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'Europe at the beginning of the 19th century,
'a continent at war with itself.'
ORCHESTRAL MUSIC PLAYS
The symphony is revolutionised,
changed beyond all recognition in the space of just 30 years
by two titanic men, one German and one French.
The music and ideas of Beethoven and Berlioz
were profoundly influenced by the French Revolution and its aftermath.
Their symphonies would offer audiences a new understanding of the world
in a time of great change and anxiety.
Beethoven was a revolutionary and idealist,
Berlioz an iconoclast and visionary
and both men had personalities almost too big for the world that they inhabited.
'Ludwig van Beethoven, the German who struggled with his deafness,
'but whose nine symphonies are one the wonders of human achievement.'
Beethoven was after something epic.
The idea that an orchestra could portray a journey from darkness
into the blaze of what one might call victory.
Now this was completely original.
Nobody had dared to do something as modern as this.
'Hector Berlioz, the French composer who came after him,
'driven by obsession to give the symphony his own wild and romantic voice.'
Berlioz was a bit of a maverick.
It's quite extraordinary the use of the orchestra.
He seems to think of it as an instrument in itself, I think,
as a virtuoso instrument.
'We'll see how composers became artists determined to control their own destinies,
'how they gave orchestral music, without words, great stories to tell
'and how composers as different as Liszt and Schubert were inspired
'to take this symphony to undreamt- of places after Beethoven's death.'
'Our story starts in the imperial Austrian city of Vienna
'where 200 years ago, an extraordinary concert would change the course of music.'
It was here at the Theater an der Wien just before Christmas 1808
that the curtain was raised.
'This was the 38-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven's declaration of his status
'as an independent artist in control of his own destiny.
'He was the composer, conductor, piano soloist and concert promoter
'and this performance would last four hours.'
It was an evening that featured not just one new symphony but two,
each as different from the other as they were from any music that had preceded them.
It was during this mammoth concert - it really does take your breath away -
there were half a dozen other pieces by Beethoven on the programme, old and new -
that the Fifth and Sixth Symphony were heard for the first time.
OPENING NOTES TO FIFTH SYMPHONY
'The most famous four-note sequence in music,
'instantly recognisable to us today as Beethoven's Fifth
'and full of associations.'
'Fate knocking at the door, "V" for victory.
'But how must it have sounded to that original audience?'
'Beethoven presented it as pure music.
'No clue to its significance or meaning.'
Well, Beethoven, as a personality, was so tricky
and so uncouth in so many ways
and had such a difficult, troubled childhood,
that the adult that gave us some of these pieces was a man
so often at odds with the world around him.
'Born in poverty in the German town of Bonn,
'he was bullied as a child by his alcoholic father
'and in his 20s realised he was going deaf,
'surely the cruellest of tragedies for a musician.'
'But Beethoven was a man with a will of iron
'and, in the Fifth, he harnesses the power of the orchestra to an insistent propulsive rhythm
'forcing the symphony to articulate the profoundest personal drama.'
The story of a soul struggling against implacable fate and emerging incandescently victorious.
One of the great contrasts available to a composer
are the contrasts of darkness and lightness.
And in his Fifth Symphony, builds up from hesitant darkness
into the radiant blaze of optimism, confidence, whatever.
Now he does this through the simplest of means.
At the end of the third movement, which is the rather shadowy, dark scherzo,
his plan is to burst us into the light without stopping.
Now he does this by making the orchestra play as quietly as it can,
all the strings just plucking very, very quietly.
Then comes the heartbeat of the drum, very, very quiet and distant
and the strings just moving up and down, uncertain about which way they're going to go.
And then suddenly, very quickly, the whole orchestra comes in
and, without stopping, we burst into the final movement.
This is in the major key.
Lights full on after lights hardly on at all.
'The symphony is a masterpiece of storytelling without words.
When the French Revolution erupted, Beethoven was a teenager,
'struggling to support his family after the death of their mother
'and the concept of individual liberty became a lifelong issue.
