Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, Eroica

Notes by TŌN flutist Leanna Ginsburg

An Incurable Condition
It was 1801 and Beethoven could no longer hide his hearing loss. He shared the news of his problem with his closest friends, and in the spring of 1802, he moved from Vienna to Heiligenstadt for a simpler life. While in Heiligenstadt he wrote a letter to his brothers to reveal his situation with hearing loss and in doing so explained why he is often angry and impatient. In his letter, which became known as Beethoven’s “Heiligenstadt Testament,” he wrote: “Just think, for six years now I have had an incurable condition, made worse by incompetent doctors, from year to year deceived with hopes of getting better, finally forced to face the prospect of a lasting infirmity.” Extremely depressed with his situation, Beethoven contemplated suicide, but writing music was what kept him alive.

The Memory of a Great Man
“It seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt was within me,” he wrote. While writing the Testament, Beethoven also began writing his Third Symphony. He did most of his writing on this symphony in 1803. He was a great fan of Napoleon and wrote the symphony with him in mind. Beethoven even originally titled the symphony after him with the name “Bonaparte.” Having admired the ideals of the French Revolution, “Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity,” Beethoven was dismayed that Napoleon declared himself emperor in 1804, and angrily ripped the title page of his Third Symphony. He then retitled the work Eroica, with the idea of the piece celebrating the memory of a great man.

A New Style
Eroica premiered in August 1804, in a private home. The first public performance was in 1805. At this time audiences were not accustomed to this new style of writing. The piece was incredibly long and complex for its time, and many audiences complained. Luckily, the performing musicians liked the new challenges that the piece presented them with, and many interested orchestras began programming the piece. Today it is a standard piece of repertoire for every major orchestra that many musicians look forward to playing and audiences to hearing. I am very excited to perform this piece for the first time and I hope you enjoy the piece as much as I do!

Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4

Notes by TŌN horn player Steven Harmon

Abounding Oeuvre
The composition of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto in late 1805 lies between a string of some of his most extraordinary works. This concerto was written off the back of the Eroica Symphony, three piano sonatas, and the Triple Concerto. By 1808, Beethoven finished his Violin Concerto, the Razumovsky string quartets, and his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies. This is also the period where his deafness began to seriously impact his performance career, his solo on the Fourth Piano Concerto in the famous 1808 concert at the Theater an der Wien being his last public solo performance. An impressive event to go out on, though. In addition to this concerto, the all-Beethoven, four-hour marathon included the premieres of his Symphonies 5 and 6, as well as of the Choral Fantasy, the Vienna premieres of three movements from the C-major Mass and the concert scena “Ah, Perfido!”, and a solo keyboard improvisation by the composer.

Novelty in Adversity
Beethoven’s growing deafness didn’t stop his creativity, however. The Fourth Piano Concerto employs multiple innovations which, in true Beethovean manner, would pave the way for the later composers of the 19th century and beyond. The opening of the piece, for example, might not be striking at all to a listener today. But a concerto opened by the soloist alone, playing a relatively soft, simple tune, would have never before been heard by a Viennese audience. This opening would have baffled the crowd at the time, leaving them wondering if this was the right piece, the right movement, or maybe even a musical joke. Before this piece, a concerto might have been defined by an extended orchestral opening section which laid out all the material and the main keys of the work to follow. Not to Beethoven, though—and he was just beginning to throw curve balls. A few bars later, when the strings pick up the melody, it’s in a completely unexpected key, a third higher. This novel, yet pleasant shift, would go on to define the sounds of Schumann, Brahms, and Mendelssohn in the century to come.

Subversive Compositional Decisions
The middle movement contains more subversive compositional decisions, the first of which being to only involve the strings in the dialogue. Musicologist Owen Jander proposed that Beethoven wrote this movement inspired by the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, depicting the exalted Greek musician Orpheus pleading with the Furies to allow him to pass to the netherworld, then ascending almost to the surface of the upper world before Orpheus sneaks one gaze back at Eurydice, sealing her fate in the underworld. This short movement transitions to a much more uplifting one, where Beethoven’s tricks are more surprising harmonic and thematic changes. Using just a few motifs, he weaves an elaborate exhibition of piano virtuosity.

Beethoven’s The Consecration of the House Overture

Notes by TŌN violinist Tianpei Ai

Energy and Passion
The Consecration of the House Overture is rarely performed these days. The piece was commissioned by Carl Friedrich Hensler, who was the director of a new theatre in Vienna in 1824. The Overture is very heroic even though it was composed during Beethoven’s final years. It was premiered on May 7, 1824, and at that time Beethoven had already been completely deaf for many years. It is absolutely remarkable that he could still compose such a masterpiece. This overture basically contains no sentimental emotions. From the very first note to the end it is full of energy and passion, but in a very classical style which contains an A section (slow tempo) and a B section (fast tempo).

Liberal Politics, Conservative Composition
I want to highlight the classical style of this piece rather than its historical background because every audience member can use their smartphone to discover the story of this piece. Beethoven supported Napoleon Bonaparte, but when Napoleon became the French Emperor, Beethoven was very disappointed in him because he reestablished the monarchy in France. According to his political views, one could identify Beethoven as an extreme liberal during that time. However, throughout his life, he basically maintained his composing style as a Classical composer. In the 1820s, Romanticism in the composing world had already been very popular in European countries. Composers such as Paganini, Schubert, Rossini, and Bellini, to name a few, were already very famous. But despite their Romantic style of composing, Beethoven still kept his “old fashion.” He can be considered a conservative in his composing style because Romanticism in composing seeks a very liberal way to release the emotions instead of following the rules of the Classical era. From this fascinating fact, we can see that to identify people by labeling them as liberal or conservative sometimes is not very scientific and logical. Human nature is complicated. As a composer, Beethoven is among the greatest without any doubt.