Beethoven’s nine symphonies are the cornerstone of the Western musical tradition, and one of humankind’s supreme artistic triumphs. Spanning a quarter of a century, they move from the delightful No. 1 – Beethoven’s take on the Haydnesque comedy of manners – via the ethically charged Eroica and fifth symphonies, to the monumental Choral, a paean to universal brotherhood.
Explosive rhythmic energy, euphoric excitement, intense lyric beauty, the sense of a spiritual journey bravely undertaken and triumphantly concluded: all are crucial ingredients in the elemental appeal of Beethoven’s symphonies. In our fractured, precarious age, his vision, presented with a force that so shocked his contemporaries, still speaks to a majority of music lovers with a directness and urgency unmatched by any other composer. The American musicologist Joseph Kerman has written tellingly of Beethoven’s ‘determination to touch common mankind as nakedly as possible’. History has vindicated him, triumphantly.
Recreating the kind of sound world that Beethoven would have known, John Eliot Gardiner is one of the most dynamic and probing interpreters of his symphonies. With his peerless Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, his performances have been widely acclaimed for their visceral excitement and their scrupulous fidelity to the score, not least Beethoven’s own challenging metronome markings. We feel certain this will be an unmissable, thought-provoking event.
The venue for all five concerts is a unesco World Heritage Site, Lluís Domènech i Montaner’s exuberant Palau de la Música. A riotous mix of sculpture, stained glass, mosaics and decorative ironwork, it is one of the most important works of Catalan Modernism, the architectural movement that transformed Barcelona in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.
During the days, we explore the works of the most famous exponent of modernisme, Antoni Gaudí, while the likes of Picasso and Miró are well-represented in the Catalan capital’s excellent galleries. There are also daily talks on the concerts by our lecturer, and plenty of time to rest and prepare for the evening concerts.
Fly at c. 1.15pm from London Heathrow to Barcelona. Arrive early evening and settle into the hotel before dinner.
An introductory walk takes in the Ramblas and the cobbled streets and blind alleys of the Barri Gòtic, perhaps Europe’s best preserved Gothic quarter. An exclusive tour of the Palau de la Música, venue for all five concerts, includes areas not usually visitable by the public. Free afternoon. Evening concert with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (who perform at all concerts in this Cycle), Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor for all concerts), Lucy Crowe (soprano): Prometheus Overture, Op. 43; Concert Aria ‘Ah perfido’, Op. 65; Symphony No. 1; Overture, ‘Ach, brich noch nicht, du mattes Herz!’ & ‘Komm, Hoffnung, lass den letzten Stern’ from Leonore Op. 138; Finale from Prometheus.
Morning visits to the magnificent and richly adorned Gothic cathedral, with superb Flamboyant cloister, and the Picasso Museum which, installed in neighbouring mansions, ranks second only to Paris for the size and quality of its collection. Lunch and free afternoon. Evening concert: Symphony No. 2; Symphony No. 3, ‘Eroica’.
Begin at Casa Vicens, one of Antoni Gaudí’s earliest commissions in multi-coloured Moorish style, re-opened in 2017 after restoration. Drive to his Parc Güell, the incomplete ‘garden suburb’ with sinuous ceramic-clad tiles and the house Gaudí lived in for 20 years, now a museum. Free afternoon. Evening concert: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5.
Outside the city, visit the mountain-top shrine of Montserrat, Catalonia’s spiritual home. The gallery here contains works by El Greco, Caravaggio, Dalí and Picasso and more. Return to Barcelona via Gaudí’s crypt at the Colonia Güell, arguably his greatest work, set amongst the pine trees in an industrial paradise. Free evening.
Morning visit to Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia, the vast, still unfinished church which is one of the best-known buildings in the world. Lunch and free afternoon. Evening concert: Symphony No. 6, ‘Pastoral’; Symphony No. 7.
On the Montjuïc hill visit the Miró Foundation, a huge collection of works by the Barcelona artist. The National Museum of Catalan Art, with altarpieces and detached frescoes from all over the region, is one of the finest collections of medieval art anywhere. Evening concert with the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, the Monteverdi Choir, the Cor de Cambra choir of the Palau de la Música, Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor): Symphony No. 8; Symphony No. 9, ‘Choral’.
Early afternoon flight to London Heathrow, arriving at c. 2.00pm.
Music writer, lecturer and broadcaster for BBC Radio 3. He writes for BBC Music Magazine and Gramophone and has taught classes in Lieder history and interpretation at the Guildhall, Trinity College of Music and Birkbeck College. He read French and German at Cambridge and later studied Music at the Guildhall. His publications include Schubert: the complete song texts and Pocket Guide to Haydn. Twitter: @wigmoresworld | Website: wigmoresworld.co.uk
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,340 or £3,220 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,740 or £3,620 without flights.
Air travel (economy class) with British Airways (aircraft: Airbus 320); travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 3 lunches and 4 dinners, with wine, water and coffee; all admissions; all tips for waiters, drivers and guides; all taxes; the services of the lecturer and a local guide.
Tickets (first category) for 5 performances are included, costing c. £525.
Hotel Le Méridien, Barcelona: 5-star hotel on the Ramblas; contemporary and stylish with an excellent restaurant. Single rooms are doubles for sole use
Visits require a lot of walking and standing around. There are some late nights but starts are leisurely. The concert venue is a c. 15-minute walk from the hotel. There is also some travel by Metro.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting: www.fco.gov.uk.