BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 5 / SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 (Martin Sauer/ Michael Halasz/ Richard Edlinger/ Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra/ Teije van Geest/ Zagreb Philharmonic Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.550289)
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Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) Symphony No.5 in C Minor, Op. 67
Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, grandson of the Kapellmeister of the musical establishment of the Prince-Archbishop of Cologne and son of a singer in the chapel. His father, Johann van Beethoven, was of little help to him, and denied him a sound general education, while attempting to exploit the child's still undeveloped musical gifts. Beethoven was to suffer for the rest of his life from his lack of education and a consequent inability to express himself at all clearly.
By good fortune he found an able teacher in Christian Gottlob Neefe, court organist and musical director of a theatrical company. Training was thorough, with a study of J. S. Bach's famous 48 Preludes and Fugues and the duty of deputising for Neefe both as organist and as conductor of the theatre orchestra. Beethoven's position was officially recognised when, at the age of fourteen, he was appointed assistant court organist.
In his final years in Bonn Beethoven profited from experience as a viola-player in the opera orchestra, playing the works of composers such as Mozart, Cimarosa and Gluck. It was in Bonn that, in 1792, he met Haydn, returning from a visit to London, where he had conducted the first set of his London Symphonies.
Whether at Haydn's invitation or of his own volition Beethoven travelled to Vienna at the end of the year, and was to remain there for the rest of his life. He took some lessons from Haydn, to whom he dedicated his first piano sonatas, but found in the court organist Albrechtsberger a more satisfactory and systematic teacher, particularly of counterpoint, the art of putting melody against melody. From the Court Kapellmeister Salieri, to whom he dedicated his first violin sonatas, Beethoven learned the techniques necessary to the setting of Italian words.
Mozart in Vienna had struggled to earn an adequate living without direct patronage, and without a remunerative position at court, although the success in Prague of Don Giovanni had brought him the official position of Kammermusikus, chamber musician, with the responsibility for writing minuets for court balls and entertainments.
In the 1790s there had already been changes, as the French Revolution took its course, disturbing the stability of society, as the more privileged classes became alarmed, and the radicals more optimistic. Beethoven sought to exist in Vienna by his own exertions, in independence of a patron. He was soon respected as a remarkable pianist, performing, as was the custom, mainly in the houses of the aristocracy, but offering a certain number of public concerts in the year. As a teacher he had distinguished pupils, and was able to gain some support from his compositions, although much of his later correspondence seems to be concerned with the difficulties of this, in an age when copyright agreements were unknown.
The event that was to alter Beethoven's life dramatically was his deafness, which, becoming evident as early as 1798, was to make public performance impossible, and to drive the composer into an enforced solitude.
A remarkable document, the so-called Heiligenstadt Testament, a message written to his brothers Kaspar and Johann, allows us to see the despair that deafness brought him. The letter is in the form of a final will and testament, to be read after his death. Written in the countryside outside Vienna, at the village of Heilgenstadt, it was the prelude to an act of will by which he surmounted his fate. The death that he seemed to welcome was to occur only 25 years later, after a life in which new heights in music had been scaled and a new word opened to his successors.
Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, the first heralding the new century, in 1800, and the last completed in 1824. Although he made few changes to the composition of the orchestra itself, adding, when occasion demanded, one or two instruments more normally found in the opera-house, he expanded vastly the traditional form, developed in the time of Haydn and Mozart, reflecting the personal and political struggles of a period of immense change and turbulence.
To his contemporaries he seemed an inimitable original, but to a number of his successors he seemed to have expanded the symphony to an intimidating extent.
Beethoven's Symphony in C Minor, Opus 67, is a work that has enjoyed enormous popularity, not least for its patriotic associations that accord well with the period of its composition and have proved to suit the sensibilities of later generations. For some the work has become known as Fate, as the result of an alleged remark of the composer, reported by the unreliable Schindler, on the opening of the first movement - Thus Fate knocks at the door. It has been left for others to point out that there is plenty of evidence for similar knocking at doors in other compositions by Beethoven, the initial rhythmic figure being one that he found to his purpose on other occasions.
Beethoven composed music relatively slowly and carefully, and the early sketches for the C Minor Symphony are found in notebooks of 1804, the period of the Eroica Symphony. The work was completed in 1808 and dedicated to Count Razumovsky, Prince Lichnowsky's brother-in-law, the Tsar's representative in Vienna and a patron of great munificence, while his money lasted, and to Prince Lobkowitz. It received its first performance at a concert on 22nd December, 1808. The taxing programme, that resulted in near disaster in the final Choral Fantasia, included the Pastoral Symphony and the Fourth Piano Concerto, as well as a number of items for soloists and chorus.
It seems that the Fifth Symphony
was at first intended, like the Fourth, for Count Franz von Oppersdorff, from whom the composer certainly received some payment. By September of the year of its completion, however, Beethoven had sold it to the publishers Breitkopf and Haertel. In orchestration the Fifth Symphony shows innovations in its inclusion of the piccolo, the double bassoon and three trombones in the final movement.
Franz Schubert (1797 -1828)
Symphony No.8 in B Minor "Unfinished" D. 759
Vienna has always claimed Franz Schubert as its own. Of his immediate predecessors, Haydn came the village of Rohrau, Mozart came to the city from provincial Salzburg, while Beethoven travelled there from his native Bonn.
Schubert was born in Vienna and spent most of his life there. His family, however, were from another pan of the Habsburg empire. Schubert's father, Franz Theodor, was from Moravia and his mother from Silesia. The former had joined his eider brother as a schoolmaster in the capital, while the latter's father had been driven there after financial troubles at home.
Franz Schubert, born in 1797, was the fourth surviving child of 14 born to his mother. His musical abilities were fostered as a chorister in the Imperial Chapel, a position that brought with it the chance of a decent education at the Staatskonvikt and also an association with the old Court Kapellmeister Antonio Salieri, whose influence on him was considerable. In 1812 his voice broke, but this need not have ended his schooling. Faced, however, with a choice between music and academic study he chose to leave, and in 1814 entered a school for the training of teachers. His father's school was, after all, the customary family business,