Orchestra Roster, About Our Soloist, and Program Notes
for October 13, 2002 Musica Bella Concert
Concert No. 4
Conductor: Phillip Gaskill
Sunday, October 13, 2002
Our Lady of Good Counsel Church
Beethoven: Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43
Beethoven: Violin Concerto in D, Op. 61
Uli Speth, violin
Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92
June Hyun, principal second violin
Uli Speth, concertmaster
Andrew Wise, associate concertmaster
Nicholas Flowers, principal
Jane Ann Lockwood
Anahit Harutyunyan-Gaskill, principal
James Mark Pedersen
Anne Mette Iversen
Bill Nealon, principal
|ABOUT OUR SOLOIST
Uli Speth, a native of Germany, enjoys a very active performing career in all fields of classical music with strong emphasis on chamber music and opera. Since 1996 he has performed as first violinist of New York City Opera in over 25 productions, and since 1999 also at Glimmerglass Opera. Other ensembles include the New York Virtuosi, resident at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, JVC Jazz Festival Orchestra, and contemporary music groups such as the SEM Ensemble. As a former member of the Austrian Ensemble for Contemporary Music, he has premiered numerous pieces by European composers and recorded as soloist for Italian Public Radio. He is also very active as first violinist of the Diller-Quaile String Quartet, which plays concerts throughout the US, and maintains a vital presence in the New York community by offering lecture performances and giving outreach concerts and demonstrations for children in public schools and day care centers in the South Bronx, Harlem and Chinatown. Other chamber music activities include recent performances with the Cavaliere Quartet of Salzburg/ Austria and the Pierrot Consort in Long Island. Last year he appeared in numerous recitals around town including a duo recital with guitarist Lars Frandsen at the Brooklyn College of Music, Paul Coletti’s recital for the New York Viola Society and violinist Lara St. John’s chamber performance in New Rochelle. On top of his performing career, he has established himself as a much-sought-after teacher for violin and chamber music, especially string quartet. He is currently head of the Amateur Chamber Music program at the Diller-Quaile School of Music. His popularity is based on his considerable experience in performing as well as his intensive training with Felix Galimir at the Mannes College of Music. Mr. Speth is the concertmaster of the Musica Bella Orchestra.
Ludwig van Beethoven (b. December 16, 1770; d. March 26, 1827) was possibly the single most important composer in history. He led the exodus away from the strict harmonic, melodic, rhythmic, and formal boundaries and limitations of the music of the Classical period, to the freedom and expressiveness of the Romantic, of which one could say Beethoven was the “inventor.” He bridged the gap between the two periods: his early music is still in the Classical mold; as he grew and experimented, his sound evolved into full-blown Romanticism.
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Beethoven composed the ballet “The Creatures of Prometheus” in 1800 (when he was 29 years old), as a tribute to the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. The premiere was at the Burgtheater in Vienna on March 28, 1801.
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The Violin Concerto in D major was composed in 1806 (Beethoven was 35). It was given its premiere on December 23, 1806, one week after Beethoven’s 36th birthday, by the virtuoso violinist and conductor of the Theater an der Wien, Franz Clement. The concerto was originally dedicated to Clement; by the time it was published, however, Beethoven had changed the dedication in favor of his boyhood friend Stephan von Breuning.
This debut performance was given, believe it or not, without rehearsal, with Clement supposedly sight-reading the solo part! The concerto was played in two sections, as was the custom at the time; between them, Clement played a composition of his own, written for one string and with the violin held upside down. We certainly hope our soloist, Uli Speth, will do the same. . . .
Criticism (of Beethoven’s piece, not Clement’s) was reserved, conceding the beauty of many details but complaining of a supposed lack of coherence and repetition of “trivial passages.” Essentially the same criticisms had been leveled at the Eroica Symphony in the previous year. Fortunately for us, Beethoven was impervious to criticism, as any great composer must be, and did not change anything in response to this criticism.
In 1807, Beethoven arranged the (violin) solo part for piano, without changing the orchestral parts at all; the revised piece is known as Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 6 in D, Opus 61a.