'We, the listeners, are compelled to share his battle against fate.'
Although Beethoven wanted to write something that was comprehensible at first hearing,
he wasn't writing simply to give pleasure.
He wanted it to be a potentially life-changing experience,
music that would resonate in the mind long after the last note had sounded.
'The other symphony couldn't have been more different from the dramatic Fifth,
'demonstrating the breadth of Beethoven's extraordinary vision of what the symphony could be.
'However, making a living as an independent professional composer
'was something very new and his early concerts were under-rehearsed, badly organised financial disasters.
'To escape his troubles, he loved to walk in the country
'and in the Sixth symphony we join him on one of his walks through his beloved Austrian countryside.
'A friend said nature was almost meat and drink to him.
'He seemed positively to exist upon it.'
'But this was more than recreation.
'To walk in the country was a kind of political act.
'Beethoven was a romantic in the strictest sense.
'As you walked away from urban society, you became a natural being,
'no longer measured in terms of wealth or social status,
'but able to find your place as part of the natural order of things.'
It's actually opening spaces for people's imagination
rather than telling them what to think.
And this creates a wonderful myth about the transformation,
almost the redemption of the artist in the urban situation
by going into the countryside
that became a very influential model for composers later.
It's not really about the countryside, it's really about
someone in the city thinking about the countryside and creating a myth about it.
This symphony has five distinct movements
rather than the standard four
and for the first and only time in a Beethoven symphony
each one had a title that was printed in the programme.
This is programmatic music.
The first movement is The Awakening Of Cheerful Feelings
Upon Arrival In The Country
and he called the second Scene By A Brook.
The programme headings were uncharacteristic for Beethoven,
but they looked forward to the literary symphonies to come.
The French composer Hector Berlioz who, as we shall see later,
took up the idea of programmatic music with grand elan,
wrote of this second movement Scene By A Brook,
"I think here the composer actually created the music
"whilst lying on his back on a grassy bank.
"His eyes turn towards heaven, he's observing and listening,
"enthralled by the countless reflections of sound and light
"as the current of the brook
"sends ripples across the surface of the water."
This is the actual brook.
Not quite so pastoral nowadays.
The symphony is a sequence of encounters with nature,
scene painting which stimulates thoughts and feelings
and Beethoven rarely allowed himself
to be so light and charming or so literal.
This movement ends with a faithful music reproduction of birdsong.
And what's so funny about it is the birds that he chose.
It says in the score here, the nightingale...
TRILLING NOTES ON PIANO
And then you hear the quail!
STACCATO NOTE ON PIANO
-I don't know when you last heard a quail...
-I haven't heard many.
-Well, not consciously.
And then there's a cuckoo isn't there? A famous cuckoo.
IMITATES CUCKOO ON PIANO Yeah.
-If you play the...
-Shall I do the nightingale?
THEY BUILD A BIRDSONG CHORUS TOGETHER
'We struggled to play it,
'but it's a work of great freshness, full of humour,'
of dancing exhilaration,
of great beauty
and a masterpiece of form.
WOODWIND BUILD THE BIRDSONG CHORUS
The songs of the nightingale, quail and cuckoo
gain an extra poignancy
if you bear in mind the composer's growing deafness.
In its own way, the Pastoral is a work
just as visionary as the Fifth,
offering a utopian vision of peace, harmony and fulfilment
against the contemporary backdrop of war-torn Europe.
When Beethoven was a young man in the late 1780s and early 1790s,
he was fascinated by what was happening
across the border in France.
He was a member of republican circles
and for him the notion of being an independent composer
was linked to ideas of liberty and the rights of man.
Once when someone asked him whether the "Van"
in his name, Ludwig Van Beethoven, denoted aristocratic origins
he snapped back "I am not a landowner, I'm a brain owner."
After the premiere of the Fifth and Sixth symphonies,
Napoleon invades Austria and occupies Vienna.
