The nine symphonies of Beethoven stand as the defining monuments of their genre. Such is their iconic status that even those who know nothing else about classical music can immediately identify the Fifth Symphony’s ‘fate’ motif, or the ‘joy’ theme from the finale of the Ninth. Quite apart from their beauty, originality and intellectual rigour, Beethoven’s symphonies seem to embody the romantic notion of the artist struggling in circumstances of adversity to produce works of genius that would be fully appreciated only by later generations.
In the quarter-century that elapsed between the appearance of his classically-proportioned First Symphony and the colossal Ninth, Beethoven transformed the genre almost beyond recognition. Already in 1804, the ‘Eroica’ Symphony was conceived on a canvas of previously unimagined grandeur and breadth (“a very long drawn-out, daring and wild fantasy”, one reviewer called it following its first public performance), and with the world-embracing Ninth Symphony Beethoven produced a work whose impact would reverberate for more than a century to come. No later symphonic composer could afford to ignore Beethoven’s achievement, and none remained unaffected by it.
The Concertgebouw opened to the public in 1888 with an inaugural concert featuring an orchestra of 120 and 500 singers conducted by Henri Viotta, that performed works by Wagner, Beethoven, Handel and Bach. The Great Hall is renowned for its excellent acoustics, despite little being known of the science behind them at the time of construction.
Fly at c.11.00am from London Heathrow to Amsterdam Schiphol (British Airways). After a lecture and dinner, walk to the Concertgebouw. Concert with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Jonathan Nott (conductor), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano): Beethoven, Symphony No.1; Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.37; Symphony No.3 ‘Eroica’.
Morning concert with the Orchèstre des Champs-Elysées, Philippe Herreweghe (conductor): Beethoven, Symphonies Nos 2 and 4. With its concentric canals and 17th-century mansions, Amsterdam is one of the loveliest capitals in the world. Our visit with an art historian to the brilliantly refurbished Rijksmuseum concentrates on the major works in its unrivalled collection of Golden Age paintings, Rembrandt’s Night Watch and four Vermeers among them.
Visit the the Hermitage Museum, an outpost of the St Petersburg institution, with changing exhibitions (not yet announced) and a long-term show of portraits of the Golden Age. After lunch continue to the Portuguese Synagogue, a fine building of the 17th century. The rest of the afternoon and evening is left free for independent exploration. There is no concert today.
Day trip to Den Haag (The Hague), seat of the court and parliament. The Mauritshuis contains a superb collection of Dutch 17th-century paintings including masterpieces by Rembrandt and Vermeer. Visit also the illusionistic Mesdag Panorama. Evening concert with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra, Gottfried von der Goltz (conductor): Beethoven, Symphonies Nos 5 and 6.
Morning tour of the Royal Palace, formerly the very grand town hall, decorated by the leading painters of the 17th century (subject to closure for royal functions). Visit also the gothic Oude Kerk, the oldest building in the city, and Our Lord in the Attic, a secret Catholic church. Evening concert with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment: Beethoven, Symphonies Nos 7 and 8.
Morning visit to the Van Gogh Museum, the world’s largest holding of over 200 of the artist’s paintings, many from brother Theo’s collection. Evening concert with the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Sir Mark Elder (conductor): Beethoven, Symphony No.9.
Drive to Haarlem, the chief artistic centre in the northern Netherlands in the 16th century and home to the first of the great masters of the Golden Age, Frans Hals. His finest works are in the excellent museum here, an inspiring end to the tour. Fly from from Amsterdam and return to London Heathrow at c. 2.30pm.
Price, per person
Two sharing: £3,070 or £2,950 without flights. Single occupancy: £3,610 or £3,490 without flights.
Flights (economy class) with British Airways; travel by private coach; hotel accommodation as described below; breakfasts, 1 lunch and 4 dinners, with wine; all admissions; tips for restaurant staff, drivers and guides; state and airport taxes; the services of the lecturer and tour manager and local art historians.
Tickets (first plus and first categories) for 5 concerts are included.
NH Amsterdam Centre: comfortable 4-star hotel, 15 minutes’ walk from the Concertgebouw and 500 metres from the Rijksmuseum. Single rooms are doubles for sole use.
Visits require a fair amount of walking and standing around. Vehicular access is restricted in the city centre and participants are expected to walk to the Concertgebouw, though a coach to the hotel is provided after evening concerts. There are some late nights but starts are leisurely.
Between 10 and 22 participants.
Before booking, please refer to the FCDO website to ensure you are happy with the travel advice for the destination(s) you are visiting.