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Signature Concert 2: Energized, Unsure & Triumphant

November 6, 2021 @ 7:30 pm November 14, 2021 @ 8:30 pm

Note: Unfortunately, due to unforeseen technical issues, the webcast performances for this concert have been canceled. All purchases will be refunded by the Lincoln Center. We thank you for your continued support.

Energized, Unsure, and Triumphant FCS Signature Concert 2

This concert is also available for Livestream on November 6th or Webcast replay on November 14th.

Note: the webcast replays have been canceled for this concert.

Three composers explore an assortment of emotions ranging from despair to exhilaration. Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson challenges us with uncertainty in his interpretation of Carl Sandburg’s metaphorical poem, Grass. Felix Mendelssohn’s exuberant romp in Piano Concerto No. 1 was quickly composed after a trip to Italy. And, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, “Eroica” (Heroic) dives into the emotional landscapes of war with its complexities of helplessness, grief, tenderness and triumph.

In honor of Veteran’s Day, a special $10 in-person, streaming, and/or webcast tickets are available to veterans and active military personnel. Please call the Lincoln Center Box Office for ticket details and purchase at 970-221-6730.

Lincoln Center

417 West Magnolia St
Fort Collins, CO 80521


COVID info

Repertoire:

  • Grass: Poem for Piano, Strings, and Percussion – Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson
  • Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor – Felix Mendelssohn,
  • Symphony No. 3, “Eroica” (Heroic) – Ludwig van Beethoven

Guest Artist:

Pianist Bryan Wallick

Pianist Bryan Wallick

Gold medalist of the 1997 Vladimir Horowitz International Piano Competition in Kiev, Bryan Wallick has performed throughout the United States, Europe, and Africa. He made his New York recital debut in 1998 at Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall and his Wigmore Hall recital debut in London in 2003.  He has also performed at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall with the London Sinfonietta and at the St. Martin-in-the-Fields Church with the London Soloist’s Chamber Orchestra. In recent seasons he has given solo recitals at the Ravinia Festival, Colorado State University, Grand Teton Music Festival, University of Texas at El Paso, Scottsdale Center in Arizona, and throughout South Africa and Zimbabwe. 

Mr. Wallick has performed recently as concerto soloist with the Memphis Symphony, Johannesburg Philharmonic, Phoenix Symphony, Portland Symphony and Winston-Salem Symphony, among many others, and has concertized frequently with Zuill Bailey. He studied with Jerome Lowenthal in New York City where he was the first Juilliard School graduate to receive both an undergraduate Honors Diploma (2000) and an accelerated master’s Degree (2001).  He continued his studies with Christopher Elton in London at the Royal Academy of Music where he was the recipient of the Associated Board International Scholarship, receiving a Post-graduate Diploma with Distinction, and previously studied with Eugene and Elisabeth Pridonoff at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. Wallick has recently been appointed as assistant-professor of piano at Colorado State University where he lives with his wife and three children.

Learn more about Bryan Wallick on his website: BryanWallick.com.

Interview with Guest Pianist Bryan Wallick

Last week, Bryan Wallick sat down with FCS Assistant Conductor Jeremy D. Cuebas for a fascinating interview. Among other things, they talked about his relationship with the music on this concert, how he spent his COVID time “breaking in” a new piano at CSU, and some of his favorite things about living in Colorado.

Watch the interview here, or click the button below to read more.


Sponsors:

Concert Sponsors:

Audiology Group of Northern Colorado
Bistro Nautile
Marilyn Cockburn
Kilwins Chocolates and Ice Cream
Paul Wood Florist
John Roberts

Season Sponsors:

Dr. David and Alison Dennis

Dr. Ed Siegel

Dr. Peter Springberg and Janet Kowall

City of Fort Collins Fort Fund Logo
The Lyric Cinema

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Week-of Concert Events:

Composer Talks

Wednesday, November 3 at noon
Free
Via Zoom – https://us02web.zoom.us/j/88380237467?pwd=Vmk3eHl6UmQyQjBzTGVCQzVwNUFhdz09

Join CSU professor Dr. Dawn Grapes on the Wednesday prior to most Signature concerts for an entertaining and informative lecture about the upcoming featured composers. Light refreshments. Sponsored by the Friends of the Symphony.

