Scherzo/Trio from Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony


performed at Staunton Music Festival

August 21, 2019

Trinity Episcopal Church, Staunton, VA


SMF Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Carsten Schmidt


flute: Immanuel Davis, Mary Boodell     oboe: Margaret Owens, Alek Fester

clarinet: Nina Stern, Ed Matthew     bassoon: Stephanie Corwin, Keith Collins

horn: Todd Williams, Ian Zook, Brad Tatum     trumpet: Kris Kwapis, Bruno Lourensetto     timpani: I-Jen Fang

violin 1: Antti Tikkanen (CM), Nicholas DiEugenio, Diane Pascal, Airi Yoshioka, Natalie Kress

violin 2: Plamena Nikitassova, Minna Pensola, Jacob Ashworth, Ingrid Matthews

viola: Jason Fisher, Kyle Miller, Kathleen Overfield-Zook     cello: James Wilson, Anna Steinhoff, Michael Unterman

double bass: Heather Miller Lardin, Erik Higgins


video by Stewart Searle





About the Music 

There is no easy way to sum up the contribution to music history of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827). Beethoven the man was troubled and difficult to handle, but he was also deeply sensitive and painfully aware of his social ineptitude. He epitomizes the sublimation of personal suffering into artistic creation. In a gesture that has taken on mythic importance, Beethoven bid defiance to fate, choosing art over suicide as his hearing began to erode:


Such incidents [involving increasing deafness] drove me almost to despair; a little more of that and I would have ended my life. It was only my art that held me back. Oh, it seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had brought forth all that I felt was within me . . . With joy I hasten towards death. If it comes before I have had the chance to develop all my artistic capacities, it will still be coming too soon despite my harsh fate . . . Come when thou wilt, I shall meet thee bravely.


In the immediate aftermath of this resolution, the seeds of his Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major took root and flourished. As work proceeded through the autumn of 1803, Beethoven considered dedicating the symphony to Napoleon, regarded as champion of the everyman, a hero who would sweep away lingering remnants of aristocratic control. For financial reasons Beethoven decided to dedicate the work to Prince Lobkowitz, though he would still title the symphony Bonaparte. But in May 1804 the entire plan collapsed when Napoleon forebodingly crowned himself emperor. Angry at the news, Beethoven tore the title page apart and bequeathed instead a grand Sinfonia Eroica...composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grand Uomo (“heroic symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man”).


Let there be no mistake: the Eroica is big. When Beethoven completed the symphony, its scale was unprecedented. With that in mind, you may not be surprised to learn that the Eroica received mixed reviews at its premiere. Since then it has been dissected, worked through, lauded and puzzled over by critics, scholars, conductors, and performers. This symphony elicits the kind of hyperbolic language more commonly applied to an Albert Bierstadt landscape or Tolstoy’s War and Peace. Perhaps that last allusion is not far from the mark, for there is a panorama of emotional experience depicted in Beethoven’s Eroica that makes its length both necessary but also less significant in itself than what the composer manages to convey. [...]


The third-movement Scherzo begins in hushed tones before bursting forth into light, foreshadowing the same strategy used in the Scherzo of the famed Symphony No. 5. Of course, the scale here is so much larger across the board. This scherzo is not treated as an extended introduction to the finale (as in No. 5) but rather as fully formed ABA movement. It has been interpreted as a statement of vitality: sheer power, man at the height of his powers. This energy tumbles over directly into the finale’s opening flourish. [...]


(c) Jason Stell, 2019





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