Beethoven hides in his brother's cellar, protecting his ears
from the sound of French cannon by burying his head in pillows.
His former teacher, the 77-year-old Joseph Haydn, is luckier.
Such is Napoleon's respect for the father of the symphony
that he orders guards to protect him.
Haydn, a firm anti-republican, makes a point of taking up his hymn,
Gott Erhalte Franz Den Kaiser,
otherwise known as the tune of Deutschland Uber Alles,
and playing it loudly in protest every morning.
Sadly, within weeks of the French invasion, Haydn is gone,
dying peacefully in his sleep.
Now Beethoven became Vienna's indisputable musical hero.
The premiere of his Seventh Symphony in 1813
coincided with Napoleon's defeat and was hailed as a victory symphony.
The following year, his Eighth won new admirers
with its wit and humour.
Now his concerts had become major musical events.
The audiences of Vienna
were the most musically sophisticated in Europe.
They knew what they had lost with Haydn and Mozart
and when another one came along they went,
"Blimey, but have you heard him?"
And people would say "Beethoven's giving a concert. Let's go,
"you never quite know what's going to happen."
Finally, in 1824, at the most prestigious venue in Vienna,
the Karntnertor Theatre,
Viennese audiences would hear
his final and most groundbreaking symphony yet.
The Karntnertor Theatre is long gone,
but on its site stands one of Vienna's great
and most glorious institutions, The Hotel Sacher,
home to one of the world's most famous cakes, the Sacher torte.
Right from the opening notes
where the orchestra seem to be suspended
in the cosmic vastness of space,
it was clear that Beethoven's Ninth
was going to be another leap forward.
I've been trying to think how to compare the Ninth Symphony
with a chocolate cake,
but beyond the fact that both are rich and satisfying, I can't do it.
The fact of the matter is that the Ninth Symphony
is not just any old piece of music, it's a colossal achievement,
a comprehensive if unpredictable tour through the human condition.
It would be better to compare it to the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel
or the Great Wall Of China.
In fact it's so big it probably can be seen from space.
And it has great tunes.
This is Beethoven at his most iconoclastic.
He hadn't written a symphony for a dozen years
and he really was now the most celebrated composer in the world.
So his devoted supporters
flocked to see how he no longer just broke the rules,
but barely acknowledged that they existed.
The inspiration behind the Ninth Symphony
was Friedrich Schiller's poem An Die Freude, the Ode To Joy -
a stirring celebration of human happiness and universal brotherhood.
He first read Schiller's An Die Freude when he was a student.
And he wrote a setting of it
only a year or two after he first read it,
so he was about 20 or 21.
So the idea to set that poem had been in his mind all his adult life.
Remember, Beethoven lived through the French Revolution
and there's a crucial line, "Alles menschen werden bruder," all mankind will be brothers.
And that line appealed to him because Beethoven was,
although he never spelled it out as such, the great democrat.
I get this feeling there was a moment
he thought, "I can't go further with just instruments."
Well, he brought voices in for the first time in a symphony.
He struggled over that.
He could not work out a way to bring them in.
And the sudden idea of the solo bass singer singing...
# O freunde. #
Which to us again is as natural as breathing,
was about his fourth or fifth idea before he got what he wanted.
# O Freunde... #
Right from the beginning, this final section of the Ninth Symphony
seemed to take on an independent life of its own.
There's always been a particular resonance for German speakers
and in the 1930s and '40s, it was used as a propaganda tool
by the Nazi Party, performed to mark such events as Hitler's birthday.
Well, it had such incredible familiarity value, didn't it?
I mean, it's one of the great things about the main tune of the symphony
is that once you've heard it once - it stays with you.
You could always hum along with it.
The work is about brotherhood and the trouble with it is
that it's asking you to come together in one uniformed mass
which suits the kind of pictures we're seeing at the moment.
You don't have to interpret it that way, however,
because you can always say we need to come together
because we're reacting against an authoritarian idea of normality,
so the piece can be read two ways.
