BEETHOVEN. Joan Sutherland Norma Procter Anton Dermota Arnold van Mill L Orchestre de la Suisse Romande Ernest Ansermet

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1 Eloq uence BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 9 Overtures Grosse Fuge Joan Sutherland Norma Procter Anton Dermota Arnold van Mill L Orchestre de la Suisse Romande Ernest Ansermet

2 LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN ( ) CD Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op I Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso II Molto vivace III Adagio molto e cantabile IV Presto Allegro assai CD The Creatures of Prometheus Overture, Op Fidelio Overture, Op. 72c Leonore Overture No. 2, Op. 72a Leonore Overture No. 3, Op. 72b Grosse Fuge in B flat major, Op (orch. Felix Weingartner) Joan Sutherland, soprano Norma Procter, mezzo soprano Anton Dermota, tenor Arnold van Mill, bass Choeur du Brassus Choeur des Jeunes de l Église National de Vandoise L Orchestre de la Suisse Romande Ernest Ansermet Total timing:

3 Anticipation ran high on 7 May 1824, the date on which Beethoven s Ninth Symphony was first performed. It had been almost a decade since Beethoven s previous symphony had appeared, and the Viennese were anxious to hear what the new work would have to offer, particularly as the concert s announcement mentioned the inclusion of solo voices and a chorus in a setting of Friedrich Schiller s verse An die Freude (usually translated as Ode to Joy ). The interval between the Eighth and Ninth Symphonies had been difficult for Beethoven. His health was deteriorating and he was distracted by the perceived moral danger in which his two younger brothers Johann and Carl were living. In 1812 he had taken it upon himself to try and separate Johann from the woman he had been living with. (As if to spite him, they married instead.) Beethoven did not care for Carl s wife either. In 1815, when Carl died, Beethoven attempted to gain legal custody of his nephew Karl. He believed that Johanna, Karl s mother, was unfit to raise a nine year old boy indeed, she had been convicted of stealing four years earlier and he at first succeeded at separating mother and child, to the distress of both. The battle in the courts went on for almost five years, and Karl alternated between living at boarding schools, living with Beethoven, and running away from both to return to Johanna. Even after the conflict was resolved in Beethoven s favour, Beethoven continued to smother the young man with excessive solicitude and control so much so that Karl attempted suicide in 1826, and almost immediately after recovering joined the army. With these and other distractions swirling around him, it is not surprising that Beethoven s productivity fell off during this period. Also, Beethoven s deafness was progressing. By the time the Ninth Symphony was presented, he was functionally deaf, and his presence on the podium was essentially symbolic, as all he could do was set tempos for each of the movements. The actual conducting duties were entrusted to Michael Umlauf, who had conducted the premiere of Beethoven s opera Fidelio (in its most recent revision) ten years earlier. At one point during the performance some accounts say after the second movement, and others claim it was at the symphony s end the audience burst into enthusiastic applause. Because the composer did not hear it, Caroline Unger, the alto soloist, pulled on his sleeve and gestured for him to turn around and receive the crowd s accolades. The symphony s reputation has never dimmed. Still, there have been occasional naysayers, such as fellow composer Louis Spohr, who found the Ninth Symphony inferior to all of its predecessors, and complained that the choral finale was monstrous and tasteless. Verdi, called the symphony alpha and omega and praised the first three movements, but complained how badly Beethoven wrote for voices in the fourth. On the other hand, a contemporary reviewer praised the fourth movement but wished that it were more concentrated, and made the politically incorrect comment that Beethoven surely would have agreed with him, had Beethoven not been deaf! The Ninth Symphony did not come out of nowhere. Beethoven had been acquainted with Schiller s verse since as early as 1793, and at that time had planned to set it to music in its entirety. In 1812, he considered using it in a choral overture an idea which again came to naught. The fourth movement had a precedent in the Choral Fantasia of 1809, which begins with a piano solo, to which is added first the orchestra and then a chorus. Furthermore, the latter part of the Fantasia is dominated by a theme that bears more than a passing resemblance to what became the Ode to Joy. Nevertheless, the Ninth Symphony with its choral finale was not inevitable. For a while, Beethoven considered ending the work with a stern instrumental movement. (This material ended up in the String Quartet No. 15 instead.) Once he had committed himself to Schiller s text, one of his biggest challenges was how to introduce it would the movement simply begin with An die Freude? Beethoven realized that some sort of preparation was needed. After several false starts, he hit upon the idea of beginning the finale with brief reminiscences from the previous three movements. These reminiscences are preceded by and receive stormy commentary from the orchestra Richard Wagner called this passage a terror fanfare. Only then does the bass soloist enter with the words (in German), Oh friends, not these sounds! Let us instead sing more cheerfully and joyfully. Joy! Joy! These words, Beethoven s own, make way for Schiller s text. It should be noted that Beethoven did not use all of Schiller s text, and he rearranged the parts that he did use. Also, he subtly changed the original text at one point, replacing Schiller s beggars become the brothers of princes with all men become brothers. (Lest one become moist-eyed over Beethoven s apparent egalitarianism, evidence suggests that he did not number himself among common men. For example, in 1818, he was crushed when the custody battle over Karl was transferred from the aristocratic Landrecht to what essentially was a people s court.)