Open Rehearsals

Thursday, November 4 at 7:00 p.m.
at the Lincoln Center
Free

Learn firsthand what it takes for an orchestra to bring live music to the stage. Houselights remain on during this comfortable preview of each upcoming Signature concert. The rehearsal closes to the public at 8:30 p.m. intermission. Sponsored by Bank of Colorado.

Pre-Concert Talks

Saturday, November 6 at 6:30 p.m.
at the Lincoln Center or via livestream
included with ticket purchase

Prior to each Signature concert, join Maestro Wes Kenney for his musings on what you are about to hear.


Program Notes:

Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson,
Grass: Poem for Piano, Strings, and Percussion

Pile the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo. 
Shovel them under and let me work— 
	I am the grass; I cover all. 

And pile them high at Gettysburg 
And pile them high at Ypres and Verdun. 
Shovel them under and let me work. 
Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor: 
	What place is this? 
	Where are we now? 

	I am the grass. 
 	Let me work.

-Carl Sandburg

Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Carl Sandburg penned these words in 1918, revealing his thoughts on the futility of war and its associated senseless deaths. American composer Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson (1932–2004) embraced the same words almost 40 years later, as inspiration for a new work: Grass, a one-movement composition for piano, strings, and percussion. Perkinson grew up in New York City. His musician mother named him after the early 20th-century British, mixed-race composer and conductor Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Perkinson not only lived up to his namesake’s achievements, producing a solid core of art music compositions and conducting various ensembles, but he also made a name for himself writing and arranging jazz, popular music, and film scores. Throughout his career, Perkinson advocated for the Black community and its performing artists in particular. He is credited as a founder of the first fully integrated orchestra in the U.S., the Symphony of the New World (1971), as well as Chicago’s New Black Music Repertory Ensemble (1999), a group dedicated to performing diverse musical styles.

Just 24-years-old at the time Grass was composed, Perkinson had watched as young soldiers, many of them Black Americans, were shipped off to fight in the Korean War. In 1948, Harry S Truman had issued an executive order calling for full racial integration of the U.S. Armed Forces. Military leaders, however, were slow to implement the policy. When the U.S. began formal military actions supporting South Korea in 1950, many U.S. divisions were still segregated. Over 100 units were Black. These soldiers often experienced discrimination in training, were undersupplied in the field, and at times were assigned white commanders who saw the appointments as “punishments.” Yet these servicemen fought bravely. By the end of the war in 1953, disparities had decreased significantly as units were finally desegregated and more Black officers rose in rank. Over 600,000 African-Americans served in Korea. More than 3,000 of them died in active combat. Perkinson was of draftable age throughout the entire conflict and stories of young men like himself, dying in the field and languishing in POW camps, must have affected him deeply.

Felix Mendelssohn
Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, op. 25

It is sometimes easy to forget that Felix Mendelssohn (1809–1847) died at just 38-years-old, perhaps because his published works sound so mature. Yet many were written when the composer was at an age when most of us are still trying to figure out where our talents lie. Hailed by Robert Schumann in 1840 as a new Mozart, Felix began his musical education as a child alongside his sister Fanny. Unlike the Mozarts, however, most of their early performances took place privately within their own residence. Still, the Mendelssohn household attracted many of Berlin’s top political figures, artists, and intellectuals for regular social and musical gatherings, allowing the siblings a certain degree of artistic notoriety. Mendelssohn began composing at age ten. Although only a small proportion of his adolescent works were published, by age seventeen he had come into his own. In 1827, the premiere performance of his Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream marked the beginning of a successful musical career. Two years later, Mendelssohn conducted a revival of J. S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, one often credited with instilling new life into the Baroque master’s oeuvre.

