Masterworks 2Ludwig van Beethoven 1770-1827

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21

Ludwig van Beethoven settled in Vienna in 1792, hoping to take the city by storm; but it took him several years to establish his credentials in this musically sophisticated city whose musical idol was the ageing Franz Josef Haydn. By the time Beethoven premiered the First Symphony on April 2 1800 at the Burgtheater his reputation was secure: he was well known as a pianist and in great demand as a soloist; his chamber and piano compositions had begun to attract serious attention and he had acquired numerous sponsors among the aristocracy and the well-to-do. He dedicated the First Symphony to one of them, the Baron van Swieten, a supporter and friend of Mozart, who had established a large library of music and promoted the music of Bach and Handel to Viennese audiences. The period of the First Symphony is also that of the Op. 18 String Quartets, and both represented important milestones for him as he sought to assimilate and surpass the achievements of Haydn in these two genres.

The concert was a benefit for Beethoven in which he was featured both as performer and composer. The hefty program – by no means unusual for the time – included a Mozart symphony, two movements from Haydn’s Creation, an improvisation on the piano by Beethoven, the Septet, Op. 20, the Symphony No. 1 and probably the Piano Concerto in C major.

Yet, despite Beethoven’s growing reputation, the critics' initial reception of the symphony was lukewarm at best, "...a caricature of Haydn pushed to absurdity." That absurdity was already apparent in the opening chords that trick the listener as to the true key of the piece, Example 1 which is definitively established in the Allegro. Example 2 The third movement, although labeled "Minuet," dashes forward almost at a gallop with oddly placed forte outbursts, the first of Beethoven's symphonic innovations, the scherzo. Example 3 If there’s a minuet at all in this work, it’s the lilting second movement, unusual also in that it begins as a fugue, in the strings, adding the other sections of the orchestra with each statement of the fugue subject. Example 4

The humor of the stammering scale, plus another bit of tonal ambiguity in the introduction to the final movement, also went unappreciated. The Finale begins with a slow opening of a repeated partial scale in the violins, reaching one note higher with each repetition, until it suddenly bursts forth into a dance-like theme. Example 5 It is an opening worthy of Haydn at his most humorous. Like the Finale, the Minuet theme is also based on a rising scale motive.

In a short time, however, the Symphony became a great favorite, "...a glorious production, showing extraordinary wealth of lovely ideas...". A measure of its popularity was the appearance only two years later of an anonymous pirated arrangement for piano quintet that elicited a nasty letter from Beethoven to the of October 30, 1802, disclaiming authorship and complaining of publishers' actions and the insecurity of a composer's rights. Copyright laws were still in the distant future, but two of Beethoven’s younger contemporaries, the enterprising composers Carl Maria von Weber and Johann Nepomuk Hummel, made significant contributions to copyrights for composers.

Eino Tamberg 1930-2010

Eino Tamberg (1930-2010)
Trumpet Concerto No. 1, Op. 42

Composer Eino Tamberg lived his entire life in Estonia’s capital, Tallinn. After a few years as sound engineer at the Estonian Radio, he became a composition lecturer at the Tallinn Conservatory. He composed in all genres, including four symphonies, seven concertos and two operas. In 1995, for the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations, he composed the Celebration Fanfares Op. 94 for the occasion.

In his early works Tamberg embraced the anti-romantic style popular in the 1960s, but later he became a neoromantic, maintaining that music must have an element of beauty about it: “…even in our own time – with all the dissonances and conflict in the world, as in art – there has to be something that is beautiful.”

The Trumpet Concerto, composed in 1972, has become his most popular work by far. It adapts traditional classical forms for an exciting blend of jazzy syncopated rhythms and memorable melodic motives.

The Concerto opens with a slow introduction for the soloist, its first interval (a major seventh) serving as one of the principal motives of the movement. Example 1 The Allegro introduces a little toggle figure on a minor second, the inverse of the introductory motive. This motive recurs repeatedly, along with a technically difficult stuttering motive for the trumpet as underpinnings of the movement. Example 2 Tamberg also incorporates the motive from the introduction into the movement. Example 3 He employs classic sonata-allegro form with its obligatory contrasting second theme – accompanied by the toggle motive in the orchestra. Example 4

Like the first movement, the slow second movement is dominated by a couple of short motives, beginning with a staccato figure that serves primarily as an accompaniment. Example 5 The trumpet melody includes a variant of the second theme from the first movement. Example 6 And the faster middle section, a long gradual crescendo, is based on another toggling figure. Example 7

The finale combines a much greater role for the orchestra than the other movements, with fiery staccato pyrotechnics for the trumpet. Fugues are a standard feature of rondo finales, but they generally show up in an episode near the end. But this movement, a combination of a rondo and sonata form, opens with an orchestral fugue heavy with percussion, which is also the rondo refrain (or first theme if you are thinking sonata form). Example 8 This nervous theme alternates with solo melodies in the episodes (or as typically contrasting second theme). Example 9

Some of the elements that unify the Concerto are Tamberg’s toggle figures, especially in the finale, and the unusually quiet endings of all three movements, rather than the expected rousing conclusions.

