Monica Jakuc Leverett:
Notes on Arcadia Players Orchestra All-Beethoven Concert

Egmont Overture, Op. 84
Beethovenwrote the Overture and other incidental music to Egmont, Goethe’s dramatic tragedy, in 1809–10 and led its first performance on June 15, 1810. With these concerts we are celebrating the 200th anniversary of its premiere. In composing the Overture and other music for Egmont, Beethoven tried to portray the dramatic essence of the story, as opposed to a detailed account of each scene. The Count of Egmont was a sixteenth century Flemish nobleman who was executed by a Spanish invader, the despotic Duke of Alba, for taking a stand against the oppression of his country.  Such a story was dear to Beethoven’s heart: Egmont’s heroic death as a martyr was seen as a victory against oppression, and his name became a rallying cry for revolution.  Goethe himself felt that Beethoven had captured the spirit of his play with “a remarkable genius.”

Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”

Beethoven wrote most of the Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major (“Eroica”), Op. 55, in late 1803 and completed it in early 1804. The Third Piano Concerto, written just a little earlier, opened up new possibilities for the piano concerto, and the Third Symphony did the same for the symphony, but even more so.  In fact, in the words of musicologist Barry Cooper, “Beethoven’s Third Symphony is one of the most momentous works in the history of music.  It set new standards in size and complexity, at least in the field of instrumental music, and in it the composer advanced so far ahead of his first audience that many of them were left with a feeling of bewilderment, if not outright hostility.” The critic of the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung described it as “a daring wild fantasia of inordinate length and extreme difficulty of execution….There is no lack of striking and beautiful passages in which the force and talent of the author are obvious; but, on the other hand, the work seems often to lose itself in utter confusion.”  Even 25 years later, in 1829, a London critic wrote, “The Heroic Symphony contains much to admire, but it is difficult to keep up admiration of this kind during three long quarters of an hour. It is infinitely too lengthy…If this symphony is not by some means abridged, it will soon fall into disuse.”
In a famous anecdote by his pupil Ferdinand Ries, Beethoven originally dedicated the symphony to Napoleon Bonaparte, but on hearing that Napoleon had declared himself emperor, the composer tore up the title page, exclaiming, “Now he, too, will trample on all the rights of man and indulge only his ambition.” The title, in a more complex process described by Maynard Solomon in his Beethoven biography, was later changed to Eroica, to be a more generalized tribute to an unspecified hero.  The second movement, a funeral march on the death of a hero (with one of the most heartbreaking endings in all of music), leaves us to wonder about the final two movements.  Barry Cooper suggests a resurrection, followed by a life with the gods while being instructed in all the arts, as in Beethoven’s Prometheus ballet. Certainly Prometheus is an integral part of the symphony: the theme of the fourth movement is taken from the finale of the ballet, and was a favorite theme of the composer’s for improvisation.  The Piano Variations, Op. 35 were another result of his fondness for this theme.

Perhaps the true hero of this Promethean work is Beethoven himself, who in one big stroke changed the course of the symphony for all time.  He expanded the form through unity and complexity, and tied the whole to a psychological ideal of growth, struggle and evolution.  The extra-musical associations with revolutionary heroism just add to its power. Maynard Solomon sums up Beethoven’s achievement:  “Idealism and simple faith alone… are insufficient grounds for greatness.  Conflict is absent from ideological statements, and the resultant artwork accordingly requires no formal containment, but merely craftsmanlike expression.  For it is the conflict between faith and skepticism, the struggle between belief and disbelief—which Goethe described as the most important theme of world history—that creates those dynamic tensions which tend to expand and threaten to burst the bonds of form.  The Eroica is Beethoven’s elaboration of that theme in the closing hours of the Enlightenment.”


Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37

The editor of the Henle edition of the Complete Works of Beethoven, Hans-Werner Kuethen has said, “The four versions of the B-flat concerto, the three of the C major, and a single one of the C minor concerto show that the time span between draft and final form becomes increasingly short, that the composer wins the upper hand over the virtuoso, and in [the Third Concerto] Op. 37 a first perfection of the genre is reached, which was the object of the greatest emulation in the 19th century.”  According to Beethoven’s pupil Carl Czerny, “The style and character of this Concerto are much more grand and fervent than in the two former.”  Composition on the piece was begun in 1799-1800, but it was not finished until Beethoven himself premiered it on April 5, 1803. 