-But the music isn't ambiguous at all, is it?
-No, it's about joy.
Yeah, and energy and the realisation that it's a statement
-of everybody reaching for something bigger...
On Christmas Day in 1989, a global audience of a hundred million
watched Leonard Bernstein conduct the work in Berlin.
A month after the wall
that had divided the communist East from the West came down.
Very odd, though, that if it starts a poem about joy
that it has so transmogrified into music about freedom.
The musical quality is so inspired in its accumulative power
that it seems, and this to me is one of the reasons
why it's such an important piece for very epic global occasions,
that it seems that the music
is so much bigger than anybody who's taking part in it.
In September 2001, just four days after 9/11,
Leonard Slatkin conducted the choral finale
at the Last Night Of The Proms as a tribute to the victims of terror.
CHEERING AND APPLAUSE
Many years later, Hector Berlioz would write that with the Ninth,
Beethoven had built himself a magnificent monument
and imagined the composer saying to himself,
"Let death come now, my work is done."
Beethoven died on the 26th of March 1827,
three years after completing his Ninth Symphony.
He was 56.
20,000 mourners attended his funeral -
one in ten of the Viennese population.
Among them was another symphonist, Franz Schubert.
He accompanied the body to this graveyard in North Vienna,
but tragically, within two years, barely into his 30s,
he would himself be buried here,
just a few metres from his great hero.
This is where Schubert was first put to rest in 1828.
What's this part of the funeral...
It says, "Music has laid to rest a rich treasure
"and still greater hopes for the future."
But ironically his two best symphonies
were of course in the future.
They weren't actually discovered until, um, 1839
and the Unfinished wasn't first performed
until the 1860s here in Vienna.
-So that's 30 years after his death.
-30 years after.
During his short lifetime, Schubert acquired
a reputation for his songs and piano pieces,
but he'd actually composed over half a dozen symphonies.
However, because they were not specially commissioned,
none had a public performance in his lifetime,
and the most famous was left half completed, the Unfinished Symphony.
Just before he died, he wanted to write symphonies
and really concentrate on big ideas,
which is why the Ninth Symphony of his has this huge grand plan.
I think he was intending that to be something...
-The Grosse Symphony?
-Die Grosse Symphony, yes.
The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment
are performing the C Major symphony on authentic period instruments.
But Schubert himself only ever heard an orchestra play this symphony
in a rehearsal in 1828 for a concert that was never given.
His music was invariably performed by and for his friends,
often in the comfortable surroundings of this school
where his father was the headmaster.
The importance of Schubert is that you see
a much more relaxed attitude to the musical material.
He was really a superb composer because he could play with
the music in his symphonies, playing with sound for its own sake
and not worrying too much about where it's going all the time,
although there is that sort of Beethoven logic as well.
He leaves spaces in the music
for anybody with any ideas whatever to enter.
That's part of the generosity.
There's something very positive about the music,
but also something very daring at the same time.
There's something about Schubert's music which takes the listener
on a journey and sometimes the listener doesn't know quite where it's going
and Schubert leaves the listener deliberately asking which way.
The ambiguity's wonderful.
It is hugely confident music, which makes it all the more tragic that
he would say "I want to write symphonies" and then died.
And later he was moved from here?
He was exhumed in 1888.
The cemetery was decommissioned and his body was moved to
the central cemetery along with Beethoven,
who is almost next to him here.
-Oh, bye bye, Schubert.
And here's Beethoven. Here's Beethoven.
This is where he was originally put to rest.
This is a modern replacement of the original graveside,
but it's still basically the same design.
It looks much austere, doesn't it, than Schubert?
-Yes, and very much grander.
Schubert's brother, claimed to have designed this.
Here we have Apollo's Lyre
and at the very top we have an ouroboros,
this is an old Egyptian symbol for universality,
a snake consuming its own tail,
and in the middle a butterfly that's meant to represent immortality.
