One of Australia’s finest cellists and ANAM Head of Cello and Strings, Howard Penny talks about the repertoire featured in ANAM’s Beethoven 2 concert on Friday 15 May.
Exploration and discovery: pushing stylistic boundaries
When selecting the program for this project there were several considerations I bore in mind: the importance for our students of playing and understanding core repertoire from earlier periods, with associated stylistic considerations; the fascinating historical development of the orchestral use of woodwinds especially horns, trumpets and timpani – parts that may appear simple but whose intelligent and lively realisation can be life or death for a performance; and wishing to present less-often-played works by well-known composers, which are full of originality and terrific both to listen to and to play.
The program includes representatives of so-called Baroque, Classical and Romantic periods, whereby there are perhaps more similarities than differences in the actual tools of expression. What could be more romantic than the Air of the Bach Suite? And where are the stylistic boundaries between the Haydn and the Beethoven? Both are extraordinary and at times outrageous, and share a similar language of confrontation, as well as of beauty. All three works start with an overture, so we also have a historical thread through the program. A traditional French overture in Bach, one that uses the traditional dotted figures but has a much greater range of expression in Haydn, and one that pushes the boundaries even further in the Beethoven, almost a mini operatic scene before the first movement proper. Fascinating to compare!
The orchestral Suite was a genre developed by Lully in the late 1600s, and taken up and made popular by many others including Telemann. The Orchestral suite by Bach was the one Mendelssohn chose to present in his ground-breaking Historical Concerts in Leipzig in 1838. The ceremonious Overture is followed by the now famous Air (which has been transcribed for practically every known instrument in the meantime), a pair of Gavottes and a Gigue, so we can work on some real baroque dance style. The addition of two oboes, three trumpets and timpani to the strings makes for a wonderfully bright and optimistic sound world – a great opener.
The Haydn Symphony no.100 was composed for his second visit to London in 1794 and was immediately immensely popular. It has since been dubbed the ‘Military’ due to the shocking entrance of an entire kitchen sink of percussion in the second movement, in the ‘Turkish’ style, representing the atrocities of war that were never far away at the time if you happened to live in continental Europe. Haydn’s intent to “startle the complacent London audience with something new” is still effective today, further debunking the absurd popular picture of an avuncular ‘Papa’ Haydn: he was an innovator of the first rank, and later composers, especially Beethoven, owed and acknowledged a tremendous debt to him.
Beethoven’s second symphony is surprisingly seldom performed: it keeps the orchestration of a late Haydn symphony but takes the colours of dynamic, orchestration and articulation to even further extremes. There is more independence of woodwind parts and the horns commute between the wind section and the trumpet/timpani alliance. Interestingly there is a contemporaneous report of a performance of this symphony conducted by Beethoven himself, which documents the sometimes extreme freedom of tempo he employed in the second movement in particular. This can be a little shocking to musicians and listeners accustomed to the more usual staid or ‘set and forget’ tempi often employed in performances of music of this period, but there can be no doubting the authenticity of this truly Romantic flexibility. We’ll be looking for the rhythms of persuasive speech rather than machines here! And a dazzling virtuosic finale closes this evening of exploration and discovery – bring it on!
Friday 15 May, 7pm
ANAM, South Melbourne Town Hall
This performance is presented in partnership with Sofitel Melbourne on Collins
The development of the ANAM Orchestra is supported by the Ian Potter Foundation