|Beethoven in 1803|
This segment could be entitled "Some People & Places Behind the Eroica."
Given the news today – pick your horror story: Ebola, ISIS, gun violence, political campaigns, what-have-you – it's sometimes difficult to imagine yourself living in some other era that could be any worse (your good-old-days or someone else's).
We often view Art as a means of escaping from our daily travails, a chance to forget about reality and lose ourselves in the glories of some past century.
But we often forget about the composer's reality at the time this music was being written and usually dismiss it as unnecessary to our enjoyment of it.
Granted, one can enjoy Beethoven's Eroica without knowing what was going on in his life or beyond hearing how it had once been dedicated to Napoleon Bonaparte.
But if, after you've heard this composition – regarded as the first major work to unleash what became known as 19th Century Romantic Music – you wondered “where did that come from?”, then read on.
To open last season, Stuart Malina programmed Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring which is credited as being where 20th Century Music began. This season, he begins with Beethoven's Eroica which is usually given the credit for being the starting point for the 19th Century, dividing what's become standard classical music fare from the 18th Century's Baroque and Classical styles.
Heroic, indeed, whether it was inspired by Napoleon or not. It was longer than any symphony written before it and it was far more dramatic than anything Haydn had ever written. The demands on the listeners – not to mention the players – were unprecedented. What must it have been like to hear this for the first time in 1804, knowing only what listeners in Vienna knew? How can we, today, forget everything we've heard that's been written since then – written, mostly, in Beethoven's shadow?
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The BBC/Opus Arte film “Eroica” (2003) directed by Simon Cellan-Jones with Ian Hart as Beethoven:
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What discrepancies exist are minor – the room it was filmed in may not be the music room of Lobkowitz's Vienna palace (see below) and the military gentleman, Count Dietrichstein, could not be the same Count Dietrichstein who exists in Beethoven's biography, a man five years the composer's junior who, aside from being artistically astute and a close friend, was also a composer himself.
Yes, Beethoven was in love with the young woman, Josephine von Deym, née Brunsvick (who arrives late with her older sister, Therese – both were piano students of Beethoven's and both have been considered candidates for the Immortal Belovéd who figures in Beethoven's life in 1812 - you can read more about the women in Beethoven's life in my blog post, here). Yes, she was recently widowed with four children (though one of them was only a few months old at the time, despite the scene where all four of them romp through the music room). Hopeful of marrying her, Beethoven was well aware of the laws which forbade her, an aristocrat, from marrying a “commoner” like Beethoven, despite his being a genius and being – well, Beethoven!
And yes, since the composer often styled himself in French, signing his name as Louis van Beethoven, his close friends are calling him Louis – not Louie...
The biggest doubt about the film, of course, is the level of the performance. Ries remarks that the rehearsal was “terrible” and indeed here it begins that way. It is hard to imagine that, after a particularly bumpy start, this sight-reading session of such new and strange music should suddenly become a performance any ensemble today would be proud of – and kudos to the Orchestre Revolutionaire et Romantique for supplying the musicians of the orchestra (except for one of the bass players and perhaps the second horn player) who are, in fact, led here by their actual concertmaster if, in the soundtrack, by John Eliot Gardiner. Still, it would be excruciating theater to subject modern audiences to what the actual rehearsal may have sounded like.
One of the things I like about this presentation is watching the faces of those people hearing this music for the first time – and not just hearing it but hearing music like it for the first time. There are those who are confused by it or perplexed by certain passages – especially the more dissonant ones – and those who are excited by it. For instance, Princess Caroline, Lobkowitz's wife, has an eagerness about her listening: clearly the music thrills her and she is up on the very latest of what is “new.”
There are those who clearly have no clue what is going on here, musically or otherwise, and can only compare it to what they know (“if this were by Haydn, it would be over by now,” someone – a footman? – says near the end of the first movement). There are those who have no clue what is going on, either, but are somehow aware whatever it is is something significant.
Count Dietrichstein, depicted here as an old fuss-budget clearly out of sorts over Beethoven's dedication to Bonaparte, is deeply affected by the slow movement, its funeral march: perhaps he is remembering friends he has lost on the battlefield? And the young woman – who is Josephine von Deym, the woman Beethoven is disappointed had not, at the beginning, arrived yet – is no doubt thinking about her late husband who'd died that January.
Prince Lobkowitz, historically described as “absent-minded,” is at times unsure what he is hearing, closing his eyes to better concentrate, perhaps, or is he nodding off, a bit? Suffering from gout? Perhaps.
Typical would be the discussion heard after the first movement – what each listener heard in the music, whether inspired by knowing it was a “Bonaparte Symphony” or simply in hearing great armies marching across history to do battle. Listeners have always heard music their own way, trying to create some story, perhaps, to hang on to, to explain what they're listening to when all the composer may have been thinking about was how to lead up to these particularly dissonant chords at the climax of the development section.
|Haydn arrives at Beethoven's rehearsal|
What he says at the end is perhaps the most telling line in the entire film. Attributed to Haydn, I'm not sure (since I can't verify it anywhere other than having heard it so often) if it is factual or one of those mythological statements created by the well-meaning Anton Schindler years later, but it does sum up an attitude about Beethoven that transcends the usual misunderstanding between the Old Guard and the New.
