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Beethoven 7 and Strauss
Philharmonic | Masterworks
Program

Stanford Irish Rhapsody No. 1


R. Strauss Oboe Concerto (movements played without pause)

Beethoven Symphony No. 7


Eileen Whalen, oboe

Erma R. and Hampden W. Catterton Endowed Artist


Neal Gittleman, conductor

Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra

 

Additional Support Provided by

Alan Kimbrough

About the Concert

As a postlude to St. Patrick’s Day, Stanford’s delightful Irish-inspired music weaves its emerald magic around the traditional “Londonderry Air” (a.k.a. “Danny Boy”). Strauss composed his virtuosic Concerto at the end of World War II for the acclaimed John de Lancie—a young U.S. Army corporal and principal oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra in civilian life. Then, you may feel like dancing in the aisles when you hear Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, fairly whirling with rhythmic drive, vibrant energy, and uninhibited exuberance Wagner called it “the apotheosis of the dance itself.” Beethoven’s contemporaries wondered: Was he drunk? Has he gone mad? Musicologist Ernest Newman summed it up simply as “a divine intoxication of the spirit.”

Artistic Director and Conductor
Neal Gittleman
Neal's Notes

More than Just a Hollywood Saint Bernard         

            I’ll confess to having been a bit surprised at how many people have come up to me since New Year’s saying, “I’m SO excited about Beethoven’s Seventh!”  Of course, I was happy to hear that, and if I stopped to think about it, I shouldn’t have been surprised at all. Beethoven’s Ninth tops the 2021 DiscoverClassical “Top 100”. The Fifth charts at #2. But Seven is right there at #5 (up from #8 in the 2020). So maybe Symphony No. 7 is a bit less popular than Nine and Five, but its fans are more passionate in their enthusiasm?

            Whatever the explanation, I expect that once the DPO performs it on our March Masterworks Series program, “B-Seven” may well move up the chart when DiscoverClassical counts down 2022’s favorites next December!

            So what is it about Beethoven that makes him so popular?

The Music

            D’oh!

            Or should I say d’oh-d’oh-d’oh-D’OH?

            For many people, the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony were the very first classical-music sounds that caught their imagination. That’s how it was for me. My first hearing of the opening movement of the Fifth wasn’t in a concert hall. It wasn’t a recording. It was a Saturday-morning cartoon. (If our “The Arts Are For Everyone” $5 introductory ticket program is working as well we think it is, bringing in lots of new audience members, including younger listeners, then some of you reading this have no idea what I mean when I say “Saturday-morning cartoon”. So please allow me to old-man-splain you! A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away—before Pixar, before YouTube, before the Cartoon Network—if you wanted to watch cartoons you had to get up early on Saturday morning. That’s when nearly every television station in the U.S. broadcast cartoons to kids—and kids-at-heart—nationwide. Here endeth the history lesson and the old-man-splaining!)  Anyway, there I was, little kid in Brooklyn, early on a Saturday morning, parents still asleep. And on comes this absolutely terrifying cartoon…  All I remember of the images were that they were dark and scary, and there was this giant smoke-belching factory that materialized out of the ground, Game-of-Thrones-opening-credits-style. That’s another way of saying that I barely remember the images. But the music? That I remembered! It was the entire (I think) first movement of the Fifth Symphony. And if we’d had ways to replay video back then, I’d have watched that thing over and over and over. Because the music mesmerized me.

            That’s the effect that Beethoven’s music can have on people.

            How come? I suspect it’s the rhythm that pulls us in first. After all, it’s hard to deny the powerful rhythmic impulse of many Beethoven pieces.

            But once the rhythms get you hooked, I think it’s the melodies that keep you hooked. A lot of program- and liner-notes writers dis Beethoven, saying stuff like “Beethoven’s music lacks long, lyrical melodies like those of Mozart, Schubert, and later composers.”  Balderdash! Consider the slow movements of his symphonies:

            One: nice melody, but overlooked because it’s not very slow?

            Two: variations on a glorious long melody

            Three: variations on a somber long melody

            Four: variations on a wonderful long melody

            Five: same thing

            Six: ignore the “flowing water music” and you’ll hear the beautiful long melody

            Seven: variations on a haunting long melody

            Eight: call this one “the exception that proves the rule”

            Nine: variations on maybe the most beautiful melody of the classical era

I rest my case.

The Emotion

            Even more than the rhythmic drive—or the beautiful melodies—I think it’s the emotional content of Beethoven’s music that captures listener’s imaginations. Beethoven lived at the time when music was evolving from the classical style of Haydn and Mozart towards the romantic style of Wagner and Tchaikovsky. I’m not saying that music of the classical era lacked emotion—because it had plenty of emotional content—but classical composers largely wrote music that was about music. The interplay of the notes and harmonies was paramount and the emotions the notes and harmonies carried was a bonus. Romantic composers, on the other hand, were all about the emotion. For them, music was a way to express their emotions, evoke emotions in performers, and convey emotions to listeners.

            Beethoven’s music is right in the middle. His earliest pieces follow the Haydn-Mozart model. His later pieces inspired everything that the romantics who followed him wrote. So in Beethoven we get the best of both worlds…the detailed musical interplay of the classical style and the heightened emotional subtext of the romantics.

The Politics

            Before Beethoven, “serious music” revolved around the privileged and the church. Composers made their living on commissions from nobles, aristocrats, and the clergy. The majority of compositions were heard in castles, mansions, and cathedrals. There were public concerts, to be sure, but not like we have today. The balance of power began to shift during Beethoven’s lifetime, as economic and political power in Europe began to slowly shift from the upper- to the middle- and lower-classes.

            That shift was reflected in Beethoven’s music. And was sometimes driven by it. If you discount Haydn and his Symphony No. 45 (“The Farewell Symphony”)—which was, essentially, a musical job action—Ludwig van Beethoven was the first woke composer. He had strong political ideas (anti-royalty and anti-aristocratic, even though they paid his bills) and he worked them into his music: the Egmont Overture, the Eroica Symphony, his opera Fidelio, and, of course, the finale of the Ninth Symphony.

            The people in power may have paid for his music. But he wrote his music for everyone.

Why?

            Why is Beethoven more than just a Hollywood Saint Bernard? Because he wrote amazing music. Because his music moves us. Because his music is for us.