The two earlier Beethoven concerti were written under the shadow of Mozart, and have the same light, clear classical style and texture, and sunny disposition.  Mozart’s darker concerto in C minor, K. 491, was a model and challenge for Beethoven, especially in his C minor Trio, Op. 1/3.  After one performance of K. 491 he was said to exclaim to his pupil Johann Baptist Cramer, “Cramer! We shall never be able to do anything like that!” And he didn’t ever do anything like that; he went on to find his own voice in his heroic middle style where conciseness, rhythmic drive and drama replaced the elegant long phrases, seamless transitions and endless melodic invention that characterized Mozart.  In a possible tribute to K. 491, Beethoven ends the first movement with a coda using piano arpeggiated figures just as Mozart did.  Beethoven rightly considered Op. 37 the best of his first three concerti; it opens up a new world of Romantic emotion.

The first movement starts with a bold triadic theme, made of the simplest of musical materials. It unfolds in classic concerto format: orchestra exposition with contrasting second theme, piano exposition as a kind of embellishment on that, development using mostly the main motive, recapitulation, piano cadenza, and coda with arpeggiation similar to Mozart’s K. 491.  Beethoven wrote out all cadenzas and lead-ins for this concerto, and I will play them in this performance.

The second movement is in the shocking key of E major – a major third above the home key of C minor.  This key juxtaposition is slightly reminiscent of the Eb major/E major keys of the first two movements of Haydn’s last sonata, which Beethoven certainly knew.  C minor (also in three flats, like Eb major) and E major (in four sharps) is an even more shocking contrast because of the minor/major dichotomy.  The other-worldliness of the second movement is emphasized at the beginning by the pianissimo dynamic, suggesting use of the fortepiano moderator (a muted sound – see my notes below on the fortepiano), and by Beethoven’s extraordinarily long damper pedal markings, which blur the different harmonies, an effect only possible on the early pianos. “The whole theme must sound like a holy, distant and celestial harmony,” according to Czerny.

The shock of the return of C minor in the rondo is mitigated by the lively dance-like spirit that it emanates.  It is a muscular, energetic romp, which only gets faster and more joyous in the final, virtuosic C major coda.

In accordance with performance practice of the time, I will be playing figured bass accompaniments during the orchestral tuttis.  There is definitely evidence that Beethoven still did this.  The fortepiano is an underpinning to the orchestral texture, and then gets spotlighted as a solo instrument.  Playing figured bass continuo makes the soloist a true member of the ensemble.  The psychology of it is quite different from the more antagonistic soloist roles of later Romantic concerti.

This same psychology is evident in our historical placement of the piano tail out, so that the pianist is situated literally inside the orchestra.  Franz Liszt, who wanted everyone to see his charismatic profile, instituted the more modern placement of the piano with bent side towards the audience.  The earlier tail out setting denies the audience the opportunity to see the soloist’s hands, but offers instead a beautiful chamber music-like relationship of soloist and orchestra.  Unlike the modern setting, the soloist, orchestra and conductor can actually see and hear each other, allowing for a more confident and intimate performance.


About the Fortepiano

The fortepiano used in this concert, made in the year 2000 for Smith College, is a 5 1/2 octave (FF – c’’’’) instrument made by Paul McNulty after the design of Walter & Sohn of Vienna.  In June 2008, it became the property of Monica Jakuc Leverett. It is mahogany with brass trim, and features moderator and sustaining knee levers, the equivalent of pedals on the modern piano.  The moderator inserts a piece of cloth between the hammer and the strings, thereby softening and mellowing the sound.  The sustaining knee lever is the equivalent to the damper (right) pedal on the modern piano.

Paul McNulty, an American living in Divisov, Czech Republic, is one of the most highly respected builders working today.

The first pianos, made by Bartolomeo Cristofori about 300 years ago, were named pianoforte or fortepiano (soft-loud or loud-soft) because, unlike the harpsichord, they could play both soft and loud, with the dynamic controlled by the player’s touch.  The only other keyboard instrument, with such touch control was the clavichord, whose overall sound was considered too soft for use in concert. 

Contemporary usage has ironically shortened the modern instrument’s name to “piano,” and in the past twenty years the term “fortepiano” has come to signify historical pianos, or reproductions of historical pianos.

The earliest fortepianos had a range of five octaves (FF – f’’’), similar to that of the harpsichord.  As time went on, this range increased, as can be seen most poignantly in the piano sonatas of Beethoven, in which the highest and lowest notes become farther and farther apart as the sonatas continue. 

Because this McNulty fortepiano represents ideas from a number of different Walter instruments in existence around the turn of the 18th century, it is difficult to date it, though I like to attribute it to circa 1803. It is perhaps interesting to note that between 1780 and 1820 there were over 300 Viennese piano builders registered in the guild, and most of them did not date their work. The graceful curve of the piano’s case is not a Walter feature, but rather typical of Ferdinand Hofmann, the guild president at that time.  As a hybrid consisting of the best of many different instruments, this piano has a unique character and beauty in the spirit of an earlier time.