Tonight, APO’s Beethoven cycle continued with The Revolutionary: Symphony No. 6 and Symphony No. 7.
The sixth symphony- Pastoral premiered at the same time as his fifth, and you couldn’t have two more different pieces, it’s mindblowing that Beethoven wrote the fifth and sixth at the same time as they are polar opposites to each other, the fifth with its high octane explosive energy, and the sixth more luxurious, more contemplative.
The symphony was explicitly titled by Beethoven as ‘Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life’ and he also named each movement too, which was quite unusual for him. Instead of the standard four movements to a symphony, Beethoven decided to have five, because why not? The five movements explicitly follow a story from becoming cheerful upon arriving in the countryside, to visiting a brook and a joyous gathering of country folk to a thunderstorm, ending with a shepherd’s song and thankful feelings after the storm.
It is absolutely beautiful music, summing up the relaxing, sunny countryside perfectly with beautiful harmonies, moving to a very genteel and sweet second movement, I loved the way that the strings sounded like flowing water and then at the end of the movement the woodwind section imitated bird songs (apparently one of the things that Beethoven missed most when he became deaf).
The third, fourth and fifth movements all lead in to one another without a pause; the third reflecting a cheerful gathering of country folk is much more energetic, the strings really get to show what they can do here, this leads into the fourth which represents a thunderstorm, starting lightly with just some rain, the tension building, leading to this phenomenal climax, where the timpani really got to shine representing the thunder. The final movement starts as the calm after the storm, building and growing to this quite tender finale, like a celebration, rather than the more unbridled passion you’d find in Symphony No.5.
Symphony No. 7 premiered in Vienna, December 1813, conducted by Beethoven himself as part of a charity concert for wounded soldiers, with a truly incredible orchestra featuring now legendary composers Giacomo Meyerbeer and Antonio Salieri.
This symphony comprised four movements, and, similar, but done differently to the third movment of the sixth symphony, this symphony as a whole suggests dance and rhythm; indeed, Wagner described the symphony as “the apotheosis of the dance”. The first movement quite literally starting with a big bang, the piece feels much more fully orchestral than Pastora. The strings and brass in particular really get to show off in this movement, Bellincampi shows great restraint and control here too.
The second movement you will have heard before, in film or tv, probably most famously in The King’s Speech when King George gives his speech after World War Two has been declared. It’s a very powerful movement, the audience demanded (and received) an encore at its premiere in 1813. The double variation structure of the movement, with the strings again taking charge here is just achingly beautiful, it gets stuck in the mind for hours after.
The third movement reflects back to the first, back to more of an orchestral feel after the strings-heavy second movement and this then follows on with the fourth and final movement, which Tchaikovsky described as “a whole series of images, full of unrestrained joy, full of bliss and pleasure of life”. That tension and passion building and dissipating, before building again, leading to this stunning crescendo where all you can do is gape and applause at the power of it.
Symphonies No. 6 and No. 7 are incredibly different but showcase perfectly because of that, the revolutionary genius that was Beethoven. Who would have expected the same man that did Symphony No. 5 could go on to do what 6 and 7 turned out to be? Beethoven was ever evolving, ever changing, he was more than just one type of composer, just as audiences like more than one type of music, his genius is on full display here. The APO, under Bellincampi have shown yet again their prodigious skill and passion. What I love about the APO is throughout the concert I could see the members of the orchestra smiling, just being happy performing this together. You can tell when music is being performed by people who are playing because they love the music, because they’re passionate about it, they feel it, and that is what the APO gives you, that feeling of passion, of belonging, of happiness.
The final concert of the cycle, Symphonies No. 8 and No. 9 has already sold out on Thursday 25th November, however APO have just announced that a second performance is now happening for Friday 26th November so no excuse not to go to what I’m sure will be a phenomenal ending to this incredible music.