Beethoven – Violin Concerto and Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral”

Under the baton of the Dutch conductor and former violinist Bernard Haitink, who regarded as an authority on the music of Beethoven, the Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra) performs Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D major, Op. 61 and the Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, also known as the Pastoral Symphony (German Pastoral-Sinfonie). For the Violin Concerto the Berliner Philharmoniker were joined by multi-awarded violinist Isabelle Faust. Recorded live at the Festspielhaus Baden-Baden, April 2015; published by the EuroArts channel.

Violin Concerto of Beethoven

Beethoven wrote his violin concerto for his colleague, the Austrian violinist Franz Clement (November 17 or 18?, 1780 – November 3, 1842), a leading violinist of the day, who had earlier given him helpful advice on his opera Fidelio. The work was premiered on 23 December 1806 in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, the occasion being a benefit concert for Clement. The first printed edition (1808) was also dedicated to Franz Clement.

The work is in three movements:

  1. Allegro ma non troppo (D major)
  2. Larghetto (G major)
  3. Rondo. Allegro (D major)

Pastoral Symphony

First performed in the Theater an der Wien on 22 December 1808, the “Pastoral” is the warmest and probably the most beloved of all Beethoven’s nine symphonies.

Beethoven was a lover of nature who spent a great deal of his time on walks in the country. He frequently left Vienna, the city where he lived in from 1792 until his death (1827), to work in rural locations. His sixth represents the expression of the love the composer holds for nature.

Unlike the other symphonies of the Classical era, the Pastoral has five movements, instead of four. Beethoven annotated the beginning of each movement as follows:

  1. Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande (Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside): Allegro ma non troppo

    The 1st part has as programmatic indication (1). This part has genuine popular sonority through the choice of instruments and the use of typically rural instrumental music. Musical themes are short, allowing shifts from one psychological state to another through their repetition.

    Theme I (one) brings a new climate, more of a motif, which through segmentation will ultimately create a natural setting in which man is shrouded in pleasure.

  2. Szene am Bach (Scene by the brook): Andante molto mosso

    This movement, titled by Beethoven “By the brook,” is in 12/8 meter; the key is B flat major, the subdominant of the main key of the work. The movement is in sonata form.

    At the opening the strings play a motif that clearly imitates flowing water. The cello section is divided, with just two players playing the flowing-water notes on muted instruments, with the remaining cellos playing mostly pizzicato notes together with the double basses.

    The cadenza of bird calls in the second movement; the intended species are labeled in German. Click to enlarge.
    Toward the end of the movement there is a cadenza for woodwind instruments that imitates bird calls. Beethoven helpfully identified the bird species in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (two clarinets).

  3. Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute (Merry gathering of country folk): Allegro

    This movement is particularly interesting from the point of view of the construction. This is a scherzo in 3/4 time, which depicts country folk dancing and reveling. The theme is built through the repetition of a motif, only on totally different structures (F major and then D major), as if it reflects the external position of the viewer with regard to the others.

  4. Gewitter, Sturm (Thunder. Storm): Allegro

    The fourth movement, in F minor, depicts a violent thunderstorm with painstaking realism, building from just a few drops of rain to a great climax with thunder, lightning, high winds, and sheets of rain. The storm eventually passes, with an occasional peal of thunder still heard in the distance. There is a seamless transition into the final movement. When the storm is over, all living creatures come to the surface, taking their place in the natural cycle; this is rendered by a choral of flutes, which come as a true sunshine.

  5. Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm (Shepherd’s song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm): Allegretto

    The fifth and last movement is a hymn of gratitude towards nature. The finale is in F major and is in 6/8 time and constructed as a sonata with rondo elements, impresses through its simplicity and constitutes a true idyll, a pastoral scene. This is a genuine idyll, infinitely strain from false musical-idyllic fantasies, so often reminding of Arcadian shepherds, in satin bowed shoes and sheep with pink or blue-sky ribbons.

    The coda starts quietly and gradually builds to an ecstatic culmination for the full orchestra (minus “storm instruments”), with the first violins playing very rapid triplet tremolo on a high F. There follows a fervent passage suggestive of prayer, marked by Beethoven “pianissimo, sotto voce”; most conductors slow the tempo for this passage. After a brief period of afterglow, the work ends with two emphatic F major chords.

Isabelle Faust

Isabelle Faust
Isabelle Faust. Photo: Arts Management Group website

Isabelle Faust (born 1972 in Esslingen, Germany) is a violinist who has won multiple awards.

She captivates her listeners through her insightful and faithful interpretations, based on a thorough knowledge of the historical context of the works as well as her attention to current scholarship.

At an early age, Isabelle Faust won the prestigious Leopold Mozart and Paganini competitions and was soon invited to appear with the world’s leading orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo. She continues to be one of the most sought-after violinists in the world.

Isabelle Faust performs a wide-ranging repertoire, from J.S Bach all the way through to contemporary composers such as Ligeti, Lachenmann and Widmann. Ever keen to explore new musical horizons, Faust is equally at home as a chamber musician and as a soloist with major orchestras or period ensembles. To highlight this versatility, in addition to her mastery of the great symphonic violin concertos, Isabelle Faust also performs works such as Kurtág’s “Kafka Fragments” with the soprano Christine Schäfer, or Brahms’ and Mozart’s clarinet quintets on historical instruments.

Over the course of her career, Isabelle Faust has regularly performed or recorded with world-renowned conductors including Frans Brüggen, Mariss Jansons, Giovanni Antonini, Philippe Herreweghe, Daniel Harding and Bernard Haitink.

During recent years Isabelle Faust developed a close relationship with the late Claudio Abbado and performed and recorded under his baton. Their recording of Beethoven’s and Berg’s violin concertos with the Orchestra Mozart received a “Diapason d’or” (France), “Echo Klassik” (Germany), “Gramophone Award 2012” (UK) as well as a “Record Academy Award” (Japan).

Faust has recorded many discs for harmonia mundi with her recital partner Alexander Melnikov. These include their latest album with the Brahms Sonatas for violin and piano, which will be released in September 2015. In addition, the second installment of the Schumann Trilogy — recorded with Alexander Melnikov, Jean-Guihen Queyras, the Freiburger Barockorchester and Pablo Heras-Casado, featuring the Piano Concerto and Piano Trio No. 2 op. 63 — will be issued in August 2015. The third and final installment, with the Cello Concerto and Piano Trio No. 1, will be released in early 2016.

Isabelle Faust plays the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ Stradivarius (1704), kindly on loan by the L-Bank Baden-Württemberg.

Notes

  1. Program music or programme music is a type of art music that attempts to musically render an extra-musical narrative. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience in the form of program notes, inviting imaginative correlations with the music. Ludwig van Beethoven felt a certain reluctance in writing program music, and said of his 1808 Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral) that the “whole work can be perceived without description – it is more an expression of feelings rather than tone-painting”. Yet the work clearly contains depictions of bird calls, a bubbling brook, a storm, and so on.

Sources

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