The Secret of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

If you’ve read some of my previous musical blogs you’ll know that I’m a bit of a Beethoven fan. Well, let’s not beat about the bush – it’s more like hero worship!

Beethoven featured quite a bit in my debut novel, The Virtuoso.  I listened to his fifth symphony many, many times whilst writing it. I also did some research, but with a musical icon of such genius there is always more to learn and I’m delighted to continue my education into his life and music.

beethoven-original-score-of-fifth

Recently the BBC produced an outstanding documentary: The Secret of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. It was narrated by Ian Hislop, journalist, political satirist and editor of Private Eye, in collaboration with eminent conductor Sir John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantiq.

Before I watched it I thought I already knew everything there was to know about this piece of music. The most famous opening four notes in musical history: da- da –da – dah. A motif of three triplet quavers in G followed by a dotted minim in E flat, followed by triplet quavers in F and an extended four beat note in D, repeated throughout the first movement and variations thereof in the other movements.

It premiered on 22nd December 1808 at the Theater an der Wien and much to Beethoven’s chagrin it wasn’t an immediate success. I know how he feels! But audiences in Vienna weren’t ready for his powerful, uncompromising brand of music.

Detail of the 1804-05 portrait of Beethoven by JW Maher, painted at the time Beethoven was writing his fifth symphony.

Detail of the 1804-05 portrait of Beethoven by JW Maher, painted at the time Beethoven was writing his fifth symphony.

Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 was composed between 1804 and 1808 when Beethoven was in his late thirties at his lodgings in the Pasqualati House, which also features in The Virtuoso.

He had already written his heart rending Heiligenstadt Testament a couple of years earlier and was still composing despite his tragic descent into deafness. Experts believe he was already 60% deaf by the age of 31 and completely deaf by age 46 in 1816.

The common theme agreed by scholars was that of ‘fate knocking at the door’, of Beethoven expressing his inner turmoil at his deafness and faltering love affairs. Beethoven could not escape his physical destiny, but by sheer force of will he was determined to fulfill his artistic destiny. Ludwig lived in turbulent times and possessed a turbulent temperament!

beethoven-published-cover-to-fifth

I used this context for part 1 of my novel as my protagonist Isabelle Bryant, a world famous violin virtuoso has to deal with the loss of her fingers and ensuing devastation. One publisher kindly reviewed it as ‘a modern day Beethoven story’.

But Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s assertions that this symphony is about so much more really resonate with me. It makes perfect sense that one of the most revolutionary pieces of music of the 19th century (indeed of all-time), is at its heart about a revolution – the most shocking and radical of them all: the French Revolution.

The French Revolution had taken place between 1789 and 1799 when the young Beethoven had been aligned to the ideas of liberté, égalité and fraternité. Freedom and the enlightenment ideals were themes that he drew from more obviously in his epic ninth Symphony for example, but perhaps, due to circumstances, more covertly in his fifth.

“Behold all ye friends of freedom… behold the light you have struck out, after setting America free, reflected to France and there kindled into a blaze that lays despotism in ashes and warms and illuminates Europe. I see the ardour for liberty catching and spreading; …the dominion of kings changed for the dominion of laws, and the dominion of priests giving way to the dominion of reason and conscience.” ~ Richard Price sermon c. 1789

I had not been aware that Beethoven had seriously considered moving to Paris, but as fate would have it he remained in Vienna.

At this point in his career Beethoven was not beholden to the imperial court as earlier composers like Mozart and Haydn had been. He did, however rely on the patronage and support of his wealthy, aristocratic benefactors; the upper class nobility from the privileged echelons of society that ‘the people’ had rallied against in the French Revolution for living in the lap of luxury whilst the poor suffered and starved.

This must have caused some inner conflict for Beethoven. He was dependent on an aristocratic system to produce his life’s work, yet he fervently believed in a meritocracy.

The repercussions of the French Revolution and the execution of the Austrian princess Marie Antoinette reverberated throughout Europe. The subsequent invasion by French Troops of Austria and Vienna, Beethoven’s home and place of work, must have been tough to reconcile.

Although I’m sure Beethoven was sickened like many writers, artists and scholars by the two year reign of Terror and blood bath that Robespierre unleashed, he was still loyal to the principles behind the revolution, if not the manner in which those principles came to fruition. Human nature being what it is, power crazed individuals got out of hand.

Under such delicate political circumstances Beethoven could not afford to be outspoken about revolutionary ideals while living under the noses of the House of Habsburg, who were at war with France. His position would have been tenuous.

Beethoven knew the only way to express his views and convictions was through his music.