4 Ansermet s Beethoven recordings stand in contrast to those in a more Germanic or Austro- Hungarian style, which was preferred in the 1960s, and, to a lesser extent, remains preferred today. The Orchestre de la Suisse Romande does not produce a weighty, rich sound, but Ansermet doesn t stint on the music s toughness and drama. As a result, his readings sometimes are reminiscent of period performance readings that began to appear with greater frequency in the 1980s. The Ninth Symphony s first movement is lean and violent. The sound is cooler than in Vienna or Berlin, for example, the contours are harder, and the music s inner voices stand out in high relief. The Molto vivace, rather than being presented as a life or death struggle, is allowed to be more genial an illustration, perhaps, of titans at play. In the expansive slow movement, Ansermet seldom lingers, and he eschews sentimentality entirely. Again, the blended orchestral sound one would expect from the Vienna Philharmonic is absent here; inner voices are prominent yet consistently in balance. Drama returns at the start of the choral finale, and there is real nobility when the famous Ode to Joy theme is introduced. The second part of the finale benefits from a star quartet of singers. Joan Sutherland, in particular, is pure-voiced and confident (this was her first recording for Decca) a rare virtue in this difficult music and bass Arnold van Mill is noteworthy in the introduction to the Ode to Joy, neither scolding nor superior, but humanly persuasive. Dermota is masculine and friendly in his extended solo, and Ansermet is delightful in the way that he bounces this Turkish-style passage. The choir is passionate, and, given the presence of many youthful voices, convincing in its expressed belief that all men really can be brothers. Beethoven s short piano work known as the Andante favori ( favorite Andante ) originally was intended to be the slow movement of his Waldstein piano sonata. He discarded it, however, when he realized that its length unbalanced the sonata s architecture. His Grosse Fuge ( Great Fugue ) is another independent work that started out as part of a larger one in this case, his String Quartet No. 13, written between 1825 and This time, the movement was discarded not just because it was deemed too long, but also because musicians had trouble playing it, and audiences had trouble understanding it. (Upon hearing that the quartet s first audience demanded an encore of two of the movements, but not of the fugue, Beethoven called them cattle and asses.) A new finale was written, and the Grosse Fuge was published separately, a solution which probably was made more agreeable to Beethoven because of its more favourable financial consequences. Beethoven arranged the work for piano four hands, but it was conductor Felix Weingartner who created the transcription for string orchestra. When conducting a transcription for string orchestra of a work originally composed for string quartet, conductors must balance the arrangement s richer sonorities against the original s transparency, which remains fixed in the mind s ear. Ansermet s recording of the Grosse Fuge is lean and athletic; the massed strings add intensity but not undue bulk to the original. The conductor retains the original s gripping drama, even in quieter passages, such as the one beginning at 5:29. The lightening of the mood at 8:11 is beautifully judged, allowing Beethoven s inventiveness to shine blithely and brightly. In 1800, Beethoven was asked to compose music for Salvatore Vigano s ballet The Creatures of Prometheus. Thus far, Viennese audiences knew Beethoven only for his First Symphony, his first two piano concertos, and a variety of chamber works, and so this commission might be regarded as recognition of the impression that he had made in Vienna in a relatively short time. Furthermore, given the ongoing rivalry between Vigano and a more conservative Italian choreographer, also working in Vienna, the new ballet was bound to attract attention no matter who composed the music, so this commission must have been a two-fold coup for the composer. The idealistic subject matter probably appealed to him as well: the hero Prometheus gives life to two clay statues and brings them to Apollo to learn reason and human emotions. When Prometheus is killed for his presumption, his creatures intercede with Apollo, and at the end of the ballet, Prometheus becomes immortal and is given a place among the gods. The overture is the only section of the score that is regularly played today, although the ballet s finale contains a theme which would reappear and take on grand proportions in the Eroica Symphony. Beethoven s debt to Mozart specifically, to Die Zauberflöte (and also Le nozze di Figaro) is made clear in Ansermet s reading of the overture. The titanic opening chords, for example, are played as if they were Beethoven s response to the threefold chords that begin Die Zauberflöte. After the slow introduction, Ansermet conducts a reading in which light and shade, mass and weightlessness, are deftly contrasted.

