Friday, 26 January 2024

CHF 150 | 110 | 50 | 30.-

E. Grieg
Suite de Holberg op. 40 pour orchestre à cordes

L. Van Beethoven
Concerto pour piano et orchestre n° 4 en sol majeur op. 58

L. van Beethoven
Symphonie n° 1 en ut majeur op. 21

Under the patronage of

Concert presentation

Grieg: Holberg Suite op.40 for string orchestra
Was Ludvig Holberg dubbed ‘the Molière of the North’ for his own plays, or for being the first to translate L’Avare (The Miser) into Danish? One thing is certain: when Grieg marked the bicentenary of Holberg’s birth in 1884, he was thinking of France. From Couperin to Marais, plenty of French composers had been inspired to write a suite of pieces inspired by dances of their time. But would Grieg, who was born in the same town in Norway – Bergen – as Holberg, be content to write a pastiche? If the dotted theme of the suite’s Prelude revitalizes a Baroque memory, most of all it conjures up the mysterious forests of Scandinavia, where Peer Gynt hunts reindeer: we can see the fir trees, the will o’ the wisp, the Northern Lights… the slow Sarabande that follows blends the pastoral poetry of the 17th century with the divine sorrow of Bach, while also introducing an admixture of romantic lyricism. The Gavotte then changes tack, inviting all guests to join a courtly dance. Ten years before the death of Holberg, who was a child of the Enlightenment, had not Voltaire and Rameau created a theatrical ballet? The Air that follows heralds a shift from sweat to tears: its harmonic breadth, its melodic tension and its richness of colour give it a hymn-like quality. To it we can add a side course of spleen (à la Baudelaire) from Grieg’s own century, who confided ‘I have completed my Holberg Suite in the traditional style – good practice for concealing one’s own personality.’ With its speed races between violin and viola, the concluding Rigaudon offers a striking contrast. We have left the church and reached the village. Corelli and Handel are not far off. And the Baroque has come back to life in a new space-time.

Beethoven: Symphony no.1 in C major op.21
The first of Beethoven’s nine symphonies, composed around 1799, was dedicated to Baron van Swieten – a composer of average talent, but sufficiently self-aware to opt also to support such musical prodigies as the young Ludwig. Beethoven himself stood on the shoulders of his great predecessors in this large-scale orchestral score – Haydn first of all, who had taught him, and Mozart, whom he revered. So it was that, at the turn of a new century, Beethoven refused to make a clean break with the past – as if to confirm the words of another of his patrons, Count Ferdinand von Waldstein: ‘Receive Mozart’s spirit from Haydn’s hands’. The opening of the initial Adagio borrows from Haydn the notion of fostering an element of confusion about the work’s key. We have to wait twelve bars for the tonality of C major to be established, in a style both martial and spring-like: between budding shoots and cannon, so to speak. One contemporary reviewer criticized the symphony for seeming to have been written ‘exclusively for winds’. Yet this proved to be the prophetic trademark of the later Beethoven: carving out a balanced, more composite dialogue between the different families of instruments. As if to disclose the secrets of his art, the composer breaks up the polyphony that begins the Andante. With its four parts, the first theme gives us the impression of offering us some insight into the very recesses of harmony. Keen listeners will recognize a tribute to the corresponding movement of Mozart’s 40th Symphony. Here a comparable gracefulness can be heard: everything is volatile, until time itself dissolves, were it not for the rising sound of timpani and trumpets. The Minuet that follows has very little in common with a traditional minuet. Here we see announced most clearly the shift from the rustic happiness of the 18th century to the all-consuming romanticism of the 19th century. The Finale opens in relatively subdued fashion, then picks up pace to the point of no return. At times syncopated, at times repetitive, the dialogue pulsates with an explosion of staccato notes, concluding with a proclamation of love to Haydn, as well as an declaration of independence heralding the great symphonies to come.

Same day