LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN
Symphonies 6 à 9
Intégrale des Symphonies. Volume 2
1-5. Symphonie nº 6 en Fa majeur Op. 68 “Pastorale” (1808) 42’06
1-4. Symphonie nº 7 en La majeur Op. 92 (1811-1812) 39’17
5-8. Symphonie nº 8 en Fa majeur Op. 93 (1812) 24’52
1-7. Symphonie nº 9 en Ré mineur Op. 125 (1822-1824) 63’58
Sara Gouzy, Laila Salome Fischer, Mingjie Lei, Manuel Walser
La Capella Nacional de Catalunya
LE CONCERT DES NATIONS
Jakob Lehmann concertino
Direction : Jordi Savall
Les Symphonies nº 6 et nº 7 ont été enregistrées du 18 au 21 juillet 2020 et
la Symphonie nº 9 a été enregistrée les 30 septembre et le 1er octobre 2021
à la Collégiale du Château de Cardona (Catalogne).
La Symphonie nº 8 a été enregistrée les 10 et 11 octobre 2020
au National Forum of Music (NFL) à Wroclaw (Pologne).
Enregistrement, Montage et Mastering SACD : Manuel Mohino
TEXTES EN FRANÇAIS, ENGLISH, CASTELLANO, CATALÀ, DEUTSCH, ITALIANO
A “heroic” adventure: finishing the complete cycle of Beethoven’s nine symphonies
during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Finishing our project of the complete Beethoven Symphonies, which began with Symphonies 1 to 5 in 2019, was delayed in 2020 by the expansion of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, and despite the numerous difficulties and complications due to the restrictions on gatherings in enclosed spaces and the mandatory health safeguards, we managed to go ahead with the 1st and 2nd Beethoven 250 Academies for Symphonies 6 and 7, which were held in July, 2020, as well as the 3rd Academy for Symphonies 8 and 9, held as planned at La Saline Royale d’Arc-en-Senans. The 4th Academy began on 6th October with work on the instrumental movements of Symphonies 8 and 9, and on 7th October we started rehearsing with the choir for the concert on 9th October and the recording. However, the day after 8th October, the day when we were due to start recording the Ninth with the choral parts of the 4th movement, we learned that four members of the choir had fallen ill with COVID-19. Once the initial shock had passed and we realised that we were seriously at risk of having picked up the infection, we were able to save the concert scheduled for 9th October, which was to have featured the Ninth, by playing only the three orchestral movements without the chorus, in the order 1, 3 and 2 (as had already been done in Beethoven’s day), as well as the Seventh Symphony. On 10th October, we were able to record Symphony No. 8, and on 11th October we all returned to our respective places of residence, after having taken PCR tests.
Unfortunately, the next day, the PCR test came back positive for some of us (myself included), which forced us to cancel all of the remaining concert tour scheduled for Paris, Barcelona, Hamburg, Milan, Turin, Rimini, Lisbon, etc. It was a real artistic and financial catastrophe (and also difficult from the point of view of our state of mind). Fortunately, for most of us, except two musicians who took longer to recover, the effects of the illness, apart from severe fatigue and complete exhaustion for three long weeks, did not have major consequences.
During the first half of 2021 we were still living with the global effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which entailed numerous concert cancellations, but luckily we were able to re-do the complete recording of the Ninth Symphony on 30th September and 1st October, following the 2nd Schubert Academy (Cardona, 26-29 September, 2021), during which we recorded Schubert’s Symphony No.8 in B minor (“Unfinished”) and Symphony No. 9 in C major. On this occasion we were able to incorporate the vocalists of our new CAPELLA NACIONAL DE CATALUNYA, created from the soloists of LA CAPELLA REIAL DE CATALUNYA and enlarged with the addition of young singers from all over Europe (on the same principle that we apply to Concert des Nations) whom we had selected throughout 2021 at the auditions held in Paris and Barcelona.
Now, having finally beaten COVID-19, we can forget these two complicated and dangerous years. We are therefore delighted to present Album 2 of our Beethoven Revolution with the recording of the last four symphonies 6 – 9, thus completing the cycle begun in 2019. On a lighter note: if the date of Beethoven’s birth was 16th December, 1770, logically the anniversary year must be counted from December 2020 to December 2021, which means that we are in good time to conclude in splendid style the 250th anniversary of this great musical and symphonic genius with this second Album and our concert at the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona on 15th December, 2021.