Samuel Barber 1910-1981

Samuel Barber (1910-1981)
Adagio for Strings

For all the hoopla over Public Radio – whose affiliates are quickly converting their classical music programming to all-news-all-the-time – gone are the days when a commercial AM radio station had its own resident symphony orchestra, much less with the world’s foremost maestro to conduct a weekly broadcast. But in 1937, NBC inaugurated its live orchestral series under the baton of Arturo Toscanini. Musically conservative in taste, Toscanini, nevertheless, was eager to include suitably lyrical works by American composers on the series. Samuel Barber submittedfor the maestro’s consideration both the First Essay for Orchestra and the Adagio for Strings, an orchestral transcription of the Adagio from his String Quartet in b minor.

Not always a paragon of tact, Toscanini sent back both scores without comment, infuriating the composer. Barber profoundly revered the conductor and had endeavored to compose something worthy of him only to receive a snub. In actuality, Toscanini, whose poor eyesight made it impossible to read a score from the podium, had kept the scores just long enough to commit them to memory and intended, as he told the composer’s friend Gian Carlo Menotti, to perform both works on the air. He premiered both on November 5, 1938.

The neo-romantic Adagio was an instant success and has remained Barber’s most popular work by far. Its emotional power lies in the imperceptible gradual buildup of tension by the repetition and elaboration of the stepwise theme in different registers and instrument combinations. Example 1 At the powerful climax there is a short pause after which the theme is restated in its original form and then winds down peacefully.

Franz Schubert 1797-1828

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 4 in C minor, D. 417, “Tragic

Of all the great classical Viennese composers, Franz Schubert was the only one to have actually been born in Vienna. Yet the city was less accepting of the music of its native son than the music of the outsiders who settled there. In the half century after his death, Schubert’s reputation rested almost exclusively on his wonderful Lieder while the rest of his music was mostly neglected. None of his orchestral music was published during his lifetime, and the first six symphonies had to wait until 1884-85 in the Gesamtausgabe, the first complete edition of his works.

Schubert gave the Symphony No. 4 the subtitle “Tragic” as an afterthought. At the time of its composition in 1816, he was a full-time teacher at his father's school. He hated the job, a factor that may explain the mood of the Symphony. At the time, he was also taking composition lessons twice weekly with Antonio Salieri, who had also taught Beethoven upon his arrival in Vienna. Schubert was also attending numerous concerts and operas, doing some private teaching, and socializing with his friends. There is very little biographical material available for this period in the composer’s life that might cast light on the genesis of this Symphony. After all, he had no backstage father like Leopold Mozart to promote him all over Europe.

Despite his youth, Schubert was an extremely fluent composer, capable of turning out Lieder in a steady flow. He had composed music for his family’s string quartet, as well as some church music, but his two earliest ambitions were to compose symphonies and opera. Although at the time of composition of his Symphony No. 4 Schubert was clearly familiar with Beethoven’s first eight symphonies, his own early symphonies show little influence of the intimidating master. Rather, their language harks back to Mozart and Haydn, especially the latter. While Beethoven’s symphonies – especially from No. 3 on – were the fruit of a mature composer, Schubert’s first five were youthful, student attempts. Even his Symphony No. 9 “The Great” in C major, was written when he was only 28.

Since Schubert and Beethoven died a year apart, they are usually regarded as contemporaries. But by a nasty combination of bad luck and bad habits, Schubert died before he could completely mature as a composer, while Beethoven lived to a reasonable – if uncomfortable – age for his time. Except for the compositions of his final years, the C major Symphony, the final string quartets, the C major String Quintet, Die Winterreise and the last piano sonatas, we have been denied the fruits of Schubert’s maturity and can only guess what he might have become had he, too, lived into his 50s.

Symphony No.4 falls into the unusual class of symphonies in minor keys, which, for the time, were quite rare and often suggested a “program” – or at least a tragic affect of some sort. There was no precedent for writing a symphony with four minor movements, Mozart’s 40th being one of the rare examples with three, but Schubert was not far behind with his heavy first and final movements and the anguished middle section of the second movement Andante.

The Symphony opens with a lugubrious introduction, Example 1 which in the hands of Haydn might have been used to set the listener up for a rousing, jolly allegro. But Schubert meant it, as witnessed by the nervous, almost angry opening theme. Example 2 Of course, during this period, symphonies in minor keys had to have second theme group in the relative major, but Schubert seems only to pay lip service to this convention, maintaining the nervous drive throughout the movement. Example 3 & Example 4

The second movement, an expansion of the conventional ABA song form, repeats both A and B sections with new and more poignant harmonies, plus a coda. It opens with a gentle cantabile that almost washes away the tension from the opening movement. Example 5 Then Schubert hits us with the B section, a reminder that all is not entirely serene. Example 6 of particular interest in this movement are the sighing motives Schubert uses throughout, sometimes a descending major second, at others a more plangent minor second.

Schubert called his third movement "Menuetto;" it falls more into the style of Haydn with his heavy peasant dances than Mozart's more elegant court dances, but it also suggests the new scherzo that Beethoven had substituted for the dance. Example 7 Note also the slight ambiguity about where the downbeat is because of the heavy stress on the final beats of the measures. The Trio is clearly also rustic. Example 8

The Finale returns to the anxiety of the Symphony's opening movement. Written in sonata form, instead of the conventional rondo, it opens with another nervous theme. Example 9 As in the earlier movement, compelled to end in a major key, Schubert retains the tense mood by lacing his secondary themes with dark harmonies and the major/minor ambiguity that characterizes so much of his more emotional writing. Example 10

Program notes copyright by:
Joseph & Elizabeth Kahn