Simply Philharmonic! Vienna in Warsaw. The 250th Anniversary of the Birth of Beethoven: Beethoven Was Not Alone

12 February 2020 at 7:00 p.m.
Warsaw Philharmonic

Performed by:
Jerzy Semkow Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra
Jarosław Thiel – conductor

Joseph Martin Kraus – Symphony in C Minor VB 142 [20′]
Jan Václav Hugo Voříšek  – Symphony in D Major op. 24 [27′]
Intermission [20′]
Ludwig van Beethoven – Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major op. 60

Source: Warsaw Philharmonic

The time has come to reacquaint music connoisseurs with the greatest achievements of Ludwig van Beethoven. He and his music have begun to gather dust in recent years and although he is still part of our landscape, his presence is not as keenly felt as it once was. His symphonies are hard to find in concert programmes; his piano sonatas are performed only at schools; and perhaps his reputation is nowadays only sustained  by the string quartets which from time to time play his visionary works.

This genius, revolutionary and explorer produced an oeuvre that subsists in many dimensions: it has its roots in the best classical templates and later set the horizons of the future. Examples? Beethoven’s symphonies. If we compare the number of works written by him with those of his teacher Joseph Haydn, the difference is striking. Haydn left one hundred and four symphonies (generally speaking) while Beethoven bequeathed us a mere nine. However, during the course of writing them, Beethoven changed the weight, significance and to some extent even the content of the symphony. It is true that he was also capable of writing purely classical pieces, as in the case of Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60, which is very much in the style of Haydn; however, those who seek inventiveness in music place much more value in its immediate predecessor and successor, i.e. Eroica and The Fifth. They also more explicitly highlight the importance of his late, monumental string quartets with their exquisite, refined sound. We might also add here that Beethoven deserves to be remembered more often than simply on his birthday and that we also ought to bear in mind the different contexts of his music. For his music is great, incredible and ambiguous – without it our world would be a completely different place.

Beethoven Was Not Alone

We often think about the past selectively. Such an attitude is induced by mental shortcuts and generalisations and is a natural consequence of distance. From a remote standpoint, we can see only the most important points. It is obvious that Beethoven was not alone – if today he is considered one of the greatest geniuses in the history of music, it should also be said that without a social context and the entire infrastructure of civilisation, without other composers, both those who came “before” and those “after” him, his star would have shone with a different light. The context itself brings to the fore what was most important and precious about Beethoven.

Or perhaps it was still different: had it not been for blind fate with no respect for the talents of others, history of music would have most probably looked completely different. Fate cut the thread of life of Joseph Martin Kraus when he was only 31. This extremely talented and sensitive Swedish composer was born – just like Mozart – in 1756. Because of this coincidence he has even earned the nickname the “Swedish Mozart”; however, the similarities between the two do not end with their shared year of birth. There are also surprisingly many parallels between Krause’s artistic approach and that of the author of The Magic Flute.

Jan Václav Voříšek, who was born in Vamberk in the Czech Republic and worked in Vienna, already belongs to the next generation of early-Romantics. He knew Beethoven, a fact which is reflected, for example, in the material of his only Symphony in D Major, Op. 24. While its resemblance to Beethoven’s early symphonies is obvious, it also contains elements of early Romanticism. In other words, it combines tradition with a visionary approach, just like the great Ludwig, who could be simultaneously both  an iconoclast and a composer of successful, perfectly classical pieces, deceptively similar to Joseph Haydn’s music. This is precisely what his Symphony No. 4 in B-flat Major, Op. 60, written for the orchestra of Count Franz von Oppersdorff, is like.

Organiser Warsaw Philharmonic.