5 Fidelio gave Beethoven no end of trouble. When it was heard for the first time in 1805, Vienna had recently fallen under French military occupation, and as a consequence, much of Beethoven s regular audience had fled the city. A year later, Fidelio was presented again. In the meantime, Beethoven tightened up its dramatic structure, cutting a significant amount of music. His audience had largely returned, but this time Beethoven got into a quarrel with the theatre s management about financial receipts. This, combined with his intense disappointment over the quality of the performance, put an end to Fidelio until 1814, when a new revision of the opera met with great success. (There had been plans to mount Fidelio in Prague in 1807, but they came to nothing.) For each production, Beethoven wrote a new overture. The Leonore Overture No. 2 was written for the 1805 production, the Leonore Overture No. 3 for the 1806 production, and the Leonore Overture No. 1 for Prague. Finally, Beethoven settled on the more proportional Fidelio overture for the opera s 1814 production. It was Gustav Mahler who created the tradition of playing the Leonore Overture No. 3 between the two scenes of the second act. Fidelio is a paean to human dignity and conjugal love. For two years, the nobleman Florestan has been held in prison by the corrupt Pizarro. Leonore, Florestan s devoted wife, tries to discover if her husband is still alive. She disguises herself as a young man named Fidelio and seeks employment in the same prison. There she finds him, and in a daring gesture of defiance, defends him from Pizarro. In the nick of time, an offstage trumpet heralds the arrival of Don Fernando, a royal minister who has been sent to investigate Pizarro s evil reign. Pizarro is punished and Florestan is freed. The opera ends with general celebration and with praise for Leonore and the marital ideals she represents. For conductors, Beethoven s different answers to the question of how to bring up the curtain on his sole opera are an opportunity to compare and contrast. Rarely does one find more than one of these answers on the same orchestral program, although it is not unusual to find two or more of them on the same CD, as is the case here. The Fidelio Overture is compressed, and in that compression, Ansermet finds a dramatic tension similar to that found in the roughly contemporaneous Fifth Symphony. Of excitement there is plenty in Ansermet s reading, not least in the breathless coda (starting at 5:07), in which the conductor denies listeners a single backward glance. The second and third Leonore overtures, on the other hand, are full-fledged essays, more subjective and psychologically detailed. Ansermet gives them the breathing space they require, and also distinguishes between the two. He recognizes that the Leonore Overture No. 2 is the wild sister, more unconventionally scored and constructed, while the Leonore Overture No. 3 is the more socially acceptable member of the pair. Despite their differences, Ansermet doesn t forget that both of them are intensely dramatic works, and that both in the quotations from Florestan s music in Act II, for example deal with matters of the heart. Raymond Tuttle

