope if not majestic, positive at least in outcome, assured and forward-looking.

Perhaps surprisingly, it coincides with the awareness of his impending deafness and concludes with the end of his career as a performer.

As his career as a composer began to establish itself, Beethoven seemed to fear some impending catastrophe as if he'd be destroyed by his own success.

In 1801, he writes home to Bonn about his success, how he is offered more commissions than he can accommodate, that publishers are vying for his works and that, instead of coming to an agreement with him, he states his price and either they pay or don't. And then he tells him about “that jealous demon, my wretched health, [which] has put a nasty spoke in my wheel.” Since his friend, Dr. Wegeler, is also a physician, Beethoven goes into considerable detail about these general issues and some of the treatments he has undergone, but also how, despite this, his hearing is getting weaker and weaker and how he at times gives way to despair. “Sometimes, too, I can scarcely hear a person who speaks softly; I can hear sounds, it is true, but cannot make out the words. But if anyone shouts, I can't bear it.”

A few days later, he wrote to another friend how “my most prized possession, my hearing, has greatly deteriorated.” While he'd been aware of the symptoms a few years earlier, they had recently “become very much worse.” “I must withdraw from everything; and my best years will rapidly pass away without my being able to achieve all that my talent and my strength have commanded me to do.”

These thoughts were written down the same year he composed, among other works, the “Moonlight Sonata” and had begun work on his 2nd Symphony.

But later that year, he found a new doctor and wrote to his friend Dr. Wegeler, “the humming and buzzing is slightly less than it used to be, particularly in my left ear, where my deafness really began.” He adds, though, that his hearing is certainly not a bit better, maybe even a little weaker. More than just being “hard-of-hearing” (which is what we normally think of when we hear someone is “going deaf”), he divides the symptoms into two categories: difficulty in hearing as clearly as before and the humming and buzzing that also afflicts him.

After describing the “charming girl who loves me and whom I love” - she is not of his class and so therefore they cannot marry (the timing would lead us to believe he's referring to the Countess Guicciardi to whom he'd dedicated his just-finished Piano Sonata in C-sharp Minor, later to be nicknamed the “Moonlight”) – Beethoven returns to his health and ends by adding, “I will seize Fate by the throat; it shall certainly not bend and crush me completely.” The resignation he had been reluctant to accept in the earlier letters is now being tempered by a resolution to resist, a new determination to overcome what he perhaps saw as the inevitable.

(Instead of moonlight, perhaps one might see a somewhat different “program” for the sonata he'd just completed: resignation (even Berlioz called the movement a “lamentation”); pleasant memories in society; resolution to “seize Fate by the throat”? All of which, of course, is mere conjecture but perhaps a lot closer to Beethoven's state of mind at the time than the critic who saw Moonlight on a Lake...)

But by October, 1802, things had changed. In the midst of completing his 2nd Symphony, Beethoven wrote a letter to his brothers known as “The Heiligenstadt Testament.” This emotional confession details his anxiety about his growing deafness and at times reads like a suicide note though he writes “I would have ended my life – it was only my art that held me back.” Its anguish may at times be tempered by a literary turn-of-style – he perhaps was aware this was a “document” and not just a letter – but still, it is difficult to read and not be moved:

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“I must live almost alone, like one who has been banished; I can mix with society only as much as true necessity demands. If I approach near to people a hot terror seizes upon me and I fear being exposed to the danger that my condition might be noticed.... what a humiliation for me when someone standing next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing or someone heard a shepherd singing and again I heard nothing. Such incidents drove me almost to despair.”
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While the issue of Beethoven's deafness is well known, the details of how it evolved and how it affected him may not be. As Maynard Solomon writes in his 1977 biography, “The data strongly suggest a pattern of progressive, though uneven, deterioration of Beethoven's hearing, which reached a state of almost total deafness only in his final decade.”

In 1804, Beethoven had difficulty hearing the wind instruments during a rehearsal for the “Eroica,” around the same time his friend Stephan von Breuning wrote that Beethoven had become “very withdrawn and often mistrustful of his best friends.” Still, in 1805, he conducted the rehearsals for Leonore (later Fidelio) and in 1808 pointed out some nuances of a musician's performance. But by 1809, he was no longer performing concertos in concerts – his “Emperor” Concerto was eventually performed by his student, Czerny four years after he wrote it – though he did attempt to play his “Archduke” Trio in 1814 with little success. It was after 1812 that people had to raise their voices when talking to him but still it was 1817 when Czerny told a future biographer that The Master “could now no longer hear music, either.” He had begun using an “ear trumpet” in 1816 but the famous Conversation Books only started being used in 1818 so visitors could communicate with him by writing down what they wanted to tell him.

He was apparently totally deaf in his right ear, but still “traces of hearing persisted through the 1820s.” In 1822 and 1823, several visitors could converse with him and Schindler, who acted as his secretary at the time, “described Beethoven listening intently to the Overture to Cherubini's Medea on a music box.” Still, in 1822, he tried to conduct a revival of Fidelio but “was forced to quit the theater.” Even in the last few years of his life, friends reported Beethoven could still understand loud speech and even undertook rehearsals of his late quartets “up to the last.” He could hear high tones (perhaps like the music box) as well as the low frequencies “of wagon wheels, the rumble of thunder, and the sounds of gunfire.”

It is also revealing to note that he wrote in the margin of the sketches for the Razumovsky Quartets, “Let your deafness no longer be secret – even in art.” He wrote that at the beginning of 1806, the year he wrote the 4th Piano Concerto and the 4th Symphony – and that ended with the composition of his Violin Concerto in D Major.

To be continued...

- Dr. Dick

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

January's Concert: The Podcast

Stuart Malina and I had a chance to sit down and chat about the Harrisburg Symphony's concert he'll be conducting at the end of the month – Saturday, January 30th at 8pm and Sunday, January 31st at 3pm at the Forum.

Called “Winterscapes,” it will feature violinist Augustin Hadelich performing the Beethoven Violin Concerto, the program opening with “SkyLine” from Jennifer Higdon's “CityScape” and concluding with the Symphonic Dances by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

You can listen to the podcast here.

Hopefully, it'll be a snow-free winterscape that weekend: the long-range forecast is for mild temperatures.

- Dr. Dick