Programme Guide

Beethoven’s life was characterised by conflict: wrestling with his compositional aspirations, the self-assertiveness of his difficult character in an uncomprehending environment. In his Fifth Piano Concerto, you can sense how comfortable he felt in the role of the fighter: evidence of impassioned rebellion. This evening it is played by Mitsuko Uchida and the Berliner Philharmoniker conducted by Sir Simon Rattle.

The conditions around the time of its composition alone must have mobilised Beethoven’s fighting spirit. The Concerto was composed in 1809, when Napoleon’s army occupied Vienna. Beethoven treated the conquerors with utter contempt. He shouted to a French officer: “If I were a general and knew as much about strategy as I do about counterpoint, I would give you something to think about.” The same showing what one is made of characterises Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, which even today has lost none of its freshness and vigour.

The other two pieces this evening are more austere: Sibelius’s Fourth Symphony, whose ascetic severity shocked the audience at the first performance so much that no one dared applaud. We will also hear Kúrtag’s Grabstein für Stephan (Gravestone for Stephan) in memory of Stephan Stein, with its sharply contrasting expressions of grief and mourning.

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