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Monday, November 20, 2017

Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

I. Allegro moderato
II. Andante con moto
III. Rondo, vivace

Dr. Benjamin Woods, piano

 

INTERMISSION
 

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

I. Adagio molto-Allegro con brio
II. Andante cantabile con moto
III. Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace
IV. Adagio-Allegro molto e vivace

Program Notes

Coriolan Overture, Op. 62
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)


Beethoven composed the “Coriolan Overture” in 1807 for his friend Heinrich von Collin’s play Coriolan. Collin’s play is based on Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, which also served as the source of Shakespeare’s Coriolanus. In contrast to Shakespeare, Collin shifts the drama inward – the play is about Coriolan’s inner moral dilemma – and has the protagonist kill himself at the end.

The overture begins with an introductory section consisting of a series of loud chords separated by rests. The first theme is in minor mode and sounds unstable. The second theme, now in the relative major, is lyrical and more stable. While the first theme suggests Coriolan’s dark, brooding thoughts, the second theme conjures up images of his pleading mother and wife.

The middle section develops smaller motifs taken from the exposition. The music shifts downward and features several beautiful exchanges between the strings and the woodwinds. The return of the introductory material marks the beginning of the recapitulation. The first theme is shortened, and the second one is expanded. The introductory material returns one last time, now followed by a coda in which the first theme is dissolved into silence.


Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)


Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58 was premiered in March 1807 at a private concert in the Vienna palace of Prince Lobkowitz. The first public performance, with the composer as soloist, took place on December 22, 1808.

The fourth piano concerto has an unusual beginning with the piano playing the first five measures alone with the strings gently taking over the theme from the piano. This movement is filled with grace and beautiful themes. The soloist and orchestra are in a conversation with one another.

The following movement, Andante con moto, is downright threatening. Arthur Rubinstein once described it as having been “written by a man in mortal fear.” Particularly bold in its time was Beethoven’s refusal here to conform to the Classical notion of “concerto” as a cooperative venture. The composer has piano and orchestra not embracing but facing off against each other, the orchestra bellowing its anger at the seeming adversary, the piano, which responds more beseechingly than defiantly.

In the final measures, the orchestra’s energy – and anger – is spent, allowing the piano to depart quietly, before whispering strings launch the vivacious rondo-finale, joined by the now boisterously energetic piano.

Symphony No. 1 in C major, Op. 21
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 – 1827)


Beethoven’s First Symphony, dedicated to Baron Gottfried Van Swieten, came at age 29, at the beginning of the 19th century. It appeared late in what scholars define as the first of three periods of Beethoven’s career, just a year or two before the crisis brought about by his gradual loss of hearing.

The opening Adagio molto seems to begin in the wrong tonality, with a dominant chord resolving to the subdominant key. A critic at the time remarked: “No one will censure an ingenious artist like Beethoven for such liberties and peculiarities, but such a beginning is not suitable for the opening of a grand concert in a spacious opera house.” The vibrant Allegro con brio that follows is filled with playful energy.

The second movement (Andante cantabile con moto) begins with the second violins presenting a courtly theme that is taken up fugally by other instruments; this theme alternates with a more light-hearted melody.

The third movement, although marked Menuetto (Allegro molto e vivace), is in the spirit and fast tempo of a scherzo in all but name.

The final movement begins with an Adagio that leads to an Allegro molto e vivace. After a loud chord intoned by the full orchestra, the first violins slowly work their way up the notes of the scale, first three notes, four, five, six, and seven, then going into the energetic octave scale that initiates the fast tempo sustained for the rest of the movement.
 

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