Harding in Beethoven, Berlioz and Sibelius
Jean Sibelius only wrote one solo concerto, his Violin Concerto, which is lauded for its originality and virtuoso style, a large-scale work that challenges and accentuates both orchestra and soloist. French master Hector Berlioz contributes with captivating and romantic music from his opera, The Trojans at Carthage, as well as the dramatic choral symphony, Romeo and Juliet. The concert finishes in style with Beethoven’s Eroica symphony, which has been called the greatest symphony of all time.
As a child, Hector Berlioz was captivated by the Aeneid, Vergil’s story of the Trojan War and the love between the beautiful Queen Dido of Carthage and the founder of Rome, Aeneas. Berlioz worked on the opera The Trojans between 1856 and 1858. The finished opera was considered far too long and was broken up into parts. To Berlioz’s disappointment, only the second part, the Trojans in Carthage, was performed during his lifetime. The Pantomime The Royal Hunt and Storm begin the fourth act of The Trojans. Here, Dido, dressed as Diana, the goddess of the hunt, and Aeneas seek shelter in a cave where their love is awakened.
Jean Sibelius’s Violin Concerto in D Minor is considered to be the best in its genre. In his youth, Sibelius was a talented violinist and even had an audition with the Vienna Philharmonics in 1891. The violin concerto was composed just over a year after his breakthrough with the second symphony and was performed by the Czech violinist Victor Nováček in Helsinki in 1903. After a thorough reworking, it was performed again in Berlin two years later with no less than Richard Strauss conducting. The passionate and temperamental concerto has all the characteristics of the romantic, virtuoso violin concerto, and testifies to Sibelius’s extensive knowledge of the technical, expressive potential of the violin.
Berlioz belonged in several respects to the more wilful romantics. Some of his great vocal works cross genres and are difficult to classify using traditional measures. This includes The Damnation of Faust, a ‘dramatic legend’ that is not infrequently performed on stage, but also the ‘dramatic symphony’ Romeo and Juliet from 1839. The latter work is divided into seven movements and consists of a series of instrumental and vocal numbers for major orchestras, choirs and soloists. The vocal passages comment on the events in the loosely connected scenes from Shakespeare’s drama. This is a suite from Romeo and Juliet, performed with the vocal elements left out.
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E Flat Major, Eroica, was composed in 1803 and can be said to represent the break between Viennese classicism and romanticism. None of Beethoven’s symphonies, with the exception of the ninth, is as shrouded in myth, interpreted and politically exploited as the Eroica, which in a way is the starting point for the more subjective sounds of the nascent romanticism. Even the first movement, with its vast thematic adaptation, blew apart all the supposed limits of measurement and balance of its time. Beethoven composed the symphony as a tribute to Napoleon, but when Napoleon appointed himself Emperor of the French, Beethoven removed his name from the title page. The work was instead dedicated to “il sovvenire di un grande Uomo”, the memory of a great man – who could also be Beethoven himself.
Text: Henry Larsson
The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra serves as a symphony orchestra for the whole of Sweden. Regardless of where you live you can listen to the orchestra’s concerts through the Swedish Radio’s broadcasts or on their website, and several concerts are also shown on Swedish Television. The Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra is one of the best and most versatile orchestras in Europe – perhaps even in the world. Every year they perform well-loved works from the classical repertoire as well as new music by exciting contemporary composers such as Victoria Borisova-Ollas, Magnus Lindberg and Unsuk Chin. In addition they perform music from popular films and computer and video games and collaborate with leading jazz, pop and rock artists in a constant endeavour to develop and to break new ground.