posted on 05/01/21
Richard Wigmore gives a series of five weekly webinars on the greatest orchestral canon in the Classical/Romantic era – the nine symphonies by Beethoven. Beginning on 28th January, all are on Thursdays at 4.30pm (GMT) and last 50 to 55 minutes including a question and answer session at the end.
Writer, critic and lecturer, Richard is among the most perceptive and articulate musicologists of our time. The Viennese School is his speciality.
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Buoyed by his early successes in Vienna, the 29-year-old Beethoven staked his claim as the heir of the Classical symphonic tradition with his First Symphony. He succeeded, brilliantly, in a work of exuberant comic invention. The Viennese approved. Two years later, the Second Symphony remained, just, within the Haydn-Mozart tradition, yet it provoked hostility for its ‘grotesque wildness’ and ‘extravagant modulations’.
In the wake of Beethoven’s despair at his encroaching deafness, the ‘Eroica’, No. 3, is a true watershed work: in its epic scale and scope, its sheer originality and, not least, its ethical aura. Symphony No. 4 may seem a throwback to an earlier age, but this largely unshadowed music is a masterpiece of wit, subtlety and lyric beauty.
Beethoven’s most famous symphony, No. 5, is, with the Ninth, the blueprint for so many darkness-to-light narratives of the Romantic era. Yet for all its extra-musical associations, the symphony exudes a Classical rigour and motivic economy. Its (mainly) serene antithesis, the ‘Pastoral’, No. 6, is testimony to Beethoven’s profound love of nature, culminating in a finale that mingles rusticity with pantheistic ecstasy.
The Viennese premiere of the Seventh Symphony in 1813 was one of the greatest triumphs of Beethoven’s career. Even by his standards, the symphony is an astonishing discharge of Dionysiac energy. Wagner famously dubbed it ‘the apotheosis of the dance’. Its genial successor, No. 8 – compact in scale but not in reach – was a mixed success, much to the annoyance of the composer.
Beethoven’s symphony quickly became a cultural icon after its premiere in May 1824. No other piece of instrumental music has provoked so many flights of critical fancy. Whether or not you hear the Ninth as tragedy-to-triumph autobiography, as the Romantics did, its vast choral finale with Schiller’s Ode to Joy remains Beethoven’s most overwhelming expression of Enlightenment ideals of human perfectibility.
Register for the webinar series for £60