Artists

Conductor

19 Nov '20

Concert
19 Nov '20

Philippe Herreweghe

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Beethoven's public concert at the Theater an der Wien on 5 April 1803 included (among others!) three new works by the great composer from Bonn: the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives, the Piano concerto No. 3 and the Symphony No. 2. While the press didn't say a word about the latter following the first performance, there were unrestrained criticisms two years later, after the work was published in Leipzig: "This is a gross monster, a pierced dragon which will not die, and even in losing its blood (in the finale), wrote a certain Spazier.
A "monster", really? This much-denigrated work shows no signs of the deep inner crisis that Beethoven went through in 1802, the year of the ill-fated "Heiligenstadt Testament". Driven to despair by his relentlessly increasing deafness, the musician wrote a letter to his brothers, which he never sent in the end: "(...) I was on the verge of ending my life - it was only my art that held me back. Ah, it seemed for me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me (...)." Beethoven gave a foretaste of this creative power in his Symphony in D Major, which was mainly written during that year 1802. "I am now ready to embark on a new path," he then told his pupil Carl Czerny. Innovations are numerous and significant in this crucial work, which is characterised in particular by a powerful slow introduction, a decidedly vocal slow movement and a sweeping finale.
Ludwig van Beethoven worked four years on his 5th Symphony, during a period stretching from 1804 to 1808 - a clear sign of the high standards he set for his first symphony in a minor key. Several notable events – of both political and private nature – occurred during this lapse of time: the threat of a defeat against Napoleon, Beethoven's acknowledgement of his irreversible deafness, but also a new artistic level reached after he has accomplished the "Eroica". What concept did Beethoven pursue in the new symphony? It is a known fact that the famous opening notes of the Fifth stand for fate "knocking at the door". The musical process they set in motion is, however, decisive. Beethoven did not merely write a symphony that begins in a minor key and ends in major. He staged this development as a logical, not to say necessary process. Fate is overcome in four stages: the C major key, for example, seems to have already been reached at the end of the first movement, before a sombre coda annihilates this result. In the second movement, the overall lyrical impression is noticeably disrupted by signals of a march - foreshadowing the final triumph. Even the Scherzo (not designated as such) lives entirely from musical conflicts. Here, in the last bars, the definitive shift to the redemptive C major finally takes place. The final movement is pure jubilation, its global ethos expressed through additional instruments such as the piccolo, trombones and the contrabassoon. "I will seize fate by the throat" said Beethoven – and it happens here, musically speaking.

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Good to know

Philippe Herreweghe founded the Collegium Vocale Gent in 1970 when he was only 23 years old. At that time, the young Belgian was still hesitating between medicine and music, until Gustav Leonhardt invited him to participate in the complete recording of the Bach cantatas. Herreweghe subsequently himself became a pioneer of historical performance practice, making stylistic diversity his trademark. In addition to masterpieces of the Baroque repertoire, he also devotes himself to the music of the Renaissance and to classical and romantic works. Depending on his needs, he calls upon specialised ensembles such as the Chapelle Royale, the Ensemble Vocal Européen or the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées, all of which he founded himself. Herreweghe is the recipient of numerous musical prizes and has also been awarded social distinctions, such as the titles of Cultural Ambassador of Flanders and Knight of the French Legion of Honour. For the launch of his own CD label PHI in 2010, he demonstratively chose a non-Baroque work: Gustav Mahler's 4th Symphony.

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