Concert

Programme Guide

Fireworks

For Joseph Haydn, the appointment as director of music for Nikolaus I, Prince Esterházy, meant not only a secure income but also artistic isolation. During the summer months, the royal household resided first at Eisenstadt in Austria and, after 1766, also regularly in Fertőd, Hungary, approximately 100 kilometres from Vienna, where the prince had had a hunting lodge owned by his family expanded to a magnificent rococo palace. “I was cut off from the world,” Haydn recalled later, but it was precisely this fact that offered him the opportunity for compositional experiments, since “there was no one in my vicinity to confuse or torment me, and so I was forced to become original.”

Haydn was fortunate; the prince and the small audience at the court were enthusiastic about his creative spirit, which was particularly audible in his numerous symphonies. In his Symphony No. 59, composed in 1768, Haydn plays with extreme dynamic contrasts, and as a surprise effect he suddenly has the horns enter with a fortissimo fanfare just before the close of the graceful Andante. The symphony opens with an energetic leaping motif, an original inspiration that inflames the vehement first movement – it is no wonder that a contemporary of Haydn’s nicknamed the work the “Fire Symphony”.

Ludwig van Beethoven composed his ballet music to The Creatures of Prometheus in the wake of the success of Haydn’s Creation, which was premiered in Vienna in 1798 and to which Beethoven’s work is thematically related. The focus of the ballet is the Titan Prometheus – literally the “Forethinker” – who steals fire from the gods in order to help the human race by giving it life and civilization. The ancient myth could scarcely have been more timely, since the rebellious Prometheus must have reminded everyone of Napoleon Bonaparte at that time. It was no different for Beethoven, as one can see from the fact that he borrowed the theme of the ballet’s finale two years later for his “Eroica”, which was originally dedicated to the French military leader, whom Beethoven had initially admired.

Choreographed by Salvatore Viganò, the dramatic ballet – an innovative genre, which competed with the more pantomimic, static ballet of the old style in Vienna – did not focus on Prometheus but, in keeping with the title, his creatures. The divine spark brought the first two humans, formed of clay, to life. Only through the arts, however, could they learn to feel and reason, which ultimately makes Apollo, Bacchus and the Muses the real heroes. But anyone who expected a cheerful dance of the Muses against an unobtrusive musical backdrop in those days did not know the composer very well. As in his First Symphony, Beethoven began the overture self-confidently and unconventionally, with a tension-charged chord striving for resolution. “Everything is laid out too grandly for a divertissement, which is what the ballet should actually be,” one critic complained after the premiere. But for Beethoven, humanistic education through (musical) art was unquestionably a very serious matter – and not simply light entertainment.

Susanne Ziese

Translation: Phyllis Anderson

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