6 PHOTO : DECCA Ernest Ansermet The great Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet was a significant figure in the world of music from 1915 until A contemporary and friend of the greatest composers of the twentieth century, he founded the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande in Geneva in He then moulded his orchestra in his own image, obliging the players, sometimes inflexibly, to tackle his favourite repertoire. For the fifty years of his almost despotic reign, Ansermet featured those composers whom he believed in, paying no attention to those who, in his opinion, had abandoned the true path of tonality. Most of his illustrious contemporaries did much the same, without however publicising their beliefs in print, as Ansermet did so spectacularly. It is no exaggeration to say that his influence was almost universal we should not forget that he conducted orchestras all over the world. Few other conductors have given so many world premieres: Parade, The Soldier s Tale, The Three-Cornered Hat, Pulcinella, Renard, Les Noces, the Symphony of Psalms, The Rape of Lucretia, La Tempête, Le Mystère de la Nativité, Chout works whose composers names spring immediately to mind. Then there are the many Swiss composers whose works he premiered: Honegger, Martin, Roy, Marescotti and Wiblé; in all, a sum of more than eighty first performances. After World War II, the record industry began to take a close interest in Ansermet and he was one of the first conductors to have the chance to record practically his entire repertoire. With the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande a whole series of Stravinsky pieces were recorded for the first time, and many of the records he made still count as classics of the gramophone. Ansermet s readings of many twentiethcentury classics have historical value, since he discussed these works and their problems of performance with the composers concerned: Debussy, Ravel, Roussel, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bartók, Honegger and Martin to mention only those he recorded for Decca. Around 1956, with the arrival of stereo, he re-recorded a large part of his repertoire in considerably better sound. The 1960s saw a new departure for Ansermet when he began to record the classic symphonic repertoire: Haydn (his was the first recording of the Paris symphonies), Beethoven, Schumann, Mendelssohn and Brahms. His readings split the musical world down the middle: the French (and the Latin

7 countries in general) found him cold and lacking in poetry, while in German and Englishspeaking countries he was praised for his warmth and his sense of line and tempo. At this time the musical world was still under the influence of the tradition handed down from Mahler through Furtwängler and Mengelberg to Karajan. Ansermet, unformed by this tradition, was able to return to the written score, following the example of Toscanini or René Leibowitz. For example, the new vision he brought to the Beethoven symphonies was astonishing. Perhaps he was too early in what he did, in his respect for the text and in his weeding out of all the Romantic touches and subjectivity which held sway at the time. Without recourse to so-called authentic instruments, Ansermet was trying to return to the composer s intentions, as given in the score, avoiding the imposition of any responses of his own on the audience. His supposed coldness in the classical repertoire was in fact nothing less than perfect respect for the text. His recordings of the Beethoven and Brahms symphonies are, in this respect, quite remarkable, in spite of an orchestra with little experience in the repertoire. When we listen nowadays to his recordings, what strikes us is the extraordinary feeling he shows for tempo, his rhythmic energy, his precise sense of orchestral colour and his acute ear for musical form. Without excessive rubato or exaggerated effects he gets right to the heart of the music, using the simplest of means. Ansermet s art has been described as the poetry of precision (Poésie de l exactitude), and indeed his interpretations are all marked by great precision and the search for the correct feeling as he himself wrote. It is easy for a conductor to fill a musical phrase with feeling, because one can do more or less what one wants with a musical phrase. In any case, it is easier to do than to find the correct feeling, the one that puts the phrase in its context and takes account of its contribution to the piece as a whole. [ ] It is the interpreter s job to assimilate as much as possible the feeling which the composer turned into music, and to express it in such a way that the listener can hear it in terms of melody, harmony, rhythm and tempo. I have made my choice. First I imagine the musically sensitive listener. Thus I have faith in the listener, just as I have faith in the music, and the two things hang together. My idea is that the listener is able to understand and so all I need to do, insofar as I am able, is to let the music speak, without recourse to the sort of effects that one can always produce, but at the expense of truth. Balance, precision, a beautiful style and a warm interpretation: these are the hallmarks of Ansermet s performances, and the reasons why his art will always be unaffected by fashion and false traditions, and continue to have the power to move the listener. François Hudry Translation DECCA 1992

8 Ernest Ansermet s Beethoven recordings on Decca Eloquence Symphonies Nos. 1-4 Coriolan Overture (2CD) Symphonies Nos. 5-8 Egmont Overture (2CD) Symphony No. 9 Overtures Prometheus, Fidelio, Leonore 2 & 3; Grosse Fuge (2CD)) Recording producers: Ray Minshull (Prometheus, Fidelio, Leonore No. 2); James Walker (Symphony No. 9, Leonore No. 3, Grosse Fuge) Recording engineer: Roy Wallace Recording location: Victoria Hall, Geneva, Switzerland, May 1958 (Leonore No. 3), April 1959 (Symphony No. 9), May 1959 (Grosse Fuge), January 1960 (Prometheus, Fidelio, Leonore No. 2) Eloquence series manager: Cyrus Meher-Homji Art direction: Chilu Tong Booklet editor: Bruce Raggatt

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