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Welcome to our February concert!

While I can’t guarantee the drama of the failing flutes like in January, I can promise a program of monumental music.

#fluteFail from our last concert

As we continue our exploration of the greatest composers of all time, it is fitting that we turn tonight to Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Certainly a great genius, he is probably the most frequently performed composer from the 19th Century.

We start with his Fidelio Overture. The saga of Fidelio, his only opera, is a tortured one. For starters, it originally had a different title: Leonore, oder Der Triumph der ehelichen Liebe (Leonore, or The Triumph of Married Love). The story deals with a political prisoner, Florestan, whose wife Leonore disguises herself as a male prison guard, “Fidelio”, in order to free him. Begun in 1804 and first performed in 1805, the opera went through three completed versions before the final 1814 composition we know today, and each version had its own overture! Since the opera begins with a rather light, happy scene, Beethoven struggled to find the right music to precede it. The first three attempts are known as Leonore Overture, nos. 1, 2, and 3. They are generally heavier and more serious and had the effect of overwhelming the first scene. The fourth and final one is the one we are performing. Beethoven was justified in settling on it…it is enthusiastic and upbeat, containing just a hint of the darkness to come later in the opera.

Beethoven's only opera, Fidelio
Fidelio, Michigan Opera Theatre, 2013. From left: Carsten Wittmoser as Don Pizarro, Ileana Montalbetti as Leonora, and Jason Wickson as Florestan. Photo by John Grigaitis provided courtesy of Michigan Opera Theatre.

One of our cherished traditions at the Redlands Symphony is our Concerto Competition. Each year we offer an advanced music student from the University of Redlands the opportunity to play a concerto with us. The students compete fervently for this honor, and this year the nod goes to an amazing young violinist, Miguel Aguirre. The work he will perform with us is a much beloved one: the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch (1838-1920). Written in 1866, it became almost immediately a staple in the violin repertoire. It seems to give voice to everything we love about the violin. At times heroic, virtuosic, blissful, and melancholy, you will understand right away why it is so celebrated.

Miguel Aguirre, Violin

Our closing work, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, is by any measure one of the greatest works in all of Western music. Beethoven’s output is generally divided into three periods. The Early Period is characterized by the influence of his predecessors Haydn and Mozart, along with exploration and experimentation with harmony and form. There are several great works from this period, including the first and second symphonies. The Middle Period is often called his “heroic” period. He was aware that he was losing his hearing and had bouts of deep depression which he overcame through hard work and personal struggle. He began to write music on a much larger scale, musically and emotionally, and to extend and expand the harmonic language he had inherited from the 18th Century. This was his most fruitful period, including Symphonies Nos. 3-8; the RasumovskyHarp, and Serioso string quartets Waldstein and Appassionata piano sonatas; Christ on the Mount of Olives; the opera Fidelio; and the Violin Concerto, among many other compositions.

The Symphony No. 7 was premiered in 1813 on a long concert including his new battle piece, Wellington’s Victory. Beethoven himself was on the podium, and it was an all-star band. Among the musicians that day were violinist/composer Louis Spohr and celebrated bassist Domenico Dragonetti. Composers and pianists Giacomo Meyerbeer, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Ignaz Moscheles all played percussion in Wellington’s Victory, for which composer Antonio Salieri served as a sort of assistant conductor.

The first page of the score to Beethoven's Symphony No. 7

The Seventh Symphony was a huge success that day long ago, and it has remained a part of the Western world’s musical life ever since. I defy any listener not to be bursting with excitement after hearing it!

Musically yours,

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