The years 1830 and 1831 were important ones for the young man. Mendelssohn was learning about life in the most exciting way possible—by traveling throughout Europe, taking in its wonders through the eyes of a curious, well-educated, and well-connected 21-year-old. Having already spent much of 1829 in the British Isles, he left Berlin in May 1830 for a grand tour of Italy, stopping along the way in Leipzig, Weimar, Munich, and Vienna. On his return in 1831, he landed once again in Munich, where Delphine von Schauroth resided, a lovely 16-year-old pianist who served as a musical inspiration. Mendelssohn’s contentment in the German city sounds forth in letters written home. In one, he exclaims: “It is a glorious feeling to waken in the morning and to know that you are going to write the score of a grand allegro … whilst bright weather holds out the hope of a cheering, long walk in the afternoon … I scarcely know a place where I feel as comfortable and domesticated as here. Above all it is very pleasant to be surrounded by cheerful faces, and to know your own is the same, and to be acquainted with everyone you meet in the streets.” [The Mendelssohn Letters] Ten days later, Mendelssohn’s music filled the Odeon concert hall. The program featured the Midsummer Night’s Dream overture as well as his 1824 First Symphony. The highlight, however, was the premiere of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor, op. 25, with the composer at the keyboard. Though labeled No. 1, Mendelssohn had written other works for one or two pianos and orchestra in his adolescence. Yet this was his first mature work in the genre, a sort of coming-of-age concerto for a composer who was also a fine performer. The work undoubtedly showed off his impeccable training and depth of musical passion, and its short orchestral introduction and continuity between movements marked a shift in concerto expectations. Mendelssohn composed the work in three days, finishing just before the premiere, although he had planned out the movements in his head while traveling in Italy. He dedicated the work to his muse, Delphine, but if our genius had once harbored thoughts of pursuing a deeper relationship with her, they were by then pushed aside. He soon set off once again, this time on his way to Paris.

Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55, “Eroica”

If just one adjective were offered to describe Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the word “more” might come to mind. As an orchestral work, the composition offered audiences of its time an enhanced experience as compared to anything they might have heard previously: more length, more depth, more variety, more passion. It was simply … more.

The story of Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major is compelling. Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) first titled his opus 55 “Buonaparte,” ostensibly a dedication to Napoleon. Beethoven was 29 years old when a new constitution marked the end of the French Revolution. The effects of the conflict, however, continued long past its “official” conclusion, spawning the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and the dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire. These events affected all of Europe. By 1804, the year in which Beethoven completed his Third Symphony, Napoleon led a consulate that controlled regions of the low countries and Italian lands and large swaths of German-speaking territory. A brilliant strategist and propagandist, Napoleon presented his militaristic efforts in the name of peace-keeping and preservation of liberty, despite bringing violence and dissent. In early 1804, Imperial Austria had not yet picked a side to support, neither aligning with France nor joining the opposing Russian and British forces. Scholars hold divided opinions regarding Beethoven’s feelings toward Bonaparte, complicated by conflicting reports from his own contemporaries. Some scholars suggest that Beethoven was at heart a revolutionary, enamored with Napoleon’s rhetoric. The ideals of liberty, equality, and fraternity certainly resounded deeply within his soul, as seen in the brotherhood theme that rings so clearly in his Ninth Symphony. Others acknowledge what seems to be scorn for the General in the composer’s writings, noting Beethoven’s role in Viennese society as one closely connected with aristocratic, republican patrons, many of whom were personal friends. Some have even suggested that the Eroica symphony was not really inspired by Napoleon at all, but that the military leader was at the forefront of Beethoven’s mind upon completion of the composition.

Regardless, Beethoven told his publisher that the title of the new work was “Buonaparte.” Later, his student and friend Ferdinand Ries wrote that Beethoven flew into a rage just before the premiere of the work when informed that Napoleon had pronounced himself emperor, declaring the Frenchman no better than any other tyrant. The title page of the score used to conduct the private premiere bears witness, as the inscription, which read “Sinfonia Grande Intitulata Bonaparte,” has its final two words violently scratched away. When the symphony was published in 1806, its new subtitle read, “Sinfonia Eroica composta per festiggiare il Souvenire di un grand’uomo” (Heroic Symphony composed to celebrate the remembrance of a great man). Beethoven never revealed who that great man might be, implying that the work is not a tribute to one specific individual, but to all who have undertaken true greatness: the everyman.

The Eroica might be considered a musical revolution in its own right, representing the composer’s movement beyond the conventions of classical symphonists who preceded him. Its length far surpasses the expectations of contemporaneous orchestral audiences. The incorporation of a funeral march for the slow movement is surprising, though not novel, and provides the most definitive link to French activities of the time. The syncopations and metrical ambiguities of the scherzo push the limits of a third-movement placement that had always at least mimicked dance forms. Most strikingly, the composer’s reliance on pre-classical contrapuntal techniques, fused with modern harmonies, instrumentation, and ranges in the finale, created a musical and philosophical depth that confounded critics of the time. Ultimately, it was Beethoven’s ability to push musical boundaries that propelled him to a reputation of genius. The Eroica marks a point in his compositional life when that genius bloomed forth. Today, more than 200 years after the Third Symphony premiered, the composer’s musical passion still rings through.