And here it is in full, a wonderful new recording by John Eliot Gardiner and the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantiq:

The effect is softer and more textured compared to a modern orchestra because they are playing on period instruments, and as John points out the sound is more pure and authentic. This is how Beethoven intended it to be heard.  These older instruments are being played to the very edge of their capabilities. You would expect nothing less from Ludwig though. It is also performed at a quicker tempo to many other performances at 108 beats per minute, as directed specifically by Beethoven (who loved his metronome).

When I listened to this recording knowing the fervour, idealism, the political upheaval and personal strife of Beethoven it made perfect sense. I listened with new ears and it just blew me away…

Influences

At the beginning of his musical career Beethoven had been tutored at the court palace chapel in Bonn by composer and court organist Christian Gottlob Neefe, who imparted his musical knowledge and love of Bach as well as his radical political views to the impressionable teenage Ludwig. Beethoven studied keyboard, viola and organ.

‘Nous jurons tour, le fer en main’

Beethoven was almost certainly influenced by the Italian born composer Luigi Cherubini, who was living in France and his patriotic Hymne du Pantheon.  The German musicologist Arnold Schmitz (who had influenced conductor John Eliot Gardiner), argued that the opening lyrics of this rousing hymn: Nous jurons tour, le fer en main (we all swear, sword in hand), De mourir pour la Republique (to die for the Republic), et pours les droits du genre humain (and for the rights of man) are the inspiration for the unforgettable opening bars of Beethoven’s fifth symphony.

Drawing of the Pantheon in Paris

Drawing of the Pantheon in Paris

Article in Gramophone magazine by John Eliot Gardiner on this subject.

The belief that no human being had a divine right to rule over another human being was sweeping through Europe and the arts and literature were flourishing.

The desire for a better, more just society can also be heard in the second movement of Beethoven’s fifth with its expansive and gentle melody.  Its beauty and harmony perfectly fit this ethos of a united humanity – except Beethoven does not quite unite us musically by the end of this movement, subduing the chords before they can attain closure.

John Eliot Gardiner sums up the second movement as a kind of prayer by Beethoven for the elevation and evolution of mankind.

Beethoven’s fifth symphony is his way of saying: ‘I believe in the rights of man, I believe in the brotherhood of all men and I believe in political freedom.’

While studying at university in Bonn, Beethoven had been to see Friedrich Schiller’s play, The Robbers, which fuelled his rebellious attitude towards the upper class and economic inequality. Beethoven realised that art (in whatever form) could have a real impact on an audience and on the world.

The popularity of Beethoven’s music for over 200 years proves this universal power of the arts. Great swathes of humanity still live under repression and terrifying violence. It’s still relevant.

Another musical influence is from one of Beethoven’s earlier, more overtly political works, the lieder Der Freie Mann; a poem by Gottleib Konrad Pfeffel set to music in the key of C Major. If you listen carefully you can hear similarities between this music and the opening bars of the 4th movement of his fifth symphony (also in C Major), with its theme of freedom achieved.

Yet more evidence to his state of mind around that time and the revolutionary origins of the fifth symphony. There are also elements of the rising triadic idea from Der Freie Mann used in the second movement of the fifth.

One of Beethoven’s musical sketch books known as Landsberg 6 contains his preliminary ideas for many of his works between 1802 and 1804, including his fifth symphony. The outline of the opening of the first movement is in there, as well as basic ideas for the beginning of the third movement, the Scherzo. The musical motifs are notated as slower but similar to the opening movement, and as John Eliot says, ‘It really does feel like humanity is on the march.’

So without further ado, here is the brilliant documentary which covers more detail than I have time and space for. It’s well worth watching:

I’ll leave you with the words of Monsieur Rouget de Lisle’s Hymne Dithrambique: Chantons la liberte, – la liberte, couronnons sa statue, Comme un nouveau Titan, Le crime est foudroye…

Lisle’s hymne Dithrambique was used by Beethoven as inspiration for the theme of ‘liberty’ in the fourth and final movement of his fifth symphony; Beethoven’s musical culmination of a political and personal utopia.

I’m going to have to listen to it again, it kind of makes you feel invincible!

#SundayBlogShare 🎼🎻🎹🎸🎷🎧 Music: An Unsurpassed Social Gift

“All art aspires towards the condition of music.” ~ Walter Pater

Playing a musical instrument is the best workout I know for my brain, as well as for invigorating my whole body. Meditation follows a close second alongside some other pleasurable activities…

The Music Lesson by Manet c. 1868

The Music Lesson by Manet c. 1868

During a practice session I feel totally alive; my mind seems to be at its most creative, and yet clear of life’s ‘junk’. I can be myself when I’m playing my violin; happily ensconced in a ‘flow state’ with no judgment or expectation other than to enjoy my activity.

I may not be on stage in a world-class concert hall, (only in my imagination), in reality I’m in my lounge and completely engaged in a joyful fusion of physical and mental exercise.

