Beethoven Statue

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony no. 7 in A Major, Op. 92 (1813)

I.  Poco sostenuto – Vivace (A major)

II.  Allegretto (A minor)

III.  Presto – Assai meno presto (trio) (F major, Trio in D major)

IV.  Allegro con brio (A major)

Opera composer Richard Wagner famously called this Symphony “the apotheosis of the dance,” a description that gets to the heart of this joyous Symphony. After the stately introduction, which hints at almost all the material that makes up the work, there is no more slow music, and each movement remains single mindedly obsessed with certain rhythmic patterns. In his middle period (of which this work is a classic example) Beethoven (1770–1827) was very interested in reducing the material that he worked with in large scale compositions to small units that are repeated and varied in an infinite variety of ways. These materials are similar to what pop musicians in our age call a “hook”-a small phrase that draws us into the music.

In this Symphony the “hook” in each movement is a rhythmic unit that propels the music forward. In the first movement, it starts almost hesitantly, on the flute, at the end of the introduction, before blossoming into the first theme. As though to show how versatile a three note rhythmic figure can be, the same rhythm dominates the second theme as well! In the “slow” movement (in quotes because the tempo, Allegretto, is not slow) the stately dance rhythm heard at the beginning only hesitantly and by bits turns into a melody, and later on becomes an accompanying figure to a beautiful melody. In the Scherzo, Beethoven unusually has the movement divided into five parts instead of the usual three. The trio section that normally falls between the initial Scherzo and its repeat is itself repeated, and the Scherzo comes back a third time.  He also adds a coda where he hints that he might return to the Trio again, before deftly and abruptly ending the movement. The last movement is an obsessive and wild dance that remains attached to the initial idea and the effect is overwhelmingly exciting and driven.

This exciting and vital work has remained among the most popular Symphonies in the repertoire since its premiere, but in recent years, new editions of the work have exposed a number of errors in the score that have become part of “performance tradition”, but which we and some other recent performers have stripped away to return to Beethoven’s original thoughts.

Morton Gould Autographed Photo

Morton Gould: Tap Dance Concerto (1952)

Morton Gould (1913–1996) was one of the most interesting personalities of 20th century American music. A child prodigy, his first composition was published at the age of 6. By his teens he was working as a pianist in jazz bands and in vaudeville while attending the School of Music and Art (now Juilliard) in New York City. All this played a part in his becoming  perhaps the first “cross-over” composer, whose works straddled the worlds of popular and jazz music as well as classical idioms. By the 1940’s he was writing music for propaganda films for the war effort and was becoming a well known personality on the radio. He was a fixture as a conductor, arranger, pianist and personality in the early years of television.  He later served as the President of ASCAP, where he promoted many new ideas in the area of intellectual property.

His familiarity with popular music led him to a number of experimental works that integrated various popular idioms into what was apparently a classical framework. The “Tap Dance” Concerto is one such experiment, but was hardly unique. His best known piano piece is called “Boogie Woogie Etude”.

The Tap Dance Concerto uses the dancer’s feet as a type of percussion instrument. The music is notated very specifically as to rhythm, but the choreography and type of tap is left up to the dancer. Therefore every performer who takes up the work looks and sounds different. Nevertheless, it is a true Concerto, in the traditional three movements, fast, slow, fast, with the dancer as the star and the orchestra as a helpful accompanist. Musically, although suggestions of jazz and popular music are embedded in the music, it is definitely written in Gould’s accessible, but clearly modern classical idiom.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks Headshot

Peggy Glanville-Hicks: Sinfonia da Pacifica (1952)

I.  Allegro energico

II.  Recitativo — Lento tranquillo

III.  Allegro giocoso.

Peggy Glanville-Hicks (1912–1990) was an Australian composer and music critic who led an amazing and adventurous life and whose music straddled a number of styles. She was largely trained in England, and her most important teachers were Vaughan Williams and Egon Wellesz. In fact, she claimed that the opening theme of Vaughan Williams Fourth Symphony was taken from a work she had written while studying with him. After leaving school she married a couple of gay men and spent a lot of time in Africa with the writer and composer Paul Bowles to whom she remained close for the remainder of her life. She then moved to the United States, taking American citizenship and becoming a music critic.  However after eight years she moved to Greece where she lived for twenty years and wrote  two of her best known works, the opera  Nauciscaa and the Etruscan Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, both deeply influenced by the small remaining evidence we have of the music of ancient Greece. She returned to Australia in 1979, where she died in 1990.

Her music was deeply influenced by her travels, by her innate curiosity about the places and people where she lived and by her own remarkable and highly individual sense of instrumental color.  In the Sinfonia da Pacifica, she created a riot of sound based on the drum rhythms of Oceanic music, but with a suggestion of the melodic style that she developed more fully in her “Greek” music. Despite the references to other sources, the style of the music remains utterly unique, unlike the music of any other composer of any time or place.