Rockin’ and rollin’ with Beethoven

Beethoven - the giant of German music. Courtesy Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Sammlung H.C. Bodmer
Beethoven – the giant of German music. Courtesy Beethoven-Haus Bonn, Sammlung H.C. Bodmer

Who was the first woman to take me to a classical concert? My mother was. I must have been 12 or 13 years old when she took me to informal concerts of Luxembourg’s Radiosymphony Orchestra, that became the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg in 1996. And since today we celebrate Mother’s Day in Luxembourg, I would like to pay tribute to my mother. Merci, Mama! Thank you, mom, for encouraging me to pursue my interest in classical music! I owe you many things and I have been an ungrateful child.

Stop that or else!

These thoughts crossed my mind while I listened to the first Symphony written by Ludwig van Beethoven at the Philharmonie in Luxembourg in January (see the post on Shostakovich). A beautiful piece! Very traditional of course. True Vienna School, easily traceable back to Mozart and Haydn. It is one of those classical compositions were I cannot sit still in the concert hall. My feet automatically start beating the measure, my fingers soon follow, than I start to balance my head… that’s probably the moment when the person behind me starts to cough and send verbal and non-verbal messages that carry a clear warning. Stop that or else! Or what?

Why is it that we are allowed to enjoy a classical concert only with our senses and our mind? Why can’t we enjoy it also with our body? We are allowed to do that at a rock concert, at jazz club and of course while dancing a valse from Strauss at a ball! I find this odd, this self-imposed restraint. We share everything with everybody on social networks, but we insist on being stiff as tin soldiers when we attend a concert for pleasure!

Vienna’s audience is puzzled

Beethoven’s 1st Symphony is perhaps a little less known than “the Fifth” or “Eroica”, his 3rd symphony. He wrote it in 1799/1800, and it was performed for the first time on February 2, 1800 in Vienna in the Hofburg. The audience was… let’s say the audience was puzzled. Seemingly dissonant brass chords and a string pizzicato* open the piece, the overall tempo is rather fast, the melodies insistent with many accents, the piece characterized by fast changing musical ideas. The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung later noted that it was the “most interesting concert since long”.

The symphony quickly became very popular. In 1803, it had already been performed in Leipzig, Berlin, Bratislava, Frankfurt, Dresden, Braunschweig and Munich. Initially, Beethoven had intended to dedicate the work to his former employer, the Elector of Cologne Maximilian-Friedrich. But Maximilian-Friedrich died in 1801 and the composer dedicated his first symphony to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, Mozart and later also Beethoven’s influential patron.

All of Beethoven’s symphonies have been recorded by the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim.

© Charles Thibo

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de Chareli

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4 thoughts on “Rockin’ and rollin’ with Beethoven”

  1. Beethoven’s first symphony is a fantastic one, neglected only because his others are such masterpieces.
    I must say, though, I strongly disagree with the thoughts on ‘participation’ at the concert hall. A few regular patrons here just *love* to (try to) conduct, while others tap or bounce in their chairs or in some other way try to make other people notice how much they enjoy the music or how well they know it, and I find it all incredibly distracting, even disrespectful, and let them know politely.
    There is a time to hoot and holler and be cacophonous, and it is /after/ a wonderful performance, not during. Call me old fashioned, but I don’t think it’s appropriate for one person’s enjoyment to detract from that of others.

      1. I’ve heard that stated by various people, but I’ve never heard any of them suggest an improvement that won’t distract from the music.
        It is a performance, and focusing on the music with no other distractions, it is an experience unto itself, a journey to be had, but only when you can be immersed in it, jump in head first and not be disturbed. A good concert program needs nothing more than an audience willing to appreciate respectfully.

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