Program Notes: April 29th, 2014, 8pm at Dallas City Performance Hall

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For tickets, click here. Or, call the box office at (214) 449-1294.


Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, Op. 43

Ludwig van Beethoven
Born 16 December, 1770 in Bonn, Germany
Died 26 March, 1827 in Vienna, Austria

In 1800 the Italian dancer and choreographer Salvatore Viganò was the most influential ballet-master active at the Viennese imperial court.  When Viganò approached Beethoven about collaborating on a ballet, Beethoven accepted the assignment with alacrity, correctly guessing that the project would do much to further his reputation.  The resulting work, The Creatures of Prometheus, was his only ballet score.

In Viganò’s scenario, the Greek demi-god Prometheus brings two clay statues to life, using fire from the heavens.  Upon discovering that they lack emotions, he leads them to Parnassus. There, the Muses, Apollo, and Bacchus educate them in the arts so that they may experience the passion of human life through the power of harmony.

The Creatures of Prometheus became quite popular, enjoying nearly 30 performances in its first two years.  Today, it is known primarily for its overture and finale. The overture is the earliest of Beethoven’s concert overtures to remain in the repertoire.  It is a symphonic sonata form movement, drawing heavily on the models of both Haydn and Mozart.

The slow introduction calls to mind Beethoven’s First Symphony (also in C major), but the Allegro molto con brio is more self-assured and aggressive than the symphony’s.  The music relies heavily on its principal theme for both development and coda, and boasts some imaginative orchestration.

Beethoven’s score calls for woodwinds, horns, and trumpets in pairs, timpani, and strings.

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Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op.36

Ludwig van Beethoven

In summer 1802, Beethoven’s physician sent him to Heiligenstadt, then a bucolic village outside Vienna, where he was instructed to rest his ears as much as possible.  Tormented by the realization that he was losing his hearing altogether, Beethoven took long walks, pondered his fate, and continued to compose. That October, he wrote a passionate letter to his brothers that has become known as the “Heiligenstadt Testament.”  In this powerful document, he recorded his despair at the cruel blow fate had dealt him, declaring that only his love for his art had prevented him from taking his own life.

Against this sobering backdrop Beethoven completed the joyous strains of his Second Symphony, thereby confounding generations of armchair analysts determined to discern a direct correlation between the events of his life and their expression in his music.  For Opus 36 is miraculously free of agony.  Almost uniformly positive throughout, it shifts from grandeur to relaxed contemplation. Exuberant youthful energy sometimes erupts into humourous outbursts.  Many facets of the human condition are reflected in this symphony, but little sign of Beethoven’s personal tragedy shadows the work.

A lengthy slow introduction opens the Second Symphony, larger in scope than any of Haydn’s slow introductions.  Many writers have perceived foreshadowing of the great “Choral” Symphony [the Ninth Symphony] in this opening.  Indeed, just as the Second Symphony sits on the cusp of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, so does it bridge Beethoven’s early and middle compositional periods.  One part of him remains firmly rooted in classical tradition, while another part — his rebellious and curious side — moves beyond that tradition in ways that we now define as the romantic era. At the age of thirty-two, Beethoven gave us remarkable breadth of musical vision.

Opus 36 is musically most noteworthy for its third movement.  Entitled Scherzo:  Allegro, Trio, it is the first work in which Beethoven used the label Scherzo (Italian for “joke”) instead of the eighteenth-century Menuetto (a sedate, courtly dance).  He thereby altered the shape and character of the four movement symphony for the entire century to follow. The finale is equally remarkable, with Haydnesque wit and Beethovenian daring. Its extended coda presages the monumental coda of the Eroica Symphony [Beethoven’s Third], which would follow in 1803.

Beethoven’s score calls for woodwinds, horns and trumpets in pairs; timpani and strings.

Program Notes by Laurie Shulman ©2014

For tickets, click here. Or, call the box office at (214) 449-1294.

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