The thought of not being able to play inspired the premise for my novel, The Virtuoso.

Music score to accompany The Virtuoso by Tim Johnson

Music score to accompany The Virtuoso by Tim Johnson

While I’m playing Bach, Beethoven, Mozart and Vivaldi my brain is doing the ultimate multi-tasking, coordinating on an epic scale:

It’s enabling me to read the notes, to perform challenging passages of semi-quaver notes, to react quickly with tricky  incidental notes, trills and possible key changes during the piece, let alone changing position on the fingerboard, deciding what digit goes where, what bowing technique is required, the dynamics of the music and, of course intonation and my unique interpretation based on how the music makes me feel as I play it.

Jeanne Saint Cheron - violinist

Violinist by Jeanne Saint Cheron

Imagine coordinating that many processes in a split second. Brain plasticity is an incredible process. It must be an orchestra of simultaneous sparks, a symphony of synapses in there, lighting up all over the place!

Science has backed me up on that one. How playing an instrument benefits your brain – Anita Collins:

Afterwards I find myself in a special space, my mind is empty yet energised and I just write. Ideas flow. It doesn’t last forever, but I try to make the most of it! Those alpha brain waves are the good guys, they usher in our most creative moments when we’re in a state of relaxed concentration.

The Music Lesson by Caspar Netscher

The Music Lesson by Caspar Netscher

Music really is instrumental in improving brain function and cognitive ability.

You may relate to my joy if you play an instrument. I don’t mean to be unnecessarily sombre, but if music disappeared overnight, for whatever reason, what would become of our species? I don’t think I could live in a world devoid of such a rich, cultural heritage…

A fascinating talk from the late neurologist Oliver Sacks – Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain:

This short video shows Dr. Sacks’s brain activity as he listens to music by Bach, his favourite composer compared with that of Beethoven:

A great excerpt from a talk about the history of music by Dr. Daniel Levitin, who argues against Steven Pinker, asserting that music preceded language:

I wanted to share with you my own verses; poetry which most certainly does not compare to the likes of Keats or Shelley, but which is nonetheless genuinely reflective of my love for music; both playing and listening.

Music Makes Me Feel…

First came the hypnotic rhythm of Beethoven,

Moonlight tones passing through my mother’s womb;

Loving piano gently infiltrates fleshy oven,

Beautiful harmony surrounds the warm, watery tomb

My whole being is receptive, active, listening,

Later in life, it will make my spirit sing.

Woman at the Piano by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Woman at the Piano by Pierre Auguste Renoir

Orchestras fill our home, my education starts,

Lessons begin on the violin; fun but hard,

Before long I am hooked, for joy it imparts,

Bowing, scraping, hand stretching on fingerboard,

The right note eludes me, again and again,

Eventually, fingers know their place more than pain.

Berthe Morisot - The artist's daughterplaying the violin

Berthe Morisot – The artist’s daughter playing the violin

Pulsing air waves elicit ecstasy, and poignant lingering,

Oscillations match to memories from the deep,

Such moving melody, well-spring of suffering,

Black notes on treble or bass clef; ready to leap

From musicians instruments, creating composer’s passions

Hypnotism says Ludwig van, to force same emotions.

The Kreutzer Sonata by Xavier Prinet

The Kreutzer Sonata by Xavier Prinet

Major or minor key, varying dynamics and tempo

Music mirrors every sacred moment of life,

Soft, soothing adagio or a galloping allegro,

Good vibrations comfort me when in strife;

Open your heart to its flowing, healing tune,

And fill your soul with rapture, thrilling croon.

Music - Ancient Greek vase - music lesson

Ancient, divine sounds, evolving over millennia,

Effect is more visceral than art, sculpture, literature.

No mode of communication stirs like an aria;

Universal language communes with our nature,

Eclectic music of mankind, such profound apotheosis,

Ultimate expression of humanity: Quo Vadis?

The Music Lesson by Jan Vermeer

The Music Lesson by Jan Vermeer

Apart from the sound of my mother’s voice, this timeless and peaceful composition by Beethoven that my mum used to play was probably one of the first things I ever heard:

Sound when stretched is music.

Movement when stretched is dance.

Mind when stretched is meditation.

Life when stretched is celebration. ~ Sri Sri Ravishankar

Beethoven and Bridgetower: The Story Behind the Famous ‘Kreutzer’ Sonata

Aside from his musical genius, composer Ludwig van Beethoven was known by his contemporaries to possess an irascible nature. Hardly surprising when you consider the circumstances of his life, but underneath his passionate exterior beat a kind and loyal heart.

Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Williboard Mahler c. 1804-5 (oil on canvas)

Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Williboard Mahler c. 1804-5 (oil on canvas)

As certain people found to their detriment, if you got on the wrong side of him it was virtually impossible to get back into his good graces!

Just ask Napoleon Bonaparte, who he originally dedicated his third symphony the ‘Eroica’ to.  After Napoleon’s egalitarian ideals developed into warmongering and a rapacious appetite for control over Europe, the composer violently crossed out his dedication from the top of the score.

Beethoven Eroica _title

Beethoven branded his nephew’s mother, Johanna, a ‘queen of the night’ and the two were locked in years of battle over custody of her son Carl. It’s debatable if he was in a lucid moment or not, but Beethoven asked for her forgiveness on his deathbed. (You can read the incredibly moving text in Conversations with Beethoven).

Another unfortunate recipient of Beethoven’s wrath was virtuoso violinist George Bridgetower.

As it’s Black History Month I thought George deserved some recognition!

George Bridgetower by Henry Edridge c. 1790

George Bridgetower by Henry Edridge c. 1790

Unfortunately, his falling out with Beethoven meant that his achievements were rather side-lined in history. This is a very great shame, as Beethoven had been impressed enough by his talent and character when they met to compose the bulk of his ninth violin sonata in A major, opus 47 in his honour, along with the original dedication.

Here’s a fabulous vintage recording of the sonata in full by Leonid Kogan and Grigory Ginzburg:

Beethoven’s penultimate violin sonata contains three movements and is pretty much as difficult to play as a violin concerto.  I love that it’s just as demanding for the piano. Rather than being an accompaniment the two instruments are having the most fascinating conversation.

Heaven only knows what swell of emotions were raging inside Beethoven when he wrote it.  It seems entirely plausible that it could it have been inspired by one of his ill-fated, passionate love affairs.

The sonata takes around 40 minutes to perform in its entirety and is a full-on physical workout! I’m still trying to master the double-stopping at the beginning…

My score of the Kreutzer by Edition Peters.

My score of the Kreutzer by Edition Peters.

Beethoven and Bridgetower premiered the work together on 24th May 1803 at the Augarten Palace Park Pavilion in Vienna at the rather unusual time of 8 am.

The final movement was already written as an unused movement from a previous violin sonata No. 6 Op. 30/1 (also in A major), so Beethoven hurriedly composed the first and second movements which were only completed at 4.30 am on the day of the concert!

The copyist had his work cut out, but hadn’t managed to do the violin part for the Andante and so Bridgetower had to read over Beethoven’s shoulder at the piano. In fact he sight-read the majority of the sonata to rapturous applause.

The second variation of the Andante which was sight-read by George Bridgetower.

The second variation of the Andante which was sight-read by George Bridgetower.

Obviously it wouldn’t have been perfect, but to have the confidence to play a work of such difficulty from sight in public speaks volumes.

The following text was taken from Beethoven’s sketchbook in 1803:

“Sonata per il Pianoforte ed uno violino obligato in uno stile molto concertante come d’un concerto”

His affectionate dedication read:

“Sonata mulattica composta per il mulatto Brischdauer (Bridgetower), gran pazzo e compositore mulattico” (Mulatto Sonata composed for the mulatto Bridgetower, great fool mulatto composer).

Sadly, their relationship turned sour after Bridgetower insulted a woman that Beethoven held dear. No-one knows who she was, or what was said, and perhaps Beethoven felt more than friendship for her, but true to form, in his anger Beethoven withdrew the dedication and later granted it to another famous violinist of the time, Rodolphe Kreutzer.

The irony is Kreutzer never performed his eponymous sonata, claiming it was unplayable! He considered it “outrageously unintelligible” and was not a fan of Beethoven’s music in general.

A most undeserved dedication, but the moniker was put into print and has been in use ever since.

Beethoven - Kreutzer front page

I love this clip from one of my favourite films, Immortal Beloved. Although not accurate in many aspects I love so much about this film, including the scene when Beethoven and Anton Schindler are discussing his ‘agitation’ and how music is like hypnotism, as George practices the sonata:

George Augustus Polgreen Bridgetower (11 October 1778 – 29 February 1860)

Born an Afro-European in Poland, he lived most of his life in England and became a celebrated virtuoso violinist. His father was probably from the West Indies and his mother was German, it’s thought that they served in the household of Joseph Haydn’s patron, the Hungarian Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy.

Watercolour dated from 1800. Artist unknown.

Watercolour dated from 1800. Artist unknown.

George took to the violin at a young age becoming a celebrated virtuoso; he performed mainly in London and around Europe. He left London for Dresden in 1802 to visit his mother and brother who was a cellist there and later travelled to Vienna where he met Beethoven in 1803. He was also the recipient of Beethoven’s tuning fork which is now kept in the British Library.

In London Bridgtower was known as the ‘African Prince’ and the Prince Regent (eventually George IV) was one of his patrons. Despite the falling out with Beethoven he continued to have a successful musical career and in 1807 he was elected into the Royal Society of Musicians and in 1811 he attained his Bachelor of Music from Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

He was also a composer, two of his known works include: Diatonica armonica for piano, published in London in 1812 and Henry: A ballad, for medium voice and piano, also published in London.

This video was taken from an exhibition commissioned by the City of London Corporation in 2007 to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first parliamentary bill to abolish slavery. George’s achievements are duly recognised:

The Pulitzer prize-winning poet and former United States Poet Laureate, Rita Dove, wrote an imagined narrative work about Bridgetower titled: Sonata Mulattica

Here she talks about her inspiration for the poem, alongside contemporary violinist Joshua Coyne, in a documentary film trailer:

I’m glad to say George hasn’t been forgotten!

Barmy About Beethoven on his 245th Birthday…

“Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.” ~ Ludwig van Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven, a titan of classical music, and to my mind the most pioneering composer and pianist of the romantic era, turned 245 today. At least, the 17th December 1770 was the day of his baptism in Bonn, and most likely his date of birth.

Painting of Beethoven in the Vienna Woods by N.C. Wyeth

Painting of Beethoven in the Vienna Woods by N.C. Wyeth

The deaf maestro wrote so many unforgettable, transcendental and downright epic tunes and melodies that his position in the lexicon of humanity’s geniuses is eternally guaranteed.

No-one remembers the pompous aristocracy (except for his kind patrons) that thought themselves above a low born musician, because centuries after they popped their noble clogs Beethoven’s music is still making an emotional connection with millions of people around the world.

It’s still relevant. It’s still innovative. It’s still heart-wrenchingly moving and profound…  That’s what was so brilliant about Beethoven.

Beethoven at the piano

His personal life was complex, passionate, and a catalogue of almost insurmountable challenges. They nearly broke him, but his music moved them into the realm of the divine, into victory with a capital V. His music was his life and his eventful life provided plenty of material for musical inspiration!

Beethoven at the piano 2

He suffered greatly for his art. Who else could have endured such despair and yet still have produced such earth-shattering music? Only dear Ludwig. Suffering really does transpose into the most achingly beautiful and timeless music.

“I do strongly feel that among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it, Titian and others, but mostly you need ordeal. My idea is this: the artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business: Beethoven’s deafness, Goya’s deafness, Milton’s blindness, that kind of thing.”  ~ John Berryman

I didn’t intend for this to be a lengthy post, (anyone who knows me will be aware that I can get quite carried away when I’m passionate about something). Rather, it’s a short celebration to mark the life and contributions of a person I deeply revere.

Beethoven at the piano 3

These BBC docudramas are superb; they really bring his life to life!

My tribute to Beethoven from chapter 21 of my novel, The Virtuoso:

The Virtuoso - copyrighted material from Chapter 21

The Virtuoso – copyrighted material from Chapter 21

Chapter 21 - 2

Also mentioned in the book is his violin concerto in D Major. Here is my all-time favourite performance that I grew up listening to, of Itzhak Perlman with Carlo Maria Guilini conducting the Philharmonia Orchestra from  their 1981 recording:

I also love this transcription for the clarinet performed by the amazing Michael Collins:

It’s great on the piano as well… Daniel Barenboim and the English Chamber Orchestra:

My two favourite recordings of his Romance No.  2 in F Major, Op. 50:

If you hang out on Twitter do join in the birthday celebrations, just use the hashtag #LvBChat.

See you there!

Concert Review: Adelia Myslov Virtuoso Violin – Menuhin Hall 16th May 2015

I just had to tell you all about the concert mum and I went to last night!

Lord Menuhin would have been proud of one of his former students…

Adelia_Menuhin_Hall_concert_poster

In the fabulous setting of the Menuhin Hall we were treated to jaw dropping virtuosity with a mixture of baroque, romantic and jazz favourites for violin and piano.

Adelia opened with Bach’s Chaconne, giving a powerful performance of passion, pathos, precision and pure delight!

Her technique and delivery was flawless: she gave us rich and sustained chords, never missing an incidental note, in a dazzling array of light and shade in tone and tempo. Her vigorous, visceral build-up towards the middle section was infused with tension and restraint, leading to an explosion of emotion made possible by her incredible her bow control. It was a heartfelt and soulful recital of Bach’s spiritual and iconic solo violin masterpiece.

Both Adelia and Craig achieved a perfect balance between the dialogue and interplay of the violin and piano in Beethoven’s Romance No. 1 in G major. Their performance was ablaze with his romantic spirit, not to mention immaculate double stopping and exquisite phrasing.