All Beethoven's symphonies had already been published
during his lifetime and began to receive public performances
in major cities across Europe. Our story now takes us to Paris.
In 1825, despite fierce opposition from his father,
a provincial doctor, a young medical student called Hector Berlioz
quit his studies, leaving the dissection of corpses
to pursue his all-consuming ambition to become a composer,
a great composer.
He enrolled here at the Conservatoire of Music
and threw himself into his work.
But not long into his studies, he had a life-changing experience,
Hector was rather prone to revelations.
He heard the symphonies of Beethoven
and in particular the first performances in France
of Beethoven's Fifth.
Beethoven, who had died just the previous year, was regarded
by the French establishment as a German who wrote bizarre,
incoherent, harsh and noisy music with no melody to speak of,
disagreeable to listen to and horribly difficult to play.
Berlioz thought it was wonderful.
"The Fifth," he said, "gave wings to Beethoven's despair,
"but also to his nobility of soul, this style of writing is far above
"and beyond anything ever written in orchestral music until now."
He himself, in his own words, "would fire along another path".
Berlioz, of course, was a naughty boy.
He never obeyed the rules when he was at the Conservatoire
and he was one of the first to say so unashamedly that music can
express the self, the romantic ideal of the creative artist
at loggerheads with his environment, living solely for his art.
I love his music and I love everything about him,
what he stood for.
This is the Place de la Bastille, named after one of the key events
of the French Revolution -
the storming of the Bastille Prison in 1789.
But 1830 was also a revolutionary year and this column commemorates
the death of 18,000 Parisians who died during three days
of bitter street fighting following a disputed election.
Berlioz was excited.
It was as if he would finish his musical work for the day and then
dash outside, pistol in hand,
to join the riots and the street fighting.
His symphony was to have a story,
an episode in the life of an artist in five parts.
Berlioz's short story was to be printed in the concert programme -
"Our hero falls in love with an unattainable woman.
"Pushed towards madness by unrequited passion,
"he attempts to kill himself with an overdose of opium,
"but the drug causes him to suffer
"a sequence of ever more grotesque hallucinations".
Berlioz was profoundly influenced by Beethoven's music,
but he twisted the Beethoven model into startling new forms -
the journey from darkness into light that we see
in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony into a drug-induced descent into hell.
He called his new work the Symphonie Fantastique, the Fantastic Symphony,
"fantastic" meaning uncanny or unreal as in a dream,
but also "incroyable", unbelievable, terrifying, extraordinary.
And it is an extraordinary musical achievement.
One of his formal innovations was the use of an idee fixe,
a tune that symbolises an obsessive idea.
This strange, unearthly melody lasts nearly 40 seconds
and keeps recurring throughout the symphony.
To gain an insight into how this actually works
I visited the composer Robert Saxton at his home in South London.
So he keeps the tune the same right the way through the whole piece?
It appears in different guises, but it's always very recognisable.
The landscape changes around it rather than the tune itself changing.
-Is this one here? Shall I play it?
-The beginning of it?
A composer like Beethoven will take something that's more
like a motif and gradually take parts out of it and develop it,
whereas with Berlioz the idee fixe remains more or less intact.
The opening is revelry and passions and he's dreaming
and the idee fixe is the beloved.
-That is her.
He then here introduces the tune totally unaccompanied and
when he does put the accompaniment in, where most composers would have
had a running accompaniment, he's got this jerky "badum-badum-badum".
Berlioz couldn't play the piano, which is significant.
He played the flute and the guitar.
And I think he thought in these great, long,
almost folk-derived melodies.
For Berlioz, the conventional orchestra, as it existed
in the early 1830s, was too polite and genteel sounding
for his vision of Symphonie Fantastique.
For all his wild, romantic imagination,
he approached actually writing the score as if he was a scientist.
How could he get exactly the sound that he wanted?
"You big baby," he wrote addressing an imaginary orchestra,
"It's time you learned to speak properly
"and I am the one to teach you."