Program Notes by Dr. K. Dawn Grapes

Dr. William E. Runyan

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson,
Grass: Poem for Piano, Strings, and Percussion

A man of many talents and remarkably broad artistic interests, Perkinson composed in classical, jazz, and pop musical styles, and was active in television, film, and dance, as well.  A respected conductor and pianist, he was (probably) born in New York City.  After attending the prestigious New York High School of Music & Art, he attended both New York University and the Manhattan School of Music, receiving both bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the latter.  His teachers including the esteemed choral conductor, Hugh Ross, and the well-known composer, Victorio Giannini.  Founder and director of the New World Symphony (the country’s first fully integrated professional orchestra), he performed with jazz great, drummer Max Roach, and worked with popular singers Harry Belafonte and Marvin Gaye.  Active as a conductor, he was composer in residence or music director for the Negro Ensemble Company, the Dance Theater of Harlem, and the famed Alvin Ailey Dance Company.  And if that wasn’t enough, he studied conducting at the Mozarteum in Salzburg.  His several film scores include “A Warm December” (1973), starring and directed by Sidney Poitier.  He died in Chicago in 2004 at the age of seventy-four.

His “classical” compositions for orchestra include Grass, subtitled “Poem for Piano, Strings, and Percussion.”  Written in 1973, it is thoroughly in the tradition of his academic training and many of the mainstream “classical” techniques and styles of that time.  The title of Perkinson’s composition refers to the well-known poem of Carl Sandburg, Grass.”  That poem, as you may remember from English class, is a melancholy reflection on the futility of war, and a consideration of whether the grass that grows over old battlefields really covers the deep scars and wounds of fatal conflict.  According to Perkinson his work “ . . . was written during a time when I imagined that I was going to be involved in the Korean conflict and was written from the perspective of a black person being involved . . . .”  He was not willing to delve deeper into the relationship between the music and the poem.

What is obvious, though, is the congruence between the respective rhythms of the opening words of Sandburg’s poem, “I am the grass.  I cover all.” and the pervading motive of Perkinson’s work.   Perkinson sets the four syllables of the words with four distinctive notes, comprised of a movement down a step, back up, and a descent of a fourth.  The entire work is built out of it, a masterful example of the compositional virtue of “economy of means,” the non plus ultra of which is the first movement of Beethoven’s fifth symphony (ta, ta, ta, dah.)

The “I am the grass” motive is announced immediately in the strings, accompanied by percussive chords in the piano.  This brief introduction is quickly followed by an extensive contrapuntal elaboration in the strings, with complementary motives constantly weaving around the main one.  It’s a turgid, intense section, the metre of which is constantly shifting, with punchy accents and displaced patterns creating an anxious, driving unease.  While there is plenty of dissonance, there is a tonal center, and the whole could reasonably be compared to the textures of some of Stravinsky’s neo-classical works.  Throughout, the piano and percussion complement the strings with frequent opportunities to take the lead.  The tempo and drive, contrapuntal weft, and motivic development never cease, though.  Finally, all the flurry slowly dissipates and the piano quietly—again, using a variant of the main motive—takes us to the “B” portion.

The middle section is conventionally in a contrasting mood of some repose, and a lyrical, serene rumination it is—cast in lush, somewhat neo-romantic textures.  But our ubiquitous friend, the main motive, is always lurking in the material somewhere.  Solo passages for the piano are frequent, with pianissimo throbbing strings ending the diversion, punctuated by a soft, enigmatic tap by the timpani.

A much louder stroke by timpani announces the opening of the last section, in which the “main” motive is not so evident, but nevertheless is informative, but in clever guises, including inversions.  The driving, rocking tempo is even more intense and reckless than that of the first section, punctuated by emphatic percussion and smashing chords in the piano.  A relentless cascade of overlapping ideas quickly drives us to the dynamic conclusion.

While active in a remarkable variety of jazz and pop musical endeavors, Perkinson wore many musical hats with equal aplomb.  Grass, like his other classical works, shows his complete mastery of “serious” twentieth-century musical composition.  Audiences deserve to hear more of them.