Respigi’s Poema Autunnale was just divine. I could picture the rustic leaves swirling in the wind as the colours of her performance perfectly matched its seasonal theme.

So you can hear her brilliance for yourself, here is an earlier recording of Adelia & Craig performing the Respigi:

Equally impressive was her uninhibited expression of the Brahms Violin Sonata No.1 in G major.

Their finale was Frolov’s Concert Fantasia on Gershwin’s Porgy & Bess – what thrills and trills!

Their energy and enthusiasm for this rhythmic, jazzy gem shone through.  Adelia was up and down the fingerboard at lightning speed with accuracy, intonation and slides made in heaven. I doubt even Stephane Grappelli could have played it any better.

As of today (19th May), Adelia has been able to upload the recording made by the Menuhin Hall, and so it’s my pleasure to present her stunning live performance:

Adelia’s love and understanding for the music was etched on her face and clearly translated into beautiful sounds from her violin.

The acoustics in the hall are wonderful; needless to say mum and I enjoyed our evening very much. It was amazing to stroll along the public areas of the hall beforehand and read about the highlights of Lord Menuhin’s life and musical career – truly inspirational.

Located just outside Cobham in substantial rural grounds, the Yehudi Menuhin School continues to grow with the times, with a planned new state-of-the-art music centre and library, which, when built will house multiple studios ideal for music tuition, performance and recording.

It is, perhaps, the spiritual home of violin performance, with Yehudi Menuhin’s grave situated not far from the entrance to the hall.

The inscription on his tomb stone says it all:

“He who makes music in this life makes music in the next.”

Some more of my photos:

Menuhin Hall

View from the front row of the Menuhin Hall

 

Menuhin grave

Lord Menuhin’s grave

 

Menuhin Hall Poster5

 

Menuhin Hall Poster4

 

Menuhin Hall Poster3

 

Menuhin Hall Poster2

 

Menuhin Hall Poster

 

Yours truly outside

Yours truly outside

The Anatomy of Hope

“The hope of future generations is the chance we have to awaken in ourselves a consciousness that is increasingly immune to irrationality and that values wisdom.” ~ Harry Palmer

hope-quotes-about-love-i14Bad news travels fast. At the speed of light it departs from the behemoth that is the worldwide web and whizzes along innumerable fiber optic cables, then streams through your router and onto your screen! In the modern, hyper-connected age it’s impossible to stay away from news. Every new headline seems to scream of murder and mayhem. I limit myself to exposure just once a day, unless it’s something earth shattering. I loathe getting constantly bombarded with how ‘bad’ the world is.

Whilst it’s important to stay informed I do think there’s a danger of news overload. You could be forgiven for thinking that we live in a hell on Earth, and those kind of beliefs create a climate of fear. You see desperate faces devoid of hope on your TV every night. You might rightly think, ‘WTF is the world coming to?’ It’s easy to get depressed in the face of such relentless s**t.

And you have to remind yourself that out of the billions of people inhabiting planet Earth, only a small percentage are making trouble. But those are the only ones we hear about. Most of us live in relative peace (unless you are unfortunate enough to be in one of the war zones or trouble hot spots in the world). Wars have been raging somewhere in the world for about ninety percent of humanity’s existence.

hopeIn times of war hope is a precious commodity indeed. Winston Churchill, who himself battled bouts of depression, (his “black dogs”); kept our nation’s hope alive with his brilliant speeches that rallied people together against an evil doctrine that threatened our freedom. Even in the face of devastating losses. But the important thing is, it wasn’t empty rhetoric, it was a combination of well thought out strategy and inspiring oratory.

To have no hope is to have no motivation, no reason to live. To feel that dreadful emptiness in your gut invites in apathy and her cohorts: fear, helplessness and depression. When hope dies, your future dies.

I read this article about the recent murder of Russian politician Boris Nemtsov, which kind of implies they should all give up and accept murder and corruption as a way of life. Yes, it’s a big blow for democracy in Russia, but the people must use it as a springboard for continued change. Poor Boris probably hoped that he wouldn’t have to become a martyr to bring his lofty cause to fruition, but the power of a martyr should never be underestimated..

I’ve tried to understand, what exactly is hope? For me, the anatomy of hope is acceptance and gratitude for the present moment (what is), but at the same time having aspirations for what you want in your future. It’s interwoven with the creative process. Pursuits of any kind are not possible without hope for an improved tomorrow. It is the starting point for all endeavour. It is the root of goal-setting and encompasses desire, courage, compassion and love. Without it there would be no evolution, no growth.

