Two unknown Beethoven works premiered: who knows where the next may be found…
In the year 2012 it seems almost impossible that previously unknown works by such venerated masters as Mozart, Vivaldi and Beethoven should continue to pop up among piles of dusty, forgotten manuscripts. Yet October yielded not one but two premieres of works by Ludwig van Beethoven, each discovered separately through painstaking research in European archives.
First up was an early piano sonata, now known as Sonata Fantasia in D, which received its world premiere in Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw by 16-year-old pianist Martin Oei. Written by Beethoven in 1792 at the age of 22, the work was composed a good three years before his first ‘official’ sonata. While technically not ‘unknown’ – the work had formerly existed as 1100 bars of music in the ‘Kafka’ sketchbook, discovered in 1970 – the performance was based on a new reconstruction by Dutch Beethoven musicologist Cees Nieuwenhuizen.
The sonata contains ‘remarkable abnormalities in terms of form and content’ and ‘striking harmonies not present in other works composed in these years,’ according to Nieuwenhuizen, but was also of particular interest due to a number of thematic similarities to Beethoven’s later works. The composition shares a theme with the Trio of the third movement of his Seventh Symphony and several themes common to the Pastoral, Appassionata and Moonlight Sonatas.
As if such an intriguing addition of the canon wasn’t enough, Beethoven-philes were granted another hitherto unknown example of the composer’s work just a few days later, when a lost hymn, written around 1820, was premiered at the University of Manchester. Discovered by Professor Barry Cooper among original sketches for the Missa solemnis in Berlin, the organ harmonisation of the Gregorian hymn chant ‘Pange lingua’ was most likely composed
‘The unknown Beethoven sonata contains “remarkable abnormalities in terms of form and content”’
for Archduke Rudolf of Austria. It is unclear, however, whether the hymn was ever publicly performed.
According to Cooper, the work demonstrates Beethoven’s first use of his slow chorale style, best exhibited in his String Quartet No 15, Op 132, composed in 1825. ‘This piece is surprising because it doesn’t sound like Beethoven. If I hadn’t seen it in his own handwriting, complete with corrections, I wouldn’t have believed it was by him,’ said Cooper. ‘It’s quite telling that Beethoven wrote what is after all a simple piece of functional liturgical music – and must in some way indicate his devotion.’
T hanks to the ‘Mozart effect’, the idea of introducing classical music to children to improve IQ and learning development is nothing new. Whether or not Mozart can actually make you smarter, it must certainly be true that an early introduction to great works of music can help to form the musicians and aficionados of the future. With this in mind, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra recently pledged a new, specially created recording for every child born in Scotland between October 15, 2012, and October 14, 2013.
Titled ‘Astar’ (Gaelic for journey), the disc also features the RