HCMC – Beethoven was born 250 years ago this year. His Violin Concerto and his Pastoral Symphony are among his most famous works. These two compositions form the HCMC Ballet, Symphony Orchestra and Opera (HBSO) program on October 31, with the violin soloist Mer. A. Bui Cong Duy as icing on the cake.
Beethoven’s Violin Concerto was from the very beginning a challenging and highly perplexing work. Its first performance was a failure. Its first movement lasted 25 minutes – something unheard of in those days. And it wasn’t recognized as the true masterpiece it is until long after Beethoven’s death.
Now it has had over a hundred recordings, among the most famous being the one by Yehudi Menuhin with Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting from 1947.
The complexity of the concerto is illustrated by the fact that it exists in several different formats as Beethoven attempted to re-use his failed material. Also indicative of this is the plethora of cadenzas that exist today for this most celebrated of violin concertos.
Bui Cong Duy was born in 1981 and is one of the most applauded of Vietnamese violinists. He won first prize and gold medal in the Tchaikovsky International Music Contest in Saint Petersburg in Russia, and today teaches selected, top-quality students in Hanoi.
Beethoven completed his Pastoral Symphony (Symphony Number 6) two years after his violin concerto. It’s in five movements, rather than the four usual in classical symphonies, and each movement has a title referring to life in the country around Vienna.
The first movement is called “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside”. The second is called “Scene by the brook”, and the third “Merry gathering of country folk.”
Then comes the fourth – “Thunder storm.” The final movement is titled as follows: “Shepherd’s song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm”.
For musicians, the symphony has some peculiarities. A piccolo-player is needed, but only in the fourth movement, for the thunder-storm (and not, as you might expect, for the peasants’ dance). Special timpani effects are also required for the storm. Trumpets in special keys, plus trombones, are again required for the storm, but are retained for the final movement, and so on.
To view the symphony as a whole, it’s necessary to see its place in Romanticism. The Romantic era in the arts, which Beethoven did a lot to inaugurate, included a changed attitude to the countryside. In the 18th century and earlier cities were generally perceived as centers of civilization, while the country was felt to be rough and maybe even barbaric. Poets such as Wordsworth in England, and his peers in the German-speaking countries, effected a switch as a result of which country life was idealized.
The concert will be conducted by Le Ha My, and tickets are from VND300,000 to VND650,000, with a special concession of VND80,000 for students. The event is in the Saigon Opera House and begins at 8 p.m.
By Bradley Winterton