Hope is one of the few four letter words that really packs a positive punch. Hope is as essential to the human spirit as air is to the survival of the physical body. Quite simply, it ranks up there with oxygen.

best-quotes-hope-life-dont-give-up-nice-lovely-sayings-pics

When hope leaves, your cells literally shut down. I’ve been there, at the bottom of the pit, feeling that there was nothing left for me in life. I very nearly gave up. It’s a place I wouldn’t wish on anyone. But when you hit rock bottom there is only one direction you can travel, or you perish down there.

The film The Shawshank Redemption, based on Stephen King’s novella has a wonderful scene between Andy and Red that perfectly epitomises the essence of hope:

Of course, I don’t want to get mixed up with false-hope, which is pie-in-the-sky thinking. I’m talking about the kind that will make you stretch and grow, yet is achievable. You need enough to excite your imagination; satisfy your reasoning mind that it’s doable and to ignite your furnace of ambition.

“All people dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their mind, wake in the morning to find that it was vanity. But the dreamers of the day are dangerous people, For they dream their dreams with open eyes, And make them come true.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

Hope wallpapersLast year I had a bout of rejection when I was submitting The Virtuoso to literary agents, and after a while it got me down. Then I became afraid to open the emails, because I knew what they would say. I could feel my confidence ebbing away, and my enthusiasm for my work dwindling. I decided after a few months of polite ‘thanks but no thanks’ comments that I would represent myself, for better or worse.

Hope is also a theme I wove into The Virtuoso. My protagonist, the violinist Isabelle Bryant, draws her hope from the example of her musical hero Beethoven, who once contemplated suicide in his darkest hour. The only reason we know that he did was the discovery of the “Heiligenstadt Testament” after his death in 1827.

I thought that if I put Isabelle in his shoes she might well feel the same despair. Imagine how you would feel if the only thing that you are good at, in fact brilliant at, is about to be ripped from your life, compounding the emotional havoc already in your heart, wreaked by romantic heartbreak and growing isolation. It’s the kind of suffering you can only recover from with a hefty dose of hope and determination.

I think that the depth to which we sink is a measure of the height we can ascend to. Luckily for us Beethoven persevered, and because of his courage we can enjoy his musical legacy, some of the greatest music in history, including the immortal ninth symphony:

There is always light at the end of the tunnel if we can but focus on it and have the faith to follow it. Napoleon Hill said, ‘The starting point of all achievement is desire.’ That desire is the flame of hope, the spark which provides your motivation for action, which in turn produces your results. I don’t advocate dwelling on the past, but sometimes it can be useful to see how far you have come.

And when you achieve a desired outcome you naturally find another dream to pull you towards your full potential. Hope is an immensely personal thing, but it can also be incredibly powerful when a group of people apply the same hope to humanity.

Here is a heart-warming compilation of normal folks responding to the question: what is hope?

If you find yourself in a similar mental state to the one I was in a number of years ago, I sincerely hope that this post has helped to give you the belief that you can make it through. When you get to the end of your rope, tie a big knot and hold on!

Hold On Pain Ends

My hope is that one day, humans will be able to co-exist in mutual respect of our diverse cultural, geographical and religious differences. No matter who you are, where you’re from, or what your background is you have basic human needs, and Maslow’s hierarchy of needs applies to pretty much everyone alive.

My favourite rock band, Queen, also have One Vision:

I had a dream when I was young,

A dream of sweet illusion,

A glimpse of hope and unity,

And visions of one sweet union.

Beethoven’s Heroism

“The piece is a monster. I have never seen anything like it; it may not be music at all.” ~ Wenzel Sukowaty (from the BBC film Eroica).

In honour of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 244th birthday on 17th December 2014, and the composer chat conducted by my esteemed musicians and friends on Twitter (hashtag #LvBchat), I thought I would focus on his most heroic of compositions – the Sinfonia Eroica. It was composed during the summer of 1803 and completed in April 1804.

The 9th of June 1804 was a very important day for our dear Ludwig, but it was also a watershed in the history of classical music, absolutely critical to the future development and evolution of music and for composers and artists in general. Beethoven set the benchmark. However, I doubt that Beethoven realised the profound significance of what he had achieved, he was just doing what he did best – following his heart and his muse.

This was the day that his legendary third symphony in E-Flat Major, opus 55 was first privately performed at the Bohemian residence (Castle Eisenberg), of Prince Franz Lobkowitz, to whom the work was dedicated, and one of Beethoven’s most ardent supporters and patrons. Rehearsals prior to the public premier of the symphony (which took place on 7th April 1805 at the Theater an der Wien), were held in the concert hall of the prince’s Palais Lobkowitz in Vienna, (later named the Eroica Saal after this momentous composition), and was to unleash music of the likes the Viennese had never heard before. Now that’s brave!