The historical context and the reform that Beethoven advocated concerning the introduction of tempo marks, thanks to Maëlzel’s metronome.
The historical context: in 1806 Beethoven had just finished his Piano Sonata No. 23, “Appassionata” and the Three Razumovsky Quartets, and his reactions in the face of what he calls the worldly maelstrom (which can be a truly hostile world because of the absolute power of the aristocracy), give us clear insight into not only the composer’s state of mind, but also his confidence in his creative power and the deep awareness of his liberating destiny. In May, 1806, Beethoven finished the first sketches for his Sixth Symphony and asked Count Franz von Brunsvik to kiss his sister Therese “fraternally” on his behalf. There was no new love in his life (at least not as far as we know). In their book on Beethoven, Jean and Brigitte Massin recall that Beethoven “began to react, in the months following the failure of Fidelio, with increased creative activity and triumphant self-affirmation. He even dared to venture out more into society. In the same year that he sketched out the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, he was surer than ever of himself, and if the “conspiracy” against him had succeeded in sabotaging his opera, it didn’t succeed in making him doubt his victory over destiny.” In the margin of a sketch for his String Quartet No.9 he wrote: “Just as you throw yourself into the worldly maelstrom, so you can write works, in spite of all the hindrances imposed by society. Let your deafness be no longer a secret, even in your art!” It was then that, in relation to the three Razumovsky Quartets, Beethoven asserted his pride. When the violinist Radicati, scandalised by their revolutionary nature, declared that the quartets could no longer be considered music, Beethoven calmly answered: “Oh, they are not for you, but for an age still to come!” And when Schuppanzigh himself stressed the difficulties of performance that he had encountered in String Quartet No. 7, Beethoven shouted: “Do you really believe that I think about your wretched strings when the spirit moves me to compose?”
It was also at this time, towards the end of his almost 2-month stay in Silesia, when the Prussian army was simultaneously defeated by Napoleon at Jena and by Davout at Auerstedt, that he had a furious quarrel with his patron Prince Lichnowsky. At the end of his stay at the prince’s country estate, some French officers were guests at the prince’s castle, and it was over them that the row occurred which led Beethoven to break off relations with Lichnowsky. To quote Jean and Brigitte Massin again: “Lichnowsky, wishing to please the officers of the occupying army, summoned from the depths of his princely being the feudal rights he held over his own land. Musicians were amusing, and one could afford to indulge their sensitivity. However, when it came to serious matters, they must be treated as servants. And Lichnowsky, whose ineffable kindness had previously extended to accepting that Beethoven should not be disturbed while he was engaged in his creative work, on this occasion did not mince his words, repeatedly asking Beethoven to play the piano for the French officers. Beethoven was so exasperated that he lost his temper and stubbornly refused to carry out what he called a servile task. If it had not been for Count Oppersdorf and others, an ugly brawl would have ensued because Beeethoven had picked up a chair and was about to break it over Lichnowsky’s head after the prince had broken down the door of Beethoven’s room, which the latter had bolted. Fortunately, Oppersdorf placed himself between them […] According to another account given by Ignaz von Seyfried, a theatre director and friend of the composer who probably witnessed the scene, Lichnowsky’s threat to have him arrested – which was not at all serious – resulted in Beethoven leaving during the night in thick fog for the neighbouring village, and, as if borne on the wind, hurried back to Vienna post-haste. As a prince invested with feudal power, Lichnowsky had made himself clear. Beethoven’s reply was also very clear. A little more than 20 years previously, Mozart, having been kicked in the butt by Count Arco, had left trembling with rage, but without uttering a word. When he reached the next village, before returning to Vienna, Beethoven sent word to his “patron”. On receiving the note, Lichnowsky read it, contemptuously threw it to the ground, and left. His physician, Dr. Weiser, who was behind the prince, picked it up and saved for posterity these words that abound in common sense: “Prince, what you are, you are by accident of birth. What I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes. There is only one Beethoven.”
The reform that he proposed in his letter of 23rd January, 1817 – which he sent to one of his main publishers – to dispense with the use of Italian musical terms would be pursued. Beethoven felt keenly that the old musical terms no longer corresponded to the character of his music; and in an undated letter probably written about the same time to Hofrath von Mosel, he insisted both on the modern and the national character of the reform that he advocated. “I am very pleased to find that you share my views on this tempo designation of movements, which stems from the primitive origins of music; for instance, can there be anything more absurd than Allegro which, once and for all, means cheerful, when we often have a very different understanding of the movement, although the piece itself often expresses the opposite of the indication? […] it is different with the words that designate the character of the piece. Those we cannot do without, as the tempo is, properly speaking, the body, whereas these indications relate to the spirit of the piece. As far as I am concerned, I have been thinking for a long time of giving up these absurd terms Allegro, Andante, Adagio, Presto; Maëlzel’s metronome gives us the best opportunity to do so.”
Regarding the most important performance decisions, there was of course the essential question of the tempo required by Beethoven, which we know exactly thanks to the metronome indications left by the composer himself “in order to ensure the performance of my compositions everywhere in accordance with the tempi conceived by me, which, I regret to say, have so often been misunderstood.” In spite of these very precise indications given by Beethoven himself, it is unfortunately still often the case that some musicians and conductors do not consider these indications to be playable in practice, or else brush them aside, dismissing them as unartistic! It was this question that Rudolf Kolisch addressed when he stated that “all the tempi required by Beethoven of string instruments, at least, are perfectly playable on the basis of the average technique of today.”
As I remarked in the context of Album 1, in our reflection and preparation for this new performance of Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies, we started with the basic idea of returning to the original sound and line-up of the orchestra as Beethoven envisaged them, constituted by the ensemble of instruments available to him for use in his day. As for the first 5 symphonies, we consulted the original sources for the existing manuscripts, and we studied and compared the autograph sources as well as the extant material of the parts used for the first concert performances, and the modern editions based on those same sources, with the aim of verifying all the indications concerning dynamics and articulation.
All our orchestral work was done using instruments corresponding to those used in Beethoven’s day and with a similar number of musicians to those deployed by the composer for the first performances of his symphonies; in other words, about 55 to 60 musicians, depending on the symphonies. We have chosen 35 instrumentalists from the professional musicians of the Concert des Nations, including many who have been part of the ensemble since 1989, the remaining 20 instrumentalists being young musicians from different European countries and around the world who were selected from among the best of their generation at in-person auditions. The spirit which presides over the work of our orchestra is the spirit of chamber music, which allows us to give the maximum attention to all the details of each instrumental or vocal part, without losing sight of their basic function in building the final formal structure of each movement.
From the outset it was obvious to us that the other key factor in our project was the study time necessary to undertake and bring to fruition such a major, complex task. Therefore, having a sufficient and generous amount of time was one of the essential conditions if we were to succeed in carrying out in-depth work on these nine symphonies as a whole. To ensure the success of our work and the coherent division of the complete cycle, we distributed the nine symphonies in four major programmes with the idea of preparing them over the course of two years. Each programme was studied and rehearsed, respectively, during two separate intensive 6-day Academies: in each first Academy, which we refer to as “the preparation Academy” we carry out the work of reflection, experimentation and definition concerning all the elements essential for a successful performance. In the second “performance enhancement Academies”, the whole orchestra and each instrumentalist individually studies in depth all the fundamental aspects necessary for the success of a performance that is faithful to the spirit of each work.
On 4th July, 1810, E. T. A. Hofmann wrote in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung: “Beethoven’s instrumental music, opens up to us the realm of the colossal and the immeasurable. Burning flashes of light pierce the deep night of this realm and we become aware of giant shadows rising and falling, steadily engulfing us and annihilating everything that is in us, and not just the pain of endless desire, in which each pleasure is eclipsed and disappears no sooner than it has emerged in joyful notes; and it is only in this pain, which consumes love, hope, and happiness but does not destroy them, and seeks to burst our breasts with a unanimous accord of all the passions, that we live on as enchanted beholders of the vision.”
“This new balance of the instrumental groups”, observes André Boucourechliev, “far from being highlighted by today’s performances, is often neglected. The hypertrophy of the strings is one of the most persistent tendencies of ‘symphonism’, and for many the term symphony translates into an ‘orchestra of 120 musicians’. Ignaz Moscheles reports that what Beethoven feared above all was confusion and that he did not want more than about sixty musicians for his symphonies.” In our opinion, this new balance is a core question; indeed, it is the main reason why we chose a number of musicians similar to those Beethoven might have had at his disposal at the first performance of his symphonies: 18 wind instruments and 32 string instruments (10.8.6.5.3) corresponding to the instruments and tuning (Concert A at 430) used at that time. “Beethoven’s orchestra is not the power instrument, the megaphone or the outer casing of his ‘orchestrated’ musical thought: it is one and the same thing, it is that thought.”
