Beethoven – Shostakovich – Fauré

Beethoven, who else?

Written byBart de Vries


Sinfonieorchester Basel
23 and 24 October 2019

Alexander Melnikow, Piano
Immanuel Richter, Trumpet
Peter Simonischek, Narrator
Balthasar Neumann Choir
Ivor Bolton, Conductor

Gabriel Fauré - Caligula
Dmitry Shostakovich - Concerto for Piano and Trumpt
Ludwig van Beethoven - Excerpts from Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus

The year 2020 will mark the 250th anniversary of one of the greatest composers of all time, Beethoven. Leading up to this undoubtedly widely celebrated fact, SOB has programmed one of his less often performed pieces, his music to the ballet Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The creatures of Prometheus). It is paired with stage music by Fauré, who had more in common with Beethoven than he probably would have liked, and a work by Shostakovich who liberally quotes the composer from Bonn.

Beethoven (1770-1727), who had moved from Bonn to Vienna in 1792, had worked steadily on his career, when in 1800 he finally thought the time was right to put together his first Akadamie, a concert featuring one’s own work and organised at one’s own cost and risk. Although the reactions to his music were mixed, the overall feeling was that something unique had happened. As a result he was asked to write the music to the ballet Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus starring Salvatore Viganò, a famous dancer, who had recently been offered a contract with the Burgtheater in Vienna in an effort to increase the declining attendance of the theater’s performances. Viganò was responsible for the libretto and the choreography. As both have been lost, Beethoven’s indications in the score are one of the few remaining clues to what the performance may have been like. To fill the gap (and in anticipation of the celebration of Beethoven’s 250th anniversary), Basler writer, translator and journalist Alain Claude Sulzer has written texts to excerpts of the music that will be recited by Peter Simonischek, an actor of the Burgtheater, where the ballet was premiered in 1801.

The ancient Greek mythological figure Prometheus created humanity from clay and equipped them with fire he stole from the gods who subsequently sentenced him to eternal torture. The choreography by Viganò focused on the creation of humankind, as the role of Prometheus himself, being tied to a rock as part of his punishment, would be too static for a “primo ballerino”.

From Beethoven it seems a big step to Fauré (1845-1924), but the men had at least two things in common. Both suffered from a progressively deteriorating hearing deficiency and both wrote a major piece based on the Prometheus myth. However, this month’s program opens with Fauré’s Caligula suite. From the movements’ titles (The winter recedes, Dance melody, Vermillion roses), the melodies and the texture of Fauré’s stage music, a rather sensual and decadent picture of the emperor arises, rather than his cruel character.

Squeezed in between, Alexander Melnikov plays the first concerto for piano by Shostakovich (1906-1975). The piece was initially conceived as a concerto for trumpet, then evolved into a double concerto and eventually grew into a piano concerto with an important role for the solo trumpet, played by SOB’s principal trumpet player Immanuel Richter. It provides a witty compliment to the piano part, until it finally gets the full focus towards the very end. But the piece opens (in the fifth bar, in the pianist’s right hand) with a quotation of, who else? Beethoven.

These English program notes have been published in the magazine (No. 3, 2019/2020) of the Sinfonieorchester Basel.


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