Beethoven’s First broke all the rules
The night that everyone had been talking about for months was finally here. No event in this great city of music lovers had ever been more eagerly awaited.
Beethoven's First Symphony
Honolulu Symphony, conducted by Andreas Delfs, with pianist Cecile Licad:
» In concert: 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday
» Place: Hawaii Theatre
» Tickets: $21 to $74
» Call: 528-0506 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays or visit hawaiitheatre.com
» Schumann's "Overture, Scherzo and Finale for Orchestra"
» Chopin's Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No. 2
» Beethoven's Symphony No. 1
The young musical genius who had dazzled concertgoers with his pianistic pyrotechnics, his mastery of improvisation and fierce temper would finally present his first full symphony. How audacious, how daring: What a night!
There they sat; you could have heard a pin drop. And then it began ...
I would give my left foot to have seen the look on the faces of the audience that night in 1800 when Beethoven's First Symphony premiered. The setting was the Court Theater in Vienna. Ludwig van knew that he had to grab the attention of his sophisticated listeners right away, so he decided to confuse them with an opening chord unheard of at the beginning of a piece. It is called a dominant seventh, and it is, well, unsuitable for a beginning, as it is an unresolved leading sound, meant to usher in a new harmony. It hangs in the air, waiting for a resolution: the original "unfinished question."
The opening is like starting a novel with a question, which might have been equally shocking in 1800. And it goes on from there: a first movement that has not the conventional two themes, but three; a second movement that sounds like a minuet; and a minuet that sounds like nothing heard before: It was the night they invented the scherzo.
When we perform this incredible piece today, we try to remind our audience (and ourselves) how shocking, provocative and utterly new it must have felt back then.
That night in 1800, Beethoven entered the stage of symphonic music and immediately grabbed the attention of Vienna, Europe, the world. Today, more than 200 years later, it has not faded one bit.
I invite you to experience Beethoven's groundbreaking symphony with me this weekend when the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra performs at the historic Hawaii Theatre. Celebrated pianist Cecile Licad will also join us, for Chopin's engaging Second Piano Concerto, in this gorgeous new venue for the symphony. After the concert we'll have the chance to share thoughts at "Concert Conversations."
I look forward to sharing this magnificent music with you.
Andreas Delfs is principal conductor of the Honolulu Symphony.