An Emperor’s Concert and a Hero’s Poem

  1. Piano Concerto No. 5, "Emperor"
  2. Ein Heldenleben
  1. Vasily Petrenko conductor
  2. Nobuyuki Tsujii piano

The season’s most heroic evening, featuring Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto and Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben.

Celebrated blind pianist, Nobuyuki Tsuji, will perform the jewel in the crown of Romantic piano concertos in Oslo − Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto − in honour of the composer’s 250th anniversary. Like Beethoven, Richard Strauss was also interested in the subject of heroes past and present, and perhaps the hero in question in the magnificent symphonic poem Ein Heldenleben is really the composer himself. Our Principal conductor, Vasily Petrenko, leads us through the season’s most valiant evening.

It isn’t just the staggering duration of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto (1811) which arguably makes it the crowning work of all the composer’s (1770−1827) solo concertos. From the very first moment, the grandiose, symphonic proportions of the forty-minute work are supplemented by a complexity, virtuosity and power which supercedes most of what the composer himself and his predecessors had previously written for any concerto. The fact that Beethoven began composing the concerto in 1809, the same year in which Napoleon invaded his city, Vienna, is also part of the story. This might help to explain the heroic and almost military expression in the first and last movements. Beethoven’s relationship to Napoleon changed abruptbly from deep admiration to furious contempt when the French military leader crowned himself emperor.

According to the anecdote from the premiere of Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto in Vienna in 1812, a French soldier was so taken with the magnificent music that he sprang to his feet, exclaiming C’est L’Empereur! (It’s the Emperor!) and that this was the origin of the nickname. Whether or not the story is true, the work would forever be known as the “Emperor concerto”.

“I’m no less interesting than Napoleon”, Richard Strauss (1864-1949) purportedly said of himself, and much indicates that the composer used his own person as a source of inspiration when he composed the culmination of his grand production of tone poems − Ein Heldenleben (1898). Although Strauss denied that the music was about himself, he included a series of quotes from his own works in the epic tone poem. Strauss had developed and perfected this musical form through a series of works in the 1880s and 1890s, and Ein Heldenleben includes his most advanced, varied and colourful orchestral writing.

Ein Heldenleben is written in a single part and does not include any pauses between the movements apart from the dramatic fermata between the first and the second movement. Still, the tone poem is divided into six parts, all named by the composer himself. The first part has the title The Hero. Here the hero theme, which follows the hero throughout the whole work, is introduced — a technique Strauss had learned from Wagner; the so-called leitmotif technique he used in his operas. Thereafter, Strauss presents The Hero’s Adversaries, The Hero’s Companion, The Hero at Battle, The Hero’s Works of Peace, and The Hero’s Retirement from this World and Completion through an intense and vibrant symphonic drama. Here, we are provided with real symphonic energy and excitement from the first to the last note.

Ein Heldenleben was premiered in Frankfurt in 1899 with the composer himself conducting.

Beethoven’s fifth piano concerto has been an important work in the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra’s repertoire throughout a century. It was performed already in the orchestra’s first season, in 1919, with Ignaz Neumark cunducting and Eugen d’Albert as the soloist, and all in all it was performed eight times with eight different soloists in the orchestra’s first nine seasons. Richard Strauss was also a significant composer for the Oslo Philharmonic from its opening year, 1919, but Ein Heldenleben was, amazingly enough, not performed in Norway until Mariss Jansons conducted it in 1979.

(Text: Thomas Erma Møller; Translation  from Norwegian: Sarah Osa; In photo: Nobuyuki Tsujii; Photo: Giorgia Bertazzi)

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Tickets

  • Adult: 120 - 490 NOK
  • Senior: 120 - 395 NOK
  • Student: 120 - 245 NOK
  • Child: 120 NOK
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