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Ludwig van Beethoven Listen to Audio

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 8

Roberto Abbado, conductor

Capping a decade of symphonic expansions and innovations, Beethoven returned in his Eighth Symphony to the shortest, smallest form since his First, a work patterned after Haydn’s influential “London” Symphonies from the 1790s. Still, Beethoven’s efficiency should not be confused with complacency; the central thrust of his music in this period was to distill each gesture down to its essence, whether it was the imposing “fate” motive of the Fifth Symphony or the jolly intervals and fragments that underpin the Eighth.

The Eighth Symphony begins with a thematic statement as clear and balanced as any by Mozart or Haydn, with orderly alternations of downward- and upward-moving phrases. But then, within seconds, the theme compresses into a leaping gesture that guides the way to the second theme and beyond. By the end of the exposition, the whole orchestra is leaping up and down in octaves, a gesture that carries forward into the development section. The “real” theme is buried in the basses and bassoons at the climactic moment of return, but it gets the last word at the end of a whimsical coda.

Continuing the departure of the Seventh Symphony, which replaced the typical slow movement with a faster Allegretto, the Eighth Symphony goes even further by assigning the second movement a joking quality reflected in its Allegretto scherzando tempo marking. The humor centers on a three-note motive that eventually shrinks to two notes and then just a single shudder. Having dispensed with the playfulness in the second movement, the third movement takes the form of a graceful minuet, rather than a more rambunctious scherzo.

The finale flies by at a whirlwind Allegro vivace tempo, which Beethoven specified as 84 measures per minute. In the many pulsating passages of tremolo, each note lasts not quite six-hundredths of a second!

Aaron Grad ©2018

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Nicola Campogrande Listen to Audio

Nicola Campogrande

Urban Gardens for Piano and Orchestra (World Premiere, SPCO Commission)

Roberto Abbado, conductor
Emanuele Arciuli, piano

Composer’s Note:

The score is inspired by the urban gardens that are becoming a new, exciting presence in our cities. In such a setting I imagined the piano as an urban memory and the orchestra as a green, vegetal presence that surrounds it. Doing that, I created in my mind three special places to develop the different movements of the score.

The first is indeed ideally On a Concert Hall Rooftop: some echoes of great piano concertos of the past—not their actual notes, rhythms, or sounds but just faint memories of them—come to visit the piano part, whereas the orchestra is agitated by the pressure of plants that are growing up, seeds that are unfolding, and vegetables that are expanding.

The second movement is imagined In a Jazz Club Courtyard, where the piano, for most of the section, is surrounded just by winds, brass, and percussion instruments. There is something connected to a blues-style ballad, in the main theme, but some other different elements are part of the movement, from a dramatic climax to a variation where the piano part is written in a toccata style. The peculiar ability of jazz to devour and transform everything is evoked in the final section, where the strings, too, become part of the game: the piano presents some micro-quotes of classical repertoire in a jazz style and the dialog between the two worlds is strongly underlined.

The third movement hails from an urban garden created On a Studio Terrace and the general form, the musical materials, and some specific orchestral solutions are connected to the job of recording and editing in a studio. Probably our imaginary plants are now big and strong, because their sound is full of energy and rhythm, and if you think you’re listening to a tomato or to some string beans ready to be picked, you’re not completely wrong.

Nicola Campogrande ©2012

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Ludwig van Beethoven Watch Video

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 7

Roberto Abbado, conductor

It is the emotionally volatile Beethoven who holds the popular imagination in his thrall. The Sturm und Drang Beethoven, Beethoven in C minor (the Pathétique Sonata, the Fifth Symphony). In one of Hollywood’s sillier moments, in the film Immortal Beloved, Beethoven-as-played-by-Gary-Oldman explains the ferocity of the Kreutzer Sonata thus: “A man is trying to reach his lover. His carriage has broken down in the rain, the wheels stuck in the mud. She will only wait so long. This is the sound of his agitation.” Such faux-biographical nonsense has nothing actually to do with Beethoven, but reveals much about what we as listeners are drawn to in his music.

