More views of – or before – Cambridge Film Festival 2015 (3 to 13 September)
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Last year, for Part III at The Corn Exchange (@CambridgeCornEx), our guest soloist was Noriko Ogawa in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3
Now, after that evening with The Brussels Philharmonic, we are back, on Saturday 11 April at 7.30 p.m., to The Royal Philharmonic (@rpoonline, as orchestra in residence), and to Beethoven, with his equally familiar Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Op. 55, brought to us by celebrated conductor Christoph Koenig (coupled with Elgar’s less-performed concerto, for violin and orchestra, played by Pinchas Zukerman, a truly legendary soloist)
A note on terminology :
As there are five Beethoven concertos for piano and orchestra, and nine symphonies, it has been my habit to think of the third of the former as ‘Beethoven 3’, and of the latter as ‘Beethoven’s 3rd’*
1. Allegro con brio
2. Marcia funebre : Adagio assai
3. Scherzo : Allegro vivace
4. Finale : Allegro molto
Unless I have been confusing which Beethoven symphonies exactly I do confuse (in which case, this preamble would not appear, as irrelevant), I always have to check myself, when chancing upon his 3rd on Radio 3 (@BBCRadio3), in case (it does matter) it is actually the 7th (or vice versa), and I can then, instead, be mentally prepared for ‘the apotheosis of the dance’ – though Wagner seemed to want to describe the whole symphony with this phrase – or, contrariwise, the 3rd’s inextricably linked Scherzo and Finale.
For the sound is, unless very strangely played, unmistakably Beethoven (as, for me, much of his orchestral oeuvre is), and unmistakably one or other of these symphonies – what probably leads to being confused (other than a history of listening – please see image above) is the preceding movement in the Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Op. 55, which appears second, marked Marcia funebre :
The equivalent position in Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, though marked just Allegretto, is haunted by a motif with a definite pulse or beat. However, because it is passed around the orchestra, it is not technically an ostinato** (contrary to what Wikipedia®’s web-page suggests), yet its effect means that it might still be described as Alla marcia when at its most subdued (or even sombre) – thus, one connection with the 3rd, if not exactly so, is there in the march-like solemnity (and one gathers that the Allegretto’s appeal gave it a life separately from the 7th).
It is also quite Brahmsian, twenty years before Brahms the man ever was – just, in connection with the richness of his symphonic writing, think of the orchestration, and mood, of the central section of the Allegretto of the 3rd… Before, however, the dramatic Beethovenian drop on the scale of A Minor [graphically depicted here, on YouTube (@YouTube), at around 4 : 14], the key in which this second movement is written.
Yet more is to come, for, shortly before the halfway point, and for a couple of minutes, urgent modulations, and tense fugal writing [starting at around 8 : 47 and 8 : 57, respectively, in an equivalent clip with graphics], bring in one of the most devastating pieces of writing that Beethoven was ever to conceive, with [at around 11 : 21 in that clip] a grinding, 'grungy' feeling of sawing in the lower strings, coupled with uneasy brass – a sensation that, even in the recurring brightness of the upper strings and woodwind, does not obviously subside for more than a couple of minutes, and maybe never does fully disappear before the movement's close.
Even if the Finale of the 3rd may be in sonata form***, unlike that of the 7th (in variation form), it has structural similarities, as well as quite definite swooping gestures (and accompanying whoops and whistles from the woodwind), and other jumps between octaves, that give an immense feeling of familiarity with the theme, no least when Beethoven reduces it almost an oboe.
For, thereafter, he almost teases us into paying attention to it, as he re-states it with different forces, and (reminding us of the Allegro con brio, with which the work opened****) differing the underlying rhythmic patterning – turning it, by turns, into a genteel dance, a stately procession, maybe a funereal treatment that echoes the Marcia funebre… until, that is, he abruptly, and noisily, cuts through with what soon leads to a coda, complete with threats of including dummy final closes, and false endings.
Finally, one may notice that this preview has quite steered clear of the question of the (rescinded) dedication to Napoleon Buonaparte – for several reasons, which, not to make this preview over-lengthy, are given elsewhere.
* Thankfully, nothing to do with this film (from 2000), although – almost unbelievably – there were two more outings to come :
** A word to which our word ‘stubborn’ is closest, it seems, and from which, then, we derive ‘obstinate’.
*** Exactly categorizing ‘sonata form’, across the centuries, can anyway prove fiendishly difficult (let alone what one may mean by the word sonata).
**** With, heralded by subtle brass chordation (is that a word ? it is now) [at around 7 : 26 in the clip with graphics], its sudden plunge to a fragile moment of stasis [from around 7 : 54 to 8 : 02], followed, before and after some more very strikingly energetic string-writing, by wistful moods with oboe, and with very hushed strings.
As a whole, the movement also shows that Beethoven's scoring is more durable than to be lessened by the appropriation, in living memory, of the principal theme for automobile advertising…
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Unless stated otherwise, all films reviewed were screened at Festival Central (Arts Picturehouse, Cambridge)