He examined the potential of the instruments
and fearlessly felt unconstrained by what had come before him.
Berlioz was a child of the Industrial Revolution.
Heavy industry was transforming Europe
and the invention of the valve in the 1820s meant
that there were new brass instruments.
The tuba was patented within five years of the premiere of
his symphony and the score was revised
to include its deep, smooth tones.
Obsessively interested in the design of instruments
and the techniques used to play them,
he began to create a new type of orchestra,
one that could play the music he heard in his head.
-I adore this Symphonie Fantastique.
-As a composer?
Yes, it's endless, endlessly fascinating.
It's quite extraordinary, the use of the orchestra, the blending
of the tone colours that he uses, the extraordinary orchestration.
He seems to think of the orchestra as a virtuoso instrument in itself.
He's the first composer really to specify how many instruments
he wants in each section.
He's very specific that it's got to be 15 first violins,
15 second violins.
And, indeed, he asks for a 60-piece string orchestra,
very large by those standards and by our standards.
He extends the technique of them.
He gives them tremolo to play which is when they go "drr-drr-drr"
like this on the string, which was quite unusual for those days.
Throughout his life,
Berlioz continued to speculate about his ideal orchestra,
an ensemble that would have unsurpassed rhythmic and melodic power.
Eventually he was to calculate the exact number of players,
this ideal would require - 467.
That's more than four times the number
of players in a modern orchestra.
Even with a mere 80 or so players,
the Symphonie Fantastique is an overwhelming experience
and the detailed literary programme only adds to the intensity.
The Halle Orchestra are playing the March To The Scaffold.
Berlioz's romantic hero has a vision that he's murdered his beloved
and that he is to be guillotined for the crime.
His head will be laid on the block and we will hear the idee fixe
run through his mind like a final thought of his beloved,
only to be literally chopped off by the fall of the blade.
Bizarre though the storyline of the Symphonie Fantastique might be,
the story behind the composition of the work is stranger yet.
One September in 1827,
Berlioz came here to the Theatre de l'Odeon to see two performances
of Shakespeare in English, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.
The star of the show was an Irish actress called Harriet Smithson.
In Hamlet she was Ophelia and in Romeo and Juliet,
she was, of course, playing Juliet.
Berlioz fell madly in love.
How could he, a humble music student, ever hope to win the heart
of this great Shakespearean actress?
This desire was the seed for the Symphonie Fantastique.
He would write a grand symphony, be recognised as a great composer
and then he could approach the beloved Harriet as an equal.
To help tell the story of their peculiar romance
I've asked my fellow actor, Emma Fielding, to meet me
at the British ambassador's residence in Paris.
Was when Berlioz first saw Harriet in the theatre playing Ophelia
and then Juliet and fell madly in love with her.
Now, it was three years later that he wrote the Symphonie Fantastique,
which is based on his thoughts about her
and that's 1830, so there's quite a long time.
Three years, but during that time he pursued her quite voraciously.
Never actually met.
He didn't want to meet her. He avoided her.
Yes, but he took a flat round the corner
so he could follow her movements to and from the theatre.
-So basically he was stalking her?
-He was stalking her.
And at the end of 1832,
she attends a concert, which she doesn't normally do.
She's not a great classical music lover.
And she reads the programme notes for the Symphonie Fantastique
and realises it's all about her.
Which is extraordinary, because all of Paris society
-knew about his infatuation but she didn't.
-But she didn't.
But that evening they are introduced to each other,
he proposes and she accepts.
And then ten months later, they were married here
on 3rd October 1833 in the British Embassy in Paris.
"My 30-year war against the mediocre,
"the academics and the death."
That was Berlioz's own description of his career in Paris
during which time he composed four symphonies in 12 years,
the Symphonie Fantastique, a second symphony based on a Lord Byron poem,
a massive funeral symphony, and this Shakespearian masterpiece.