Felix Mendelssohn
Piano Concerto No. 1 in G Minor, op. 25

Mendelssohn’s Italian trip that inspired the fourth symphony bore fruit in another significant way, for it was also the time of his first mature piano concerto, finished in 1831.  Supposedly composed “hastily,” it was given its première in Munich in October of that year.  The composer composed several quite good student works in that genre earlier—and in them he advanced some felicitous changes in the form of the first movement, possibly under the influence of Carl Maria von Weber.  He did away with the time-honored practice of giving both soloist and orchestra separate shots at the main themes, and simply telescoped that section into a tighter form.  Both the soloist and the orchestra thereby “share” the single statement of themes.  He also—in a move that reflected a general tendency in the romantic period—joined all three movements for continuity.   Further, a typical romantic, he evidently felt that a straightforward recapitulation in the best classical style in sonata form movements was a bit repetitious.  Accordingly, he often varied and “developed” ideas somewhat in that section to give more drama to the approaching conclusion.  And typically all three movements are perfect examples of Mendelssohn’s characteristically brilliant, but somewhat delicate piano figurations.  This certainly is not the bellowing virtuosity of Franz Liszt that we hear here—although it must be admitted some of the percussive octaves in the last movement come close.  The slow movement, to my mind, alludes to the gentle atmosphere in the composer’s famous Songs without Words for solo piano.

The concerto begins with a stormy, short introduction in the orchestra, leading quickly to the entry of the piano—no long leisurely classical wait for the piano!  The dynamic first theme is heard right off, first primarily by the soloist, and then shortly in the orchestra’s turn.  It’s veritable storm of activity.  But, of course, a somewhat more lyrical second theme is expected soon in the relative major key, and we get it.  Here, Mendelssohn’s proclivity for harmonic explorations takes us through several interesting keys.  And, lyrical though it is, Mendelssohn sustains the rhythmic drive right through the section.  Unexpectedly, the dark, driving first theme suddenly interrupts enigmatically for a short statement before we appropriately return to the main second theme.  The middle section typically explores elements of both themes in swirls of figurations before transiting to an abbreviated recap that most surprisingly leads to a sudden interruption by a kind of fanfare in the brass in the parallel major key—G.  After a quick modulation to E minor and a very short cadenza-like passage for the soloist, the slow movement follows immediately.

The second movement begins with a hymn-like theme in the strings.  Taken up by the piano, some development of the idea leads smoothly into a new theme in a refreshing new key with its own harmonic diversions.  But, in this simple ABA movement, we return to the main theme, but of course, with Mendelssohn’s typical imagination enhancing and extending it, before its serene end.

The last movement—just like the middle movement—is introduced by a vigorous fanfare in the brass—in E minor before quickly modulating to the “right” key of G major.  The piano (again) jumps right in with florid figurations, and soon we’re off to the races with a scintillating rondo.  The main theme is straightforward and easy to recognize.

And, of course, being a rondo, we soon get a completely different idea—bubbling with figurations, whipping along in a frenzy. A quick re-statement of the first idea leads in best rondo fashion to another new idea.  After being tossed around a bit, naturally it yields to the main theme—this time developed a bit.  Finally, a last new idea surfaces, this time in quick dialogue with the orchestra.  The main theme finally ushers us to the end, but not before a quick allusion to the main idea from the first movement, embedded in a flurry of virtuosity.        

This remarkably tasteful, entertaining, and well-constructed work is a perfect example of the composer’s standing as a classicist who nevertheless exemplified the best of romantic musical style.  All the more astounding was his age when he composed it:  twenty-two!  Mendelssohn’s piano concertos are not heard in our concert halls nearly as much as his violin concerto, or many of his other works, for that matter. Their graceful beauty and flawless craftsmanship are a refreshing delight.

Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, op. 55, “Eroica”

Beethoven’s first symphony has been called “a fitting farewell to the eighteenth century” and dates to 1800, eight years after his arrival in Vienna as a young composer. His second symphony was completed in 1802, the momentous year of his “Heiligenstadt Testament.” The latter document marked the turning point in Beethoven’s life. It was an anguished letter (never sent, however) to his brothers in which he acknowledged the tragedy and despair of his increasing deafness, but it also revealed his resolution to not end it all, but to live for his art. Both symphonies contain few, if any hints, of not only this personal crisis, but for that matter, of the enormous musical changes in the nature of musical composition that he was about to impose upon the world.

