Bartók and Beethoven

  1. Egmont Overture
  2. Piano Concerto No. 3
  3. Symphony No. 5
  1. Marek Janowski conductor
  2. Francesco Piemontesi piano

Marek Janowski conducts music by Ludwig van Beethoven and Béla Bartók.

The opening chords of Beethoven’s famed fifth symphony ignite a violent battle of fate. His musical explosivity was often paired with a personal desire for political strife, something he was able to express in the powerful Egmont Overture. The Count of Egmont was sentenced to death for his fight against repression, and was a hero in Beethoven’s eyes. Polish-German conductor Marek Janowski leads the battalions on this occasion, and is joined for this concert by Francesco Piemontesi, who will perform Bartók’s brilliant Piano Concerto No. 3, in which Hungarian folk dance, birdsong and a homage to Beethoven all surge from the keyboard.

Beethoven has expressed my intentions with astonishing genius” exclaimed the writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe when he heard the overture to the play Egmont in 1810. The narrative is set in the 1500ss where Lamoral, the Count of Egmont, is sentenced to death for his battle for freedom. It was music to Ludwig van Beethoven’s (1770−1827) deaf ears to be given the opportunity to compose stage music with explicit political content along the lines of his own beliefs. The overture has also been used politically in more recent years, for example as a symbol of the battle against repression during the Hungarian revolution in 1956.

Another champion of Hungary’s cultural independence and uniqueness a few decades prior to the revolution was the composer Béla Bartók (1881−1945). He used particular rhythms and turns of melody from Hungarian folk music as primary ingredients in his unique form of musical modernism. In his third piano concerto, the connections to Hungarian folk tones are clearly apparent, for instance in the opening theme of the first movement. Moreoever, the expression is lighter, and the modernism less stark in his third piano concerto than in what the composer had produced earlier. This is quite clear from the passionate second movement, where Bartók refers to Beethoven’s “Heilige Dankgesang”, imitating birdsong and insect sounds in the rich nocturnal music. Piano Concerto No. 3 was the last work the composer (very nearly) completed before his death in 1945, and it received its world premiere in the following year.

Back to Beethoven and his emphatic, world-famous “fate” motif. “And fate comes knocking, Beethoven is said to have proclaimed. That these are the composer’s own words is not at all certain, and have possibly been imagined by his eager student, Anton Schindler, but the work will forever be known as Beethoven’s Fate Symphony. Many interpret the musical progression in the work as a battle against, and a triumph over, a gruesome fate. This model of musical progression − from battle to victory − was to characterise many symphonies throughout the long 19th century.

The opening motif (ta ta ta taaa!) is doubtless the central musical idea in the symphony, which hammers itself into the consciousness of most listeners, but the work has many other original ideas. The variations in the second movement are an odd mixture of a sweet cantilena and strict military music, and the third movement is at one time mysterious yet replete with Beethoven’s capricious sense of humour. The great symphonic triumph in the last movement carries it all off.

Prepare yourself for a musical battle of life and death!

(In photo: Francesco Piemontesi, Photo: Marco Borggreve; Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation from Norwegian: Sarah Osa)

Tickets

  • Adult: 100 - 470 NOK
  • Senior: 100 - 375 NOK
  • Student: 100 - 235 NOK
  • Child: 100 NOK
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