In support of the Net Patient Foundation
This overture was composed for a play by Heinrich von Collins written in 1802 based on Shakespear's tragedy of the same name. After premiering in Vienna in 1807, the uninspiring play sank without trace, while the magnificent overture lives on.
Beethoven paints a picture of a lone, heroic general attempting a rebellion against Rome. The ordinary people have become corrupt and greedy and the Senators are too weak to stand up to them. Coriolanus' mother Volumnia begs her son not to cause trouble.
The first subject of the overture in c minor depits Coriolanis' stormy nature, while the second subject is set a tone higher in the persuasive, humane character of his mother. Then the music returns in a less convinced version of the c minor statement as Coriolanius wavers in his intention, until it falls apart leaving him no option but death. Beethoven's music has him fading away almost imperceptibly.
Mendelssohn was a musical child prodigy of wealthy parents living in Leipzig, who composed and performed in public from the age of nine. When he was 27 he was appointed conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra and chose his friend Ferdinand David as its concert master and leader.
The violin concerto was conceived as a showcase for David but was not completed for many years. In the event, its first performance in 1845 was put on in haste to replace a piece starring Clara Schumann who had fallen ill. Ironically a 14 year old deputy called Joseph Joachim was assigned by David to play the solo role because he was otherwise engaged. However the conerto was an instant success and has remained so ever since.
The work follows standard classical structure, but contains interesting innovations, There is no introduction. The first movement opens with the soloist playing an unforgettable melody which raises the spirits and enchants the listener. The cadenza is written out in full, allowing for no flights of fancy or easier alternatives. Another novelty, possibly to prevent the customary applause between movements which Mendelssohn found annoying, was to ask the bassoon to hold a sustained note at the end of the first movement leading without pause into the lyrical, swaying theme of the slow movement. In the middle section the soloist is challenged with a passage of difficult double stops, accompanying its own slow theme with an undercurrent of agitated sixteenth notes. The final movement follows with a display of virtuoso violin playing in the vibrant joyous music that Mendelssohn seemed to write so effortlessly.
Beethoven was 29 when he composed his first symphony, just a year or two before his gradual loss of hearing began.
He was already a classical composer and pianist at the height of his powers and this symphony shows him strongly influenced by Mozart and Haydn, using only the instruments of a typical 'Haydn' orchestra. It was an immediate success.
However, the opening Adagio with a dominant chord resolving into a subdominant key was surprising for an audience of the period. A contemporary critic wrote: 'No one will censure an ingenious artist like Beethoven for such liberties and peculiarities, but such a beginning is not suitable for the opening of a grand concert....'. Today we find it thrilling. The vibrant Allegro con brio that follows is filled with playful energy.
The second movement, marked Andante cantabile con moto, begins with the second violins stating a courtly theme which is taken up by the other instruments in the manner of a fugue together with more light-hearted melody interspersed. The Minuetto is characteristic of Beethoven in being rather too fast and spirited for dancing. The final movement opens with a witty Adagio with instruments working their way up a scale, which tips over into a fast and uplifting Allegro molto e vivace
Notes by Netia Lascelles
Conductor: Jonathan Hargreaves