“He's placed himself at the center of his work,” Haydn tells his hosts after the rehearsal has concluded. “He gives us a glimpse into his soul – I expect that's why it's so... noisy... but it is quite, quite new – the artist as hero – quite new... Everything is different from today.”
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To help imagine the mortal who could create such music, here is a video-montage of still photographs of a house in Döbling, now a section of Vienna. It is here that Beethoven lived when he composed most of his Third Symphony during the summer of 1803.
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(The soundtrack is part of the slow movement of the C Minor Violin Sonata, Op. 30/2 – here with Pinchas Zukerman and Daniel Barenboim – which was composed in the summer of 1802 when he was in Heiligenstadt, though I've never seen it referred to as the “Eroica Sonata” before. It's from the set I'd mentioned in a previous post as having been dedicated to the Russian tsar, Alexander I.)
The apartment Beethoven occupied that summer is accessible through a door off the courtyard just off the street. Presumably, he had a view of the fields and woods beyond though today, one can see only the house across the street.
The house itself – much less the grounds – is different from what it would have been during Beethoven's stay here, a house built in the 1790s on the main street of a quiet country suburb. The second floor was added in 1840 and the ornate lamp post is certainly later still. The house is currently a museum – apparently it was not open the day the poster of this video visited – and contains little actual material about Beethoven beyond some period furniture and informative displays, but you can find a little more about it and see a couple images from the inside at the official Vienna Museum website, here.
|The Palace of Prince Lobkowitz (left), Vienna|
The music room where this first “read-through” of the symphony took place is now called the “Eroicasaal” (or Eroica Concert Hall). In the photograph here, it is a scene of a lecture. It figures also in a scene from the PBS “Keeping Score” episode on the Eroica with conductor Michael Tilson Thomas walking through the space.
Though you would think the Viennese palace would be the spot for this, the family's collection of Beethoven memorabilia as well as numerous instruments and other manuscripts is housed at the castle in Prague. Here is a Viking Tours promotional video about the Lobkowicz's Palace. The Beethoven Collection begins c.3:20 into the clip:
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Beethoven also dedicated his 5th Symphony to both Prince Lobkowitz and Count Razumovsky, the Russian ambassador who commissioned the three string quartets bearing his name (he also had household musicians which frequently played and premiered Beethoven's newest works). Among other works dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz are the Op. 18 String Quartets (first heard in 1800) as well as the “Harp” Quartet, Op. 74 (published in 1810), the Triple Concerto (written, however, for the Archduke Rudolph, the Austrian Emperor's youngest brother, who as both a piano and a composition student of Beethoven's and who was a frequent performer at the Lobkowitz's), and the song cycle, An die ferne Geliebter (“To the Distant Belovéd”) in 1816.
Lobkowitz, one of three aristocrats to guarantee Beethoven a pension to keep him in Vienna, was nearly ruined in the Depression of 1811 and was forced to renege on his contribution, much to Beethoven's displeasure. He wrote a small cantata for the Prince's birthday in 1816 to be sung to him by members of his family – he and the Princess had, by the way, twelve children – but the performance did not take place. The prince was “deathly ill” at the time and died a week later.
After Prince Joseph Maximilian's death, the family usually rented out the palace before selling the building in the mid-19th Century. It was for a while (with a bit of irony) the home of the French Embassy from 1869-1909: Napoleon Bonaparte's nephew ruled France as the first popularly elected President in 1848 who then staged a coup and overthrew his own government, naming himself Emperor Napoleon III in 1851 and ruled until 1870. From 1945-1980, it housed the French Institute of Vienna before becoming a government building which, since 1991, has been part of Vienna's Museum of Art and History, the Kunsthistorisches Museum.
As for Beethoven's pupil, Ferdinand Ries went on to become a well-known composer and pianist, if forgotten today beyond his association as Beethoven's Student. As Beethoven said of him, "He imitates me too much." As Grove's Dictionary put it, he caught the style and phrases but not the immortality of his master. For instance, the second symphony he composed - written in 1813, it was later published as No. 5 in D Minor - uses the famous Fate-Knocks-at-the-Door rhythm from Beethoven's 5th.
|Opening of Ferdinand Ries' Symphony #5 (arr. as a Septet) 1813|
Ries spent a busy decade in London where he was also instrumental in helping secure a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society for what became Beethoven's 9th Symphony. Then he returned to Germany and became a respected composer and conductor in Frankfurt where he died in 1838 at the age of 53. He composed eight symphonies, eight piano concertos, three operas and two oratorios plus a large amount of chamber music and piano music, all of it forgotten today.
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Continue reading Part 3 of Beethoven's Eroica: The Music & the Hero, here...
- Dick Strawser