BEETHOVEN 6 & 7

Thursday, March 23, 2017                        8:00 PM       Sugar Land Baptist Church
Friday, March 24, 2017                             8:00 PM       Jones Hall
Saturday, March 25, 2017                         8:00 PM       Jones Hall
Sunday, March 26, 2017                           2:30 PM       Jones Hall

Program

Beethoven:

 

Symphony No. 6 in F major, Opus 68 (Pastoral)        

I. Awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the country:  Allegro non troppo

II. Scene by the brook:  Andante molto mosso

III. Merry assembly of country folk:  Allegro—

IV. Thunderstorm:  Allegro—

V. Shepherd’s song; Happy, grateful feelings after the storm:  Allegretto

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                   INTERMISSION

 

Beethoven:

 

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Opus 92   

I. Poco sostenuto—Vivace

II. Allegretto

III. Presto—Assai meno presto—Presto

IV. Allegro con brio

[36]

 

Program Notes

 

Symphony No. 6 in F major, Opus 68 (Pastoral)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Beethoven loved the outdoors. Each summer, he rented lodging in one of the towns outside Vienna, and long walks in the countryside rejuvenated him. Before one holiday, he told a friend, “How delighted I shall be to ramble for a while through bushes, woods, under trees, through grass and around rocks. No one can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees and rocks produce the echo which man desires to hear.” To another friend, “It is as if every tree in the countryside spoke to me, saying ‘Holy! Holy!’ In the forest, enchantment! Who can express it all?”

Beethoven, that’s who. His Symphony No. 6 carries a subtitle: “Pastoral Symphony or Memories of Country Life—More the Expression of Feeling Than Tone-Painting.” To help listeners get on his wavelength, Beethoven gave each movement a title.

The awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the countryside. The strings play an airy, easygoing phrase, then linger on its last chord. Those four measures supply most of the fabric for the first movement—a flow of lilting, harmonious music that never falls prey to shadows or turbulence. More themes come into play, but they fit in so smoothly they seem to belong to the same blossoming of sound.

Scene by a brook. The strings’ rippling phrases evoke flowing waters, and the motion continues almost unbroken through the movement; a serene, spacious melody floats above. Near the end, Beethoven brings birds into the scene, labeling them in the score: The flute portrays the nightingale; the oboe plays the quail; and the clarinet is the cuckoo.

Merry gathering of the country folk. The strings launch into a breezy, swinging dance, and the rest of the orchestra soon joins in. The oboe takes off on a buoyant melody. Then the orchestra digs into a tune that’s as vigorous and sturdy as a lusty dance of peasants. 

Thunderstorm. A rumble from the cello and basses interrupts the celebration, and the orchestra unleashes a tempest. The kettledrums and trombones, playing for their first time in the symphony, help detonate the thunder. The violins’ quick upward flashes depict lightning. As the storm fades, the winds play a hymn-like phrase that Beethoven labeled on a manuscript: “Lord, we thank thee.”

Shepherd’s song. Happy and thankful feelings after the storm. The violins sing out a peaceful, harmonious tune, and its warmth suffuses the finale. Each time the melody reappears, the orchestra brings it new grace and richness. After reaching a peak of fervor, the music subsides into a final cadence that could almost be an “Amen.”

The Instruments: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani and strings

The printed music for this work was donated by Fiddle & Bow Music Company.

 

Symphony No. 7 in A major, Opus 92

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Unlike Beethoven’s Pastoral, his Seventh has no extra-musical inspiration. But the rhythmic life that animates every movement has sent other musicians on flights of imagination, yielding their own ideas to fill the gap. Richard Wagner wrote that the Seventh embodies “the blissful insolence of joy, which snatches us away with bacchanalian delight and bears us through the roomy space of nature, through all the streams and seas of life, shouting in glad self-consciousness. … This symphony is the apotheosis of dance itself.”

In the Seventh, the orchestra sometimes does virtually nothing except pound out rhythm. That’s especially powerful amid the sweep of the finale—where, Wagner wrote, “the purely rhythmical movement … celebrates its orgies.”

Hearing the symphony stir to life is a treat. The first chord’s richness hints that a powerful work is in store, and the oboe begins a spacious, simple melody. The strings sneak into action, playing scales that move crisply upward. The oboe launches into another tune, and this one has a bit of a lilt. The orchestra builds all these ingredients to a ringing fortissimo, then the music tapers off to simple rhythms tapped out by violins and winds in turn. The tapping accelerates, and the orchestra is off and running—or dancing, as Wagner would say.

The flute introduces the buoyant, snappy main tune, and the rest of the orchestra soon takes it over with gusto. From there on, the music is all about vitality. The pace never pulls back for lyrical interludes. Beethoven throws a few other short themes into the mix, but they enhance the drive and snappiness. When the orchestra grows quiet, that just sets up its next burst of exuberance.

The Allegretto’s minor key and muted tone change the mood. The first chords establish a simple rhythm that will pulsate gently but insistently through virtually the entire movement. The violas and cello sing out a plaintive melody above it; the winds bring a warmer theme when the music turns to a major key. The lyricism and the obsessive rhythm make a haunting combination.

Brightness and speed return in the third movement, where Beethoven plays off the staccato main theme against a smooth, lilting tune spotlighting the winds. Then the orchestra fires off the finale’s opening: four notes in a lusty rhythm, then four more repeating it. The strings sprint into a theme full of swirling motion, an exuberant march adds to the jubilation, and the symphony bounds to its finish.

The Houston Symphony caps off its Beethoven cycle next weekend with his operatic hymn to heroism, Fidelio.

The Instruments: 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani and strings —Steven Brown

The printed music for this work was donated by Mr. and Mrs. Paul H. Asofsky.

 

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