In our own time, numerous commentators, musicologists and music critics have voiced their opinions on Beethoven’s works and, in particular, his nine symphonies, but the fact is that the sheer mystery of his genius stems from the assurance of the act of creation, as revealed in his work. This energy, which so astonished his successors, has never been transferrable – except to those who, like Bartok, belong to the same category of musicians – because in Beethoven’s case the act of creation frequently takes the form of a combat. Beethoven often struggled with himself in order to create, and his work is the result of a creative process which bears witness to a new conception of art. Let us not forget that, coming immediately after Haydn and Mozart, who had refined the sonata, the string quartet and above all the symphony to a level of absolute quality, Beethoven was at a point of musical development when the Classical style had reached unparalleled heights. As Bernard Fournier so aptly remarks, “To compose in the wake of the two great Viennese composers, each of whom in his way created a new musical universe of such perfection, was a challenge the magnitude of which would long be overlooked by commentators because of the challenge that Beethoven’s own shadow cast over those who followed him.”
The paradox confronting us in the 21st century was discussed more than 40 years ago by René Leibowitz in his book Le compositeur et son double, in which he referred to “the absolutely preeminent place occupied by Beethoven’s work in the musical life of our time (according to the results of a recent survey on the varying degrees of great composers’ “popularity” with music lovers).” In an endeavour to explain this, he continues: “One is tempted to conclude that audiences and performers display a genuinely profound awareness of authentic musical values, as these values have undoubtedly found in Beethoven’s music one of their highest and most prestigious expressions. To be sure, such a deduction is not altogether without foundation, and we can see that the well-known theory, according to which a work of genius will always unquestionably triumph in the end, contains an element of truth. One might also add that ultimately, whether they are fully aware of it or not, public and performers inevitably choose as their favourite works those which are the most deserving of the honour. And yet, if we apply these theories to Beethoven, one can’t help thinking that his case is one of the most disconcerting. In fact, there is perhaps no other composer who has been so constantly subjected to misguided and incongruous performance traditions, traditions which actually deform and obscure the very meaning of those works which enjoy such immense popularity… Indeed, we have here an extraordinary paradox in that we apparently love something that we know only in its deformed state, and we systematically deform something that we love.
In our research and performance, we have taken all these considerations into account in pursuit of a genuine return to the sources and the original conception. Our principal aim of projecting in our 21st century the full richness and beauty of these well-known symphonies –all too often presented in an oversized, over-elaborate form, is to restore to these works their essential energy through a proper natural balance between the colours and the quality of the orchestra’s natural sound. In Beethoven’s day, that sound was produced by the stringed instruments (catgut strings and historic bows), woodwind instruments: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons and contrabassoons; brass instruments: sackbuts, trumpets and natural trumpets and the period timpani played with wooden drumsticks. The resulting brilliance, articulation, balance and revolutionary dynamics form the basis of a dynamism based on a respect for Beethoven’s intended tempi (barring a few rare exceptions) and the phrasing to which they give rise, in accordance with the mood indications and the dramatic narrative sustained by the spiritual power of its own message.
In his groundbreaking book on the composer, André Boucourechliev wrote: “Thanks to its new spiritual potential as well as its sound structure, Beethoven’s symphonic music transcends any pre-established character and context, departs on its own voyage of discovery, and finds – or even creates – a new audience. Beethoven would give to his mutable society with its sights set on the future, to its unpredictable desires and its unformulated demands, indeed to all those unknown variables, the object of their aspirations before they even knew what they aspired or wanted. New relationships and hazardous trials of force in which reluctance and misunderstanding jostle with collective elation […] Today’s music perilously continues to experience this perpetual adventure of unbridled confrontation. But it is above all Beethoven who must take the credit for having initiated it.” In this inherent revolutionary vigour of Beethoven’s symphonies, the powerful multiple voice of the orchestra generates a perpetual alertness of the creative spirit which will never exhaust their youthfulness.
Hamburg, 9th October, 2021
Translated by Jacqueline Minett