Ceiling of the Eroica Saal at the Palais Lobkowitz

Ceiling of the Eroica Saal at the Palais Lobkowitz

A temporary respite from the hostilities between Napoleon and Europe was holding. Beethoven embraced this revolutionary turmoil and the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity, and firmly placed himself as an artist at the centre of his third symphony by writing what he felt, and what he wanted, breaking away from the accepted symphonic structures and norms at the time. It was a beacon of originality. He was a man who had entered into the most creative period of his life.

Eroica: The Day That Changed Music Forever

The BBC dramatised the event of the private premier of the third symphony in the film, Eroica, with the strapline: the day that changed music forever. It was first broadcast in 2003, written by Nick Dear and directed by Simon Cellan Jones. The film follows Ludwig, Ferdinand Ries, the Lobkowitz family, friends, and the musicians as the new music unfolds on an unsuspecting audience, and takes you on Beethoven’s personal journey into the history books.

What I love about this film is the care and accuracy with which it was made, drawing on the recollections of Ferdinand Ries (Beethoven’s pupil and secretary), and from reports about the event.

Ian Hart plays Beethoven just how I imagine him; enthusiastic about his music, bold, dynamic, forthright, (blunt even), brutally honest, brusque, impatient, with frequent outbursts of temper, but underneath that he displays a simmering passion and tenderness for his lover, the widowed Countess Josephine von Deym.

The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique directed by Sir John Eliot Gardiner perform the music on authentic, period instruments (none of the violins have chin rests, which were yet to be invented), and in the numbers and proportions that Beethoven intended it for.

I love the way it switches from Beethoven walking with Ries to the Lobkowitz residence, to the palace staff going about their business, getting ready for the event, and the musicians, especially the horn player, Otto, who is known to Beethoven.

The camera work is very sensitively done, moving around the sections of the orchestra as they tackle this new, epic work, and capturing their shocked reactions at the nature of the notes and markings presented to them by Beethoven’s copyist Wenzel Sukowaty.

It is longer, more difficult and unlike anything they have ever attempted or played before, and a few re-starts are required until Beethoven is satisfied that they have reproduced the sound he wants.

Eroica film still

It’s unthinkable that a modern orchestra would sight read a new symphony at its premiere (private or not), let alone consume beer before doing so. They might start seeing more than one baton!!

There are so many magical touches, one being the introduction of Beethoven to Prince Lobkowitz’s cousin, Count von Dietrichstein; and when asked if he is a land owner, Beethoven proclaims that he is a brain owner! Dietrichstein shows himself to be egotistical, ignorant and rigid in his ideas about music, but strangely his views on Napoleon Bonaparte turn out to be erudite.

We see a scene where the musicians, exhausted from their exertions are having a break and some lunch, and begin to debate the war and Napoleon’s agenda.

Beethoven’s views that an artist is on the same level as the nobility, are borne out by his behaviour and of course Ries’s comment, ‘that he doesn’t accept the inequality,’ to the copyist, who replies, ‘men have been executed for less.’ It could be considered heroic that Beethoven never compromised his artistic integrity for the whims or desires of any of his wealthy and titled patrons.

There is a very endearing moment when Beethoven and Josephine are alone discussing his marriage proposal, and she refers to him as ‘Louis’. However, it does not go well.  It’s my personal view that Josephine was his ‘Immortal Beloved’.

In the third movement we glimpse Beethoven’s distress and distracted expression as he deals with his rejection from Josephine, whilst directing the scherzo marked allegro vivace, which personifies his hot-blooded nature.

The elderly Haydn’s entrance just before the start of the fourth and final movement is brilliant, as is the ensuing exchange of comments about students, and what idiots they are. The inference is not lost on Beethoven, who was championed by Haydn and became his student as a young man in 1792.

I’m going to shut up now, and let you watch the film uninterrupted!

Beethoven’s idealism and his abhorrence of tyranny are at the root of the Eroica. The fervour of freedom embodied by the Eroica is just as relevant and ground-breaking today as it was 210 years ago. There is always room for heroism in our lives!

Neither before or since, has music evoked such passion as Beethoven’s. He was in-tune with his creative spirit, and had endured more than his fair share of suffering; so who better than Herr Beethoven to write music that represents the struggle and overcoming of life’s challenges?

When asked by a close friend some fourteen years later, which was was his favourite symphony, Beethoven responded without hesitation: ‘the Eroica.’

We know that with the inevitable onset of his deafness and heart-break, that his heroism would eventually far outshine what he achieved in the summer of 1804. But for me, it’s the starting point of his heroism, it’s the moment we are blessed by his courage and the music that gives us a first insight into the depth of his spirit.

“He gives us a glimpse into his soul. Everything is different from today.” ~ Joseph Haydn (from the BBC film Eroica).