Witness, too, the cliché about Beethoven’s even- vs. odd-numbered symphonies: that the odds—the triumphant Third (Eroica); the Fifth, in which “Fate knocks at the door”; the transcendent Ninth, culminating in the “Ode to Joy”—are the profound ones, as though Nos. 2, 4, 6 (Pastoral), and 8 were mere bagatelles, written on the composer’s cigarette breaks from the real work of revolutionizing Western music.

It’s arguably in his sunnier, more extroverted moods that we truly encounter the muscularity of Beethoven’s language. Which is not at all to discredit the thunderous Fifth. Who could live without it? How deficient the vocabulary of Western civilization would seem without that terrifying four-note knock at the door. And as the symphony builds, how Beethoven methodically lays brick upon brick; as that insistent rhythmic motto powers the work’s gripping momentum, the strength of his voice is indisputable.

The Seventh Symphony greets us with music of a starkly different temperament: the opening orchestral tutti, not a threat as in the Fifth, but a buoyant Hello! Happy to see you!—then the oboe, tenderly: My dear, it’s been too long. Tutti: Hello! Clarinets, horns, flutes enter in turn, eagerly inviting us in.

This graceful introduction welcomes us into the Seventh Symphony, unhurriedly pours us a cup of tea—and then, once we’ve been made thoroughly comfortable—Are you sure I can’t get you anything else?—finally, we meet the first theme. In place of the fateful door-knock, Beethoven gives us a jubilant tune whose wingspan far eclipses the Fifth Symphony’s germinal four-note cell. And now we discover that the Seventh Symphony, unexpectedly, stands toe-to-toe with the Fifth. For it is this music—this long-breathed, effervescent “peasant dance,” to quote Hector Berlioz (“ronde de paysans”)—whose galloping rhythm catapults the first movement to such great heights. In the Fifth Symphony, a terse shake of the head grows into a furious roar; with the Seventh, Beethoven lets the light into his charming country chateau to reveal a glorious cathedral.

Each of the symphony’s four movements is defined by its pulse. The first movement’s bright-eyed gallop accelerates to an animated Presto in the third movement, then turns manic in the finale. In each case, the music’s rhythmic character is in the foreground, supporting Richard Wagner’s description of the Seventh Symphony as the “apotheosis of the dance.”

Of course, there’s that unsmiling second movement, a powerful utterance and the Seventh Symphony’s entrée to the company of the other odd-numbered symphonies. (N.B.: This movement figures into another breathtaking instance of Hollywood’s being Hollywood. Search for “Mr. Holland’s Opus beethoven 7” on YouTube.) The bright A-major chord that opens the symphony is here transmuted into introspective A minor, scored for winds alone (sans the bright hue of the flute), struck forte, then immediately decaying to pianissimo. The incessant dactyl-spondee pattern (long-short-short, long-long) that emerges from that A-minor exhalation, and persists throughout the movement, suggests a funeral march. But Beethoven’s tempo marking is Allegretto: slightly less fast than Allegro, and certainly not the Adagio assai of the Eroica Symphony’s marcia funèbre. The word itself, Allegretto (Beethoven could have chosen, say, Andantino), sounds nimble. Even at its most seemingly somber moment, the Seventh Symphony remains fleet of foot. Much as we might wish to assign it an air of solemnity (and, indeed, one often hears it performed this way, at a tragically slow tempo), such gravitas is undue. This Allegretto is simply another side of the dance.

Patrick Castillo ©2014

About This Program

Approximate length 2:00

Kicking off a monumental celebration of Beethoven’s complete symphony cycle, the 2014-15 season begins with Roberto Abbado on the podium conducting Beethoven’s Seventh and Eighth symphonies. Heralded as “an authoritative figure on the multifaceted horizon of all things modern,” (Premio Franco Abbiati jury) acclaimed pianist Emanuele Arciuli joins the SPCO for the world premiere of Urban Gardens by composer Nicola Campogrande, a piece inspired by the transformative nature of flora as it emerges in city spaces.

Visit our Green Room page for information on our Opening Night Post-Concert Celebration.

This concert is part of our complete Beethoven symphony cycle.