The Romeo and Juliet Symphony is the 36-year-old Berlioz's
musical expression of his love for both Harriet
and for the works of the playwright who first brought them together.
The symphony is his most sophisticated storytelling yet.
The orchestra here doesn't simply evoke the story,
he wants the instruments to become the actors in the play
and actually deliver Shakespeare's lines.
The flute and woodwinds are the voice of Juliet.
Yeah, lovely. Then we hear the cellos, representing Romeo's speech.
Then her fear.
He had this idea that no one else had done before,
that he didn't need the words if he could get the listener
to think that the words might be somewhere in the orchestra.
Being actors, Emma and I couldn't resist trying an experiment here.
Just how closely does Berlioz parallel Shakespeare's lines
and the action from the balcony scene with his music?
But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east and Juliet is the sun.
You can clearly hear Romeo's climb to the balcony
in the cellos' ardent ascending phrase and Romeo and Juliet's
blossoming love in the radiant music that follows.
Berlioz strives to give the audience all the nuance
and drama of Shakespeare's poetry as he himself experienced it.
"Shakespeare," he said "hit me like a thunder bolt
"and revealed in a flash of lightning the whole heaven of art."
When he'd first seen Harriet portray Juliet on stage, he spoke no English.
Now, ten years later, he'd mastered the language and could translate it into music.
What man art thou that thus bescreened in night
so stumblest on my counsel?
I know not how to tell thee who I am.
My name, dear saint, is hateful to myself
because it is an enemy to thee.
My ears have not yet drunk a hundred words of that tongue's uttering, yet I know the sound.
Art thou not Romeo and a Montague?
Neither, fair saint, if either thee displease.
Three years after the premiere of Romeo and Juliet,
he and Harriet's marriage failed and they separated.
She died a decade later.
Then, shortly before his own death,
Berlioz returned to Grenoble in provincial France, where he'd been born.
Over 60, lonely and in failing health,
he was overcome by childhood memories.
As a teenager, he'd been infatuated by a girl called Estelle.
He now tracked her down and though she was a widow of 70, in his imagination, she seemed unchanged.
"Star who brightened the morning of my life," he declared to her,
"I should write you a symphony.
"Only with the orchestra can I express what I feel for you."
Berlioz's literary symphonies realised the potential for storytelling
that Beethoven had first explored with his Pastoral Symphony.
But the next step forward for symphonic writing was to come from
a school of thought centred on a small town in Germany called Weimar.
It was dominated by these two intellectual giants.
The first, on the left, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
and on the right, Friedrich Schiller, whose Ode To Joy
Beethoven had set in his Ninth Symphony.
Weimar was a powerhouse of political and philosophical thought in the middle of the 19th century.
But it was one charismatic individual who was to put it on the musical map.
And this is his distinctive piano arrangement of Beethoven's Ninth.
He was the great Franz Liszt.
When Liszt was offered the post of artist in residence by the court here in Weimar,
many people were surprised.
He was the most famous piano virtuoso in Europe,
a personality and a talent that had been adored and celebrated like a rock star for 20 years
but he had little experience of conducting
and most of his compositions were for the piano.
Why on earth would this flamboyant man take on the unfamiliar responsibilities
of executive manager and conductor that his role as Kapellmeister extraordinaire required?
..perhaps THIS was part of the appeal.
Unlike Beethoven and Berlioz, who never made much money from their careers as freelance musicians,
Liszt was used to an affluent and comfortable lifestyle.
Accepting the patronage of the Grand Duke of Weimar
guaranteed that he could continue to live and work in the lavish style to which he'd become accustomed.
In his first decade here, he wrote a dozen, not symphonies, but symphonic poems,
single-movement works that use the full orchestra
to explore new ways of pursuing a musical narrative.
They were all programmatic and highly literate.
His sources include Schiller and Shakespeare
but they refrain from any kind of linear story.
In their concentration on mood and character
they were more like illustrations than translations.