His third symphony was simply unprecedented; it was a watershed composition whose import to those who followed was similar to that of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. It changed forever what one expected of a symphony—in length, in complexity, in dramatic expression, in creativity, and in thematic treatment. It marks the beginning of the symphony’s place as the highest aspiration of serious instrumental music throughout the nineteenth century and for much of the twentieth. Written during the years 1803-04, it was given its première (private) in 1804 at the palace of his patron, Prince Lobkowitz. Initial critical reaction was favorable, but did acknowledge that the work challenged listeners to abandon simple expectations of entertainment, and to enter the world of critical appreciation. The “Eroica,” following its name, is truly heroic in many dimensions. In terms of the music, itself, it simply essayed more, achieved more, and marked out a bold new path for symphonic composition. It is also a work—although elements of a personal heroic intensity had appeared earlier in his piano sonatas—that became the norm for the spiritual tone of the composer’s mature works–the Beethoven that we know so well. Finally, the “Eroica” is completely the child of its times. The French Revolution only a decade before had changed European history in a cataclysmic upheaval that was both political and philosophic. Change and the expectancy of change had been wrought by heroic action and thought, and Beethoven was keenly reactive to it. In a well-known anecdote, he furiously ripped Napoleon’s name from the dedication page after the latter betrayed his republican ideals and named himself emperor.

The first movement begins simply with two hammer strokes in the tonic key, and the familiar—and simple–main theme ensues in the ‘cellos, pausing famously and enigmatically on the strange C# in the fifth measure. This note is a harbinger of marvelous things to come, as the composer sets up an adroit manipulation of themes, fragments of themes, and motives. There are not just two main themes in the conventional fashion, but a literal embarrassment of riches. Beethoven cunningly hints at their significance and works them in and out of each other in a fashion that is redolent of a murder mystery in which only at the end are the logical relationships really clear. Powerful climaxes are contrasted with lyrical moments; driving rhythms are punctuated with displaced accents; and the whole is carried by a tight structure that evokes a sense of inevitability to everything that happens. It’s a long movement—longer than most complete, four-movement symphonies up until that time.

The second movement is unique—it’s not the usual slow movement that often is a placid retreat from the storm of the faster movements. Rather, Beethoven borrows a bit of the heroic spirit of the French composers of the time, and casts this movement as a funeral march. French composers such as Gossec, Mehúl, and Cherubini had often served up these dark marches as requisite patriotic music for the large civic ceremonies of the time, and these works of apotheosis served admirably as models for Beethoven’s creation of tragedy in this movement. The main theme is long, and its generally despairing mood is broken by moments of optimism and hope. Beethoven, being Beethoven, cannot resist a later fugal development of the theme. But the despair is clear at the end, as the movement literally concludes with a halting, fragmentary disintegration of the theme into nothingness. This movement publicly has marked the demise of notables from Toscanini and FDR to that of Adolf Hitler.

The scherzo of the third movement is a rollicking, good-natured affair. Especially ingratiating are the little overlapping fanfare-like figures played by the horns in the middle section. Most composers before Beethoven had contented themselves with only two French horns, but Beethoven’s ideas needed three of them, so the symphony orchestra’s growth in instrumental forces begins.

The last movement, as you may imagine, brings on more innovations. For most symphonies up until that time, final movements had served as a merry cap to the proceedings, with little of the import of the earlier movements. Beethoven writes as a finale for this powerful symphony a series of variations on a simple little tune and its bass line that is a tour-de-force of creativity. We hear the bass line first, probably thinking: “That’s the theme!” The composer gives us a couple of variations on it, and then over the third variation, the “real” theme appears as a melody over the bass line that appeared to be the first theme. More variations ensue, each with its own character, followed by a marvelous fugal development of the bass theme in the eighth variation—Beethoven pulls out every trick as the little bass line is almost “developed out of existence.” Next comes a gentle statement of the melody by the winds in a beautiful, slow iteration that is incomparable. The full orchestra then triumphantly takes the last variation, uniting bass and melody. Beethoven, of course, is not finished, and a coda with more development—it’s Beethoven, remember—takes us to the smashing climax.

Program Notes by Dr. William E. Runyan