St Petersburg, Concert Hall

Beethoven
Die Weihe des Hauses
Symphonies № 2 and № 8


Die Weihe des Hauses, Overture in C Major, Op. 124 (1822)

The overture known by this “borrowed” title was written by Beethoven in 1822 for Carl Meisl’s play Consecration of the House, which opened Vienna’s new Theater in der Josefstadt. There is an authorised copy of the score of this overture in the library of the Moscow Conservatoire. In summer 1825, Beethoven sent it to St Petersburg to Prince Nikolai Borisovich Golitsyn. In his reply to that letter, Nikolai Golitsyn thanked Beethoven for this work dedicated to him both in word and in a fee of twenty-five ducats. It is Golitsyn to whom we are indebted for his commissions of the string quartets Opera 127, 130 and 132 – three of Beethoven’s last five quartets – as well as the world premiere of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in spring 1824 in St Petersburg. The first performance of the overture Die Weihe des Hauses took place on 3 October 1822 at the aforementioned opening of the Theater in der Josefstadt. On 7 May 1824, the overture was performed at Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor, at one concert together with highlights from the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony.

The overture opens with an introduction in the spirit of Haydn. Following the colonnade of accords, there begins a slow, march-like theme that is hypnotic in character (it is, in fact, close to Haydn’s composition of the Austrian national anthem – it would appear that it was not by mere chance that Beethoven selected this as the theme for his triumphal overture). The trumpet fanfares precede the ascending approach to the first section of the overture – an impetuous double fugue in the baroque (reminiscent of Handel) manner. The fugue, too, which begins with the first violins, flute and oboe (the counterpoint theme is led by the second violins and the clarinet) and is richly abundant in dynamic, tempo and rhythmic contrasts, is crowned by a brilliant coda.

The Second Symphony was completed in 1802. By that time the young Beethoven had composed the Moonlight Sonata and other outstanding, innovative works. And in the symphony genre too, Beethoven was making great strides: two years after the First Symphony, the Second brought us Beethoven's fully formed understanding of the genre, foretelling the coming birth of such masterpieces as the Third and the Fifth Symphonies...
It is not surprising that audiences and critics almost accused the composer of shaking the foundations, of abandoning traditions, even those inherited in the First Symphony. One critic could well have entitled his review with the sacramental "Muddle instead of Music"! In his opinion, Beethoven's Second Symphony was "like a poisonous monster, some wounded sea dragon that does not want to breathe its last and, dripping blood, furiously smashes its tail in the finale." One other reviewer heard "Barbarian accords" in the dreamy Larghetto. Today's audiences can make a fair judgement on the "truth" of Beethoven's critics, and at the same time consider the eternal fate of brilliant artists, who at all times have overcome resistance from their stagnant surroundings.
Following the majestic slow introduction, the first sonata allegro bursts in, glittering in merriment and heroic march rhythms. This is shaded by the poetically light second movement - one of the first symphonic examples of Beethoven's pastoral lyricism. The turbulent rhythms and the magical accents of the scherzo create a sensation of titanic play. The finale stunned contemporaries with its impetuous tempo, its scale, its abundance of contrasting themes, the sensation of the fullness and many-coloured nature of life.

 

Completed in October 1812, the Eighth Symphony waited almost a year and a half for its first performance. The premiere took place on 27 February 1814 in Vienna at one of Beethoven's regular "academies" (concerts by the composers), under the baton of the maestro himself. Written along with the Seventh Symphony, the Eighth is close to it with its vivid dance rhythms; but if, in the huge Seventh Wagner heard "the apotheosis of dance", then the chamber-like Eighth is the embodiment of refinement, unconstraint, a kind of mirthful grace. Beethoven called it his "little symphony", perhaps meaning the nature of the unique intermezzo between the "heroic idyll" (as Serov referred to the first movement of the Seventh Symphony) and the final symphonic masterpiece - the Ninth, a "symphony with choruses".
The Eighth Symphony, according to Tchaikovsky, "of all of Beethoven's symphonies stands out for the unusually condensed nature of form, to the final note, its joyful, festive mood. Beethoven, who to a remarkable degree possessed the ability to instil tragedy into an audience, this time pours entire floods of some joyous and happy emotion into its soul."

Iosif Raiskin

Age category 6+

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