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Symphony No. 7 in A major was composed between August 1811 and May 1812 (Beethoven was 41). Its premiere was in the University Hall at Vienna, on December 8, 1813 (a year and a half after he finished writing it!) at a concert to benefit Austrian and Bavarian soldiers who had been wounded at the Battle of Hanau in the Napoleonic Wars about six weeks earlier (October 30, 1813).
This concert also served as the debut for Beethoven’s “Battle Symphony” (which consisted of two movements, totaling 16 minutes long), otherwise known as “Wellington’s Victory,” which was written in celebration of the British Duke of Wellington’s victory over Napoleon in the Battle of Vitoria less than six months earlier (June 21, 1813). (Wellington’s better-known, and more important, victory over Napoleon, the latter’s final defeat at Waterloo, would happen almost exactly two years after Vitoria, so that’s not the “victory” Beethoven was celebrating in this composition.)
Many notables were involved in this concert. The great violinist and composer of violin music Louis Spohr was one of the violins in the orchestra, and violinist Ignatz Schuppanzigh (whose quartet premiered almost all of Beethoven’s string quartets) was the concertmaster; the famous double-bassist and composer of double-bass music Domenico Dragonetti led that section in the orchestra; the famous pianist and composer of piano music Johan[n] Hummel played the bass drum and composer Antonio Salieri fired the cannonade (these two in Wellington’s Victory, of course), and the composer and pianist Giacomo Meyerbeer also participated. Beethoven himself was the conductor.
The Seventh Symphony’s premiere was a success, but the Battle Symphony was an even larger one, being proclaimed a masterpiece — a rash judgment indeed, subsequently totally reversed in the consensus of symphony orchestra managements and audiences, for one almost never sees it programmed these days.
Ironically, the Eroica, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, which he misguidedly dedicated to Napoleon (whom the republican Beethoven had admired for bringing political order out of the chaos of the French revolution — until Napoleon later proclaimed himself Emperor, at which time Beethoven called Napoleon a “tyrant” and tore up the title page of his manuscript, which he had named his “Bonaparte Symphony,” and renamed it “Heroic” or “Eroica”), is much better music than his so-called “symphony” in honor of Wellington.
Critical reaction to the Seventh Symphony was mixed. Referring to a certain spot in the first movement, the composer Carl Maria von Weber thought Beethoven was “ripe for the madhouse,” and someone else (supposedly Friedrich Wieck, Clara Schumann’s father) said Beethoven must have been drunk when he wrote the last movement. Many commentators found programmatic features in the symphony, although Beethoven always maintained that he had absolutely nothing of the kind in mind; among these commentators are the composers Hector Berlioz, Robert Schumann, and Richard Wagner, whose subtitle for the symphony was “the apotheosis of the dance.” In fact, on a famous occasion while he was staying at the Palazzo Vendramini in Venice, Wagner did dance to the symphony while Franz Liszt played it on the piano.
The more recent, and more reasonable, consensus is that this is perhaps Beethoven’s greatest symphony. If he was drunk when he wrote it, well, then, more power to him. The Nobel Prize-winning novelist and essayist Romain Rolland said, about this issue, “The work of an inebriated man indeed it was, but one intoxicated with poetry and genius. . . .”
The following is a quote from Orchestral Music: An Armchair Guide by Lawrence Gilman, © 1951 by Oxford University Press: “Beethoven’s Seventh has been called ‘the most beautiful symphony in the world’ — a vaulting and delusive phrase. For what does ‘beautiful’ mean? And what is Beauty? The words are meaningless. Their content is infinite, but infinitely variable. The ‘most beautiful symphony’ — brave words, with a mirage as the end of their adventuring! More ‘beautiful’ than the G minor of Mozart, than the Third of Brahms? . . . Who shall say? But perhaps even those who shy at the positive use of mighty words will hesitate to dispute the special persuasiveness of the music of this Seventh Symphony.”
(The alert reader might note that the Mozart and Brahms symphonies mentioned by Mr. Gilman have been, or will be, played by the Musica Bella Orchestra this year, the Mozart in our previous concert and the Brahms in our next.)