Perhaps the most recognized four-note phrase in all music is the opening of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony . That G-G-G-E flat sequence, along with the image of the composer with wild hair and blazing eyes, has come to stand not just for Beethoven but perhaps all of classical music.
The Dartmouth Symphony Orchestra hopes to set that baggage aside and allow its audience to hear the Symphony with new ears as it performs it on Saturday, February 23, 8 pm, at Hopkins Center for the Arts, as part of an all-Beethoven program. Along with the Fifth, the program consists of the “Emperor” piano concerto No. 5, featuring Hop pianist-in-residence Sally Pinkas, and the Coriolan Overture, written for a play about Coriolanus, the Roman general who inspired the eponymous Shakespeare’s play. Last November, the Hop presented the US premiere of a landmark production of Coriolanus by the Stratford Festival, directed by Robert Lepage.
The concert is preceded at 7 pm by a free pre-show slideshow and talk in the Top of the Hop by DSO conductor Filippo Ciabatti, focusing on that night’s program and the DSO’s December tour of Tuscany.
Widely regarded as the greatest composer who ever lived, Ludwig van Beethoven [1770-1827] was rooted in the Classical traditions of Joseph Haydn and Mozart, but in his own encompassed the new spirit of humanism and incipient nationalism of his “Enlightenment” time. Completed in 1808, the Fifth Symphony embodies a sense of struggle and triumph akin to the composer’s own life, which was marked by childhood abuse, early-onset deafness and the hardship of earning a living in a creative endeavor. Its unmistakable “short-short-short-long” opening motif is one of the most recognized phrases in all Western music. Wrote 19th-century French author Hector Berlioz, the Fifth, more than Beethoven’s previous four symphonies, “emanates directly and solely from the genius of Beethoven. It is his own intimate thought that is developed; and his secret sorrows, his pent-up rage, his dreams so full of melancholy oppression, his nocturnal visions and his bursts of enthusiasm furnish its entire subject, while the melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and orchestral forms are there delineated with essential novelty and individuality, endowing them also with considerable power and nobility.”
Want to see the Fifth Symphony, First Movement, animated with a bar-graph score? Of course you do! Click here. Or perhaps you need to hear this 1976 disco version which reached number 80 on the Hot 100?
Completed in 1809, Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto is magisterial and poetic. This may be what an English music publisher had in mind when he dubbed it the “Emperor” concerto; ironically, it was written while Vienna, Beethoven’s adopted home was under occupation by French Emperor Napoleon’s troops, about which the composer complained bitterly in letters. The work also take memorable melodic turns; for example, the second movement may have inspired Leonard Bernstein’s opening phrase of the song Somewhere in the musical West Side Story.
Pinkas is the long-time pianist in residence at the Hop, and performs two major concerts a year at the arts center. Her solo discography includes works by Fauré , Schumann, Debussy, Rochberg, Perez-Velazquez and Wolff. The Wall Street Journal noted her “exquisite performance” in her “superlatively well-played” recording of Harold Shapero’s piano music (Toccata Classics, UK), and Gramophone hailed her as “the scintillating force…” in a recent Mozart release (MSR). A world-touring concert artist, in 2019 Pinkas will perform “The Emperor” as she makes her Indonesian debut with the Bandung Symphony.
Below, hear Pinkas play another German Romantic composer, Robert Schumann, in concert at the Hop:
Written in 1807, the Coriolan Overture, Op. 62, was composed as incidental music for Heinrich Joseph von Collin’s 1804 tragedy Coriolan, which tells of the same Roman leader whom Shakespeare immortalized in his play Coriolanus. The overture underscores the play’s ideas, the C minor theme echoing Coriolanus’ resolve and war-like tendencies (he is about to invade Rome), while the more tender E-flat major theme represents the pleadings of his mother to desist.
Beethoven transformed concert music, writes New Yorker music critic Alex Ross in a 2014 article. His music set expectations that persist to the present day as to the size and make up of professional orchestras, the design of the modern piano, the 75-minute LP—even the “hush-hush-you’re-clapping-at-the-wrong-time” concert-going code of behavior that puts off so many concert music newbies. “After Beethoven, the concert hall came to be seen not as a venue for diverse, meandering entertainments but as an austere memorial to artistic majesty. Listening underwent a fundamental change. To follow Beethoven’s dense, driving narratives, one had to lean forward and pay close attention. The musicians’ platform became the stage of an invisible drama, the temple of a sonic revelation.”