Jean-Marie Zeitouni conducts Beethoven’s groundbreaking Eroica symphony. The program also features Haydn’s Symphony No. 48, composed for a visit by the Holy Roman Empress, Maria Theresia. Fifty students from the Educational Outreach Program's Collaborative Youth Concerts will open the program with the "Gloria" from Mozart's Coronation Mass.
- Beethoven: Egmont Overture
- Haydn: Symphony No. 48, Maria Theresia
- Beethoven: Symphony No. 3, Eroica
One hour before the start of each performance in Symphony Hall's Higginson Hall.
H2 Young Professionals
Immediately following the Fri 2/17 performance at Lucca Back Bay.
Maria Theresia. Egmont. Napoleon. These historical figures are each associated with a work on today’s program. The first of these, Maria Theresia (1717–1780), was ruler of the Hapsburg-Austrian lands from 1740 to 1780; from 1765 to 1780 she ruled with her son, Joseph II (1741–1790) as her co-regent. She was the mother of 16 children, 13 of whom survived infancy. For these children, Maria Theresia made politically advantageous marriages in order to ensure the continued prominence of the Hapsburg family in European affairs. The most famous of these marriages was that of Marie Antoinette, the youngest of her children, to the Dauphin.
Maria Theresia’s father, Charles VI, created the Pragmatic Sanction (1713) to ensure his throne passed to a daughter. While Charles VI lived, other European rulers were happy to abide by his wish; after his death, however, the opportunity to seize Hapsburg land was too tempting for Frederick the Great of Prussia. He quickly invaded Silesia (today southwest Poland along with small portions of the Czech Republic and Germany), plunging Maria Theresia into a costly war that resulted in the loss of these ancestral lands. She never forgot the insult to her and her father’s sovereignty. Although Charles VI had brokered Maria Theresia as ruler of Hapsburg lands, he was not able to do the same with the Holy Roman Empire, a confederation of independent principalities whose rulers or electors chose their emperor. The Hapsburgs had reigned as Holy Roman Emperors for almost three centuries. Women, however, could not be crowned; Maria Theresia’s husband was made emperor although it was she who ruled.
While remaining a devout Catholic all her life, she reduced the presence of the clergy in her government. Her court was less lavish than her father’s for many reasons, including the meager treasury she inherited from Charles VI and the wars she fought just to maintain her inherited territories. Maria Theresia’s family was vitally important to her both as individuals and as political means to an end, and history recognizes her as a mother as much as a sovereign.
Joseph Haydn (1732–1809), was born, worked, and died a subject of the Hapsburg monarchy. Haydn’s princely family, the Esterhàzy, was one of the wealthiest families in the Hapsburg lands and maintained an opera company, theater troupe, and orchestra. Symphony No. 48 in C Major was probably composed by 1769, a time when Haydn was moving away from the old-fashioned three-movement symphony to that of the modern symphony in four movements. Within the succession of movements, Haydn creates a work with underlying cohesion coupled with dramatic writing.
Maria Theresia visited the Esterhàzy palace near Kittsee (in eastern Austria) in the summer of 1770. The celebrations in their honor were lavish in every respect, including a statue of Julius Caesar entering Rome rendered in pastry, supper served in Chinese-style pavilions followed by a ball that lasted until 4am, and, as one attendee noted, “all the walls, the festoons, statues, vases and niches, the paths in the woods...were illuminated with many thousand lamps of white and green color.”
It is tempting to place Haydn’s Symphony No. 48 in C Major at this event, especially since the work has been nicknamed for Maria Theresia. This symphony has all the hallmarks of a regal sound, due mostly to Haydn’s prominent placement of the horns and trumpets in the rousing and stately opening. The fanfare that opens the symphony and returns throughout the first movement is answered by a more restrained reply in the strings. In the second movement, the winds, including horn, add a distinctive coloring to the melody.
With the third movement, Minuet and Trio, horns, oboes, and trumpet either play or accent the melodic line of the first violins. Delightful changes in orchestration occur within the Minuet section and again in the Trio section that turns to a minor key. The Finale is fun, fast, and exciting! The return of the opening idea is sometimes a bit of a surprise and is always a delight to hear.
In the late 1780s, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749–1832) completed his play Egmont, a story of heroism based on the life of Lamoral, Count of Egmont (1522–1568), one of the nobility who protested against Spanish rule in the Netherlands. Some twenty years later, Beethoven (1770–1827) composed an overture and incidental music to accompany a Burgtheater production of the play. Beethoven’s overture, the most frequently performed movement, speaks to both the tragedy of Lamoral’s death as well as the independence movement it sparked. There is a clear progression or musical story being told in the overture, which features two main parts framed by a slower introduction and faster closing. The reverberations of this story continued into the 20th century as Beethoven’s Egmont was associated with the Hungarian revolution of 1956.
Beethoven began work on his Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55, not long after he wrote about his monumental struggle over his increasing hearing loss in a document now known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. Although Beethoven supplied the title Eroica, this was not his first choice. The original title was Bonaparte, referring to Napoleon Bonaparte. Today, of course, we remember Napoleon as a self-crowned emperor with a single-minded quest to conquer Europe. However, for young idealists like Beethoven and his friends, the early years of Napoleon’s ascent to power were intoxicating. Not entitled by birth but proven through skill and hard work, Napoleon represented a new kind of ruler. In their eyes, the French Revolution was a positive force, and the years after this monumental struggle were a time of great promise for fundamental change in government and the social order.
The title page of Beethoven’s manuscript for Symphony No. 3 indicates Beethoven’s own later frustration and even a confusion of feelings about this iconic figure. After Napoleon became emperor, Beethoven expressed his disillusionment by removing the original title. In 1806, Beethoven published the symphony as Eroica, “composed to the memory of a great man.”
In many ways, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 follows the musical structures he inherited from earlier composers, like Haydn and Mozart: the symphony has four movements (fast, slow, a dance, fast) and Beethoven follows traditional forms. Each movement, however, is also filled with innovative ideas. After two rather startling chords to open the work, we hear two distinctive musical themes that act as building blocks for the rest of the movement: the first is a melody played by the lower strings and the second contrasts with the first.
Beethoven restates the opening music after lots of manipulation and extension of the two themes. How he arrives at the return of the opening music (recapitulation) plays on our expectations.
There are two important differences between this return and the original opening. First, the two chords from the opening measures do not return. Second, the opening theme partially returns in the horn before being restated by the low strings.
The second movement is a funeral march. Often interpreted as the death of the hero, this movement might also imply an acceptance of a situation when heard in light of Beethoven’s own struggle with his declining hearing.
The third movement has a dance feel to it, but now only references the Minuet and Trio on which it is based. The play of accents in the Minuet section never ceases to surprise and enchant.
The final movement opens with a flourish for the orchestra, which then seems to hesitate, but ultimately proclaims its presence. By the end of the movement, the feeling of transcendence becomes an inspiration.
The works on today’s concert do not necessarily paint portraits of specific individuals. Haydn’s Symphony No. 48 was not composed as a direct musical characterization of Maria Theresia any more than Beethoven’s Egmont Overture and Symphony No. 3 were meant to characterize in music any one person or historical situation. It is the underlying feeling of change, revolution, transition, and transcendence that is the topic here and perhaps one of the reasons why these works touch listeners so profoundly in our own day.
Program notes prepared by Teresa M. Neff, PhD
2011–2012 Historically Informed Performance Fellow
Artists, dates, and programming are subject to change.