The idea was that this new music, this symphonic avant-garde,
would speak to an educated audience that already knew
the literature behind the work.
His compositional ideas reflected
his own individuality, his own flamboyance,
his own egocentric personality, perhaps one could say.
And he decided to go down a very dark and macabre path.
So it was natural that he would be drawn to the great German play - Goethe's Faust.
Liszt's first full-scale symphony is a powerful and disturbing orchestral companion piece
to Goethe's poetic drama
about a man who sells his soul to the devil,
written for the inauguration of a statue in Weimar town square in 1857.
Liszt was genuinely thrilled by both the Faust story
and by the radical ideas about art and beauty that Goethe had developed.
Goethe believed that excellence and good taste could unite
the polarities of classicism with its concern for balance and proportion
and the wilder philosophy of romanticism, which put the individual and his concerns
at the centre of the universe.
Liszt assumed that his educated audience were familiar with both Goethe's Faust
and with the philosophy behind it.
His ambition for his symphonic poetry was that it would convert
the listener's existing intellectual thoughts into a visceral, emotional reaction.
One of the best ways to look at a Liszt symphonic poem
is to compare it with that period, you know, the silent film era
where the pianists were dished out with certain quotations
from various pieces of music that had moods and things.
So you had, you know, crisis or melancholy
and you'd go like this...
HE PLAYS DRAMATICALLY
Or something sentimental or pathetic...
HE PLAYS EMOTIONALLY
Just making that up, because Liszt is using all of these types,
putting them together as a series of pictures.
Each of the symphony's three movements depicts one of the drama's three key characters,
starting with Faust himself.
And Liszt plunges us straight into the maelstrom of this unfortunate soul's troubled, restless thoughts.
The long, slow second movement is a portrait of Gretchen, the heroine.
Here, two sections of the orchestra, the violins and the woodwind,
interweave to evoke a simple girl thinking about her lover whilst plucking at the petals of a flower,
he loves me, he loves me not.
The third movement represents Mephistopheles.
Liszt doesn't give Mephistopheles any original themes.
Goethe maintained that evil couldn't create anything,
it could only destroy.
And so Faust's themes from the first movement are warped, mutilated,
distorted by Mephistopheles' music,
just as the hero himself succumbed to the devil.
This was difficult music, sometimes violent and uncomfortable to listen to
and many would reject it as unmusical.
Liszt, who'd tasted success and adulation as a young piano superstar,
now seemed happy to alienate casual listeners if necessary.
But his ability to portray characters and their emotional lives through musical motifs
was to influence, profoundly, many of his contemporaries.
Richard Wagner visited Liszt in Weimar.
He called symphonic poetry the music of the future,
and freely admitted that he'd borrowed heavily from Liszt in his operas.
Aside from his actual compositions, Liszt's other great contribution
to the history of the symphony is his clever keyboard transcriptions of music by Beethoven and Berlioz.
In an age before recording, these elegant versions of orchestral music
that you could play at home on your own piano were essential
in the disseminating and popularising of the symphony.
By the middle of the 19th century, the symphony was seen as the supreme expression of a composer's art
and its creators enshrined as heroes of the age.
Here in the Zentralfriedhof, Vienna's main cemetery,
two of our great symphonists found their final resting place.
Beethoven, who was moved here some years after his death
and Schubert, re-buried at the same time as Beethoven and lying,
as he wished, apparently, just a few steps from his great predecessor.
However, there was a serious problem.
Now that Liszt and Berlioz had perfected the form's ability to tell stories,
if supported by a literary text,
had the abstract, pure music model - storytelling by instrumental sounds alone,
died along with Beethoven and Schubert?
But there were those who, while admitting there was a problem,
refused to accept that it was insurmountable and pursued a different path,
a new step forward in the history of the symphony.
In the next episode, we trace Johannes Brahms' journey into the realm of pure music.
To go deeper into the music and unravel the secrets of the symphony,
follow the links to the Open University at:
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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