Concert Notes

Beethoven: Pastoral and Piano

Jocelyn Morlock
b. St. Boniface, Manitoba, Canada / December 14, 1969

The composer has provided the following note.

In my first year of university, I heard all kinds of music that I’d never known existed. It was thrilling, like seeing a new colour for the first time. In particular, the profound joy and beauty of Josquin’s Missa L’Homme Armé inspired me to write Solace. Unlike most string orchestra works, Solace requires the group to be divided into three smaller sub-ensembles:

1. The “early music” ensemble, consisting of two violins, two violas, cello and double bass, playing music that is partially derived from the Agnus Dei of Josquin’s Missa L’Homme Armé (sexti toni).

2. The more ethereal-sounding group of five violins, positioned above the rest of the ensemble, playing very long, slow harmonics.

3. The violin and cello soloists, whose music is a response to that of the “early music” ensemble. 

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
Ludwig van Beethoven
b. Bonn, Germany / December 15, 1770;
d. Vienna, Austria / March 26, 1827

Beethoven created this lovely piece from 1805 to 1806. This astonishingly fertile period also produced the Fourth Symphony and the Violin Concerto, pieces which share the piano concerto’s contented nature. As he had done with his three previous piano concertos, he played the first performance himself, in March 1807, before an aristocratic audience in the Vienna home of his friend Prince Lobkowitz. Listeners responded with only polite applause, and the public debut proved even less successful. It was only when no less a piano soloist than Felix Mendelssohn took it up during the 1830s, that it finally began to find a place for itself in the standard repertoire.

Its very beginning is one of its most arresting features. The piano, rather than the orchestra has the first word, and it enters not with crashing chords (that type of salvo would have to wait for the “Emperor” Concerto, No. 5), but with simple, gentle phrases. The effect is magical, establishing the opening movement’s tranquil mood with one brief, telling stroke.

The brief second movement is another gem. It has been compared with the mythological character of Orpheus taming the wild beasts with his lyre. The orchestra’s lower strings begin the conversation, gruffly. The piano responds with soothing caresses. The orchestra’s protestations gradually lose steam until the soloist delivers such an impassioned plea for conciliation that the orchestra can only capitulate, meekly. The concluding, high-spirited rondo follows on without a break. It is the most conventional part of the concerto, but Beethoven still peppered it with enough individual touches of humour and instrumental colour (introducing trumpets and timpani into the concerto for the first time) to ensure it is worthy of the preceding movements.

Piano Concerto No. 4 in G Major, Op. 58
1. Allegro moderato
2. Andante con moto…
3. Rondo: Vivace

Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 “Pastoral”
Ludwig van Beethoven

Beethoven’s friends and biographers have left ample evidence of his deep love of nature. When residing in Vienna, hardly a day passed that he didn’t take a long walk through the woods and fields surrounding the city, drinking in the sights and sounds of the countryside. He found that setting ideal for thinking through whatever piece he was composing – and shouting it out at the top of his lungs!

The main musical manifestation of this love is his Sixth Symphony. He began sketching it as early as 1802, but he only buckled down to concentrated effort between 1807 and 1808. The premiere took place, along with that of Symphony No. 5, at a marathon all-Beethoven concert in Vienna at the close of the latter year. He thought of it this 

way: “Pastoral Symphony, in which is expressed not tone-painting, but feelings that are awakened by one’s enjoyment of the country; in this work some impressions of country life are portrayed.”

His sketchbook for the final period of the symphony’s composition contain such further musings on this subject as “leave the listeners to work out the situations for themselves,” and “all tone-painting will lose its effect in instrumental music if pushed too far.” The suggestive movement titles, and most importantly the music itself, are all that listeners need to summon up whatever impressions of country life they may see fit.

The first movement, Awakening of Cheerful Thoughts Upon Arriving in the Country, proceeds at a leisurely pace; even its climaxes are restrained. The following Scene by the Brook unfolds with aptly flowing grace. At the very end, Beethoven has woodwinds imitate specific birds: flute, nightingale; oboe, quail; clarinet, cuckoo. 

The remaining three movements are played without pauses between them. For his scherzo, Merry Gathering of Country Folk, Beethoven summoned a band of rustics for a cheerful group of dances. A vivid thunderstorm intrudes violently, but the symphony’s opening mood of serenity is restored by the final, uplifting Shepherds’ Song of Thanksgiving.

“The entire finale seems an ecstatic hymn of thanks to some pantheistic god, to nature with a capital ‘N,’ to whatever beneficent power one can perceive in a universe that seemed as dark and terrifyingly irrational in Beethoven’s days as it can in ours,” wrote musicologist Edward Downes. “That a man of sorrow and self-inflicted injuries like Beethoven could glimpse such glory and, by the incomprehensible alchemy of his art, lift us to share his vision – even if only for a few moments – is a miracle that remains as fresh as tomorrow’s sunrise.”

Symphony No. 6 in F Major, Op. 68 “Pastoral”
1. Allegro ma non troppo (Awakening of Happy Feelings upon Arriving in the Country)
2. Andante molto mosso (Scene by the Brook)
3. Allegro (Merry Gathering of Country Folk)...
4. Allegro (Thunderstorm)...
5. Allegretto (Shepherd’s Song; Happy, Thankful Feelings Following the Storm)


Programme Notes © 2017 Don Anderson

Click here to return back to this concerts detail page.

Top of Page