Once again, I sit before my keyboard to write to you, our general audience and prepare you for what will be another fabulous performance by the musicians of Pro Arte. Last week I gave you a little background of the anchor piece of this concert, The Lark Ascending, this week, since this is the third concert of our Beethoven Festival Season, I have decided to give you a bit of background behind the Beethoven piece selected for this concert: Symphony No.7 in A Major, Opus 92.
By the time Beethoven composed his Seventh Symphony in 1811-12, deafness had put an end to his virtuoso concert career (although he continued to improvise in private for friends). For nearly two decades he had lived in Vienna, surviving two occupations by the French, and had become one of the city’s best-known personalities. A number of his compositions were notorious for sparking controversy, to be sure, but the Seventh presents a happy example of an indisputable masterpiece which was greeted with widespread public acclaim from its premiere.
The Seventh was heard for the first time in December 1813, when it appeared on a benefit program for Austrian and allied veterans of the wars against Napoleon. Also sharing the bill was Beethoven’s even more wildly successful (though now forgotten) novelty piece, Wellington’s Victory, which celebrated the routing of Napoleon’s brother Joseph and his forces in Spain. Its inspiration had been the “panharmonicon,” an extravagant mechanical instrument built to imitate the orchestra and created by the composer’s inventor friend Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (who also designed the metronome and ear trumpets for Beethoven).
Some have suggested an intimate inspiration for the intensely joyful energy that pervades so much of this score-and of the Eighth Symphony, which soon followed and is of the same vintage. The identity of the “Immortal Beloved” to whom Beethoven addressed his passionate, heartfelt declaration of love in a letter remains a matter of debate, but there are persuasive arguments for 1812 as the year of this document-which would place this confessional moment just a few months after completion of the Seventh. As with his many other emotional entanglements, Beethoven’s pursuit of the Immortal Beloved would end in frustration, yet at least for a time he seems to have been encouraged by the possibility for a lasting intimacy. “There was no tint of amorous charade here,” observes biographer Maynard Solomon. “Beethoven, for the first and as far as we know the only time in his life, had found a woman whom he loved and who fully reciprocated his love.”
This is the perfect piece to both remind of the season that we are in, Winter, and usher you out as we prepare for the upcoming spring and season of love. I look forward to seeing you at this concert as much as I look forward to hearing it myself.
– Daniel DeLoma