LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
b. Bonn, Germany / baptized December 17, 1770
d. Vienna, Austria / March 26, 1827
Septet for Winds & Strings in E-Flat Major, Op. 20
If you were to assess Ludwig van Beethoven’s character based solely on one of his most popular works, you could be assume he was a cheerful and optimistic man whose music conveyed the charm and elegance of Mozart. Where is the defiant radical, the messy-haired musical curmudgeon shaking a defiant fist at the gods of fate? Where is the caricature of the noisy neighbour of Beethoven Lives Upstairs fame? At the turn of the 19th century Beethoven was already breaking new musical ground. However, it is this Septet for Winds and Strings in E Flat Major, a diversion written to please, impress and entertain Viennese society, that became his most popular work during his lifetime.
Beethoven was just shy of his 30th birthday when the Septet was first performed on April 2, 1800, at the Royal Imperial Court Theatre in Vienna. It was dedicated to the Empress Maria Theresa, the second wife of Francis II, Holy Roman Emperor. Italian by birth, she enjoyed courtly life in Vienna, particularly waltzing and dancing. So, what better way for Beethoven to impress the elite members of Viennese society than to produce an easy on the ears serenade that echoed his classical predecessors. The concert, staged to raise money and introduce new works by Beethoven, also featured his Symphony No. 1, a piano concerto, an improvisation by the composer and music by Haydn and Mozart.
The Septet caught the attention of the musical public. Soon there were arrangements of it for all manner of instruments, from piano solo to a full-scale Harmonie (wind ensemble) version. Beethoven himself saw no reason to miss out catering to the hunger of amateur musicians. He scaled down his original setting to be performed by clarinet (or violin), cello, and piano. Beethoven endured demands for more music in the same style, with increasing frustration. Fifteen years after its premiere, people still clamoured for the Septet, leading Beethoven to declare, “That damn work, I wish it could be burned.”
But what’s not to like. The combination of clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, and double bass provides a rich sound pallete. The violinist at the premiere was the virtuoso Ignaz Schuppanzigh, so there are plenty of passages with a concerto-like flair. The clarinetist, too, has a starring role opposite the violin. The inclusion of a double bass frees up both the bassoon and the cello to soar to their higher registers. As a musical calling card Beethoven hit the jackpot, much to his chagrin. But the public continues to be all the happier for it.
Program Notes by Matthew Baird.
Emilie Grimes, Acting Associate Principal
Henry Shapard, Principal - Nezhat and Hassan Khosrowshahi Chair
Evan Hulbert, Associate Principal
Jeanette Jonquil, Principal - Taryn Brodie Chair
Julia Lockhart, Principal
Oliver de Clercq, Acting Principal
b. Hämeenlinna, Finland / December 8, 1865
d. Ainola, Finland / September 20, 1957
Suite for Violin and String Orchestra, Op. 117
From an early age, Jean Sibelius fancied himself a great violinist. On his 10th birthday he received his first violin as a gift from his uncle. He was enthusiastic, but largely self-taught, and didn’t have a formal lesson before he was 15. By the age of 25, he was still determined to play with the Vienna Philharmonic. However, his audition elicited a cutting response: “Mr. Sibelius, please go and compose.”
“My tragedy,” said Sibelius, “was that I wanted to be a celebrated violinist at any price. Since the age of 15 I played my violin practically from morning to night. I hated pen and ink — unfortunately I preferred an elegant violin bow. My love for the violin lasted quite long and it was a very painful awakening when I had to admit that I had begun my training for the exacting career of a virtuoso too late.“
Sibelius never lost his appreciation for the instrument and produced several scores for violin and orchestra, including his magnificent Violin Concerto, a pair of Serenades, two shorter pieces, and a series of Humoresques. It was in 1929 that Sibelius completed the three movement Suite for Violin and String Orchestra. He assigned the opus number of 117 to the manuscript, and sent it off to the publisher, Carl Fischer, in New York City. Fischer apparently responded with a polite note. “We must inform you that in view of the extremely unfortunate constellation in the music publishing field in the United States, it seems to us inadvisable at the present time to publish compositions of the high standard which you have submitted to us. The market is very unfavourable for this class of music and we are compelled to return them to you with our regrets.”
The reason for the publisher’s reluctance may have been purely financial – remember the great stock market crash occurred in October of that year – but Sibelius was understandably rattled by the refusal. He is said to have had a nervous disposition to begin with. He was prone to bouts of depression, was frequently in debt, and suffered from chronic alcoholism. With his confidence rattled, the overly self-critical composer marked the score with the words “Sketch. Not to be Published,” and set it aside. Years later, Sibelius filled a laundry basket with his manuscripts, carried them into the kitchen of his country home and fed them, page by page, into the stove. Fortunately, the Suite was spared that fiery fate. It re-emerged in the 1980s, was premiered by soloist John Storgårds on the 125th anniversary of the composer’s birth, and finally published in 1995. The movement titles are indicative of the pastoral and charming nature of this Suite.
Program Notes by Matthew Baird.
VIOLIN SOLOIST & LEADER
Nicholas Wright, Concertmaster - Ron and Ardelle Cliff Chair
Timothy Steeves, Associate Concertmaster - William and Irene McEwen Chair
David Lakirovich, Assistant Concertmaster - Robert G. and Suzanne Brodie Chair
Xue Feng Wei
Karen Gerbrecht, Acting Principal
Jeanette Bernal-Singh, Acting Associate Principal - Jim and Edith le Nobel Chair
Ashley Plaut, Acting Assistant Principal
Adrian Shu-On Chui
Andrew Brown, Acting Principal
Jacob van der Sloot
Isabelle Roland *
Janet Steinberg, Associate Principal
Zoltan Rozsnyai, Assistant Principal
Olivia Blander - Gerhard and Ariane Bruendl Chair
Natasha Boyko - Mary and Gordon Christopher Chair
Dylan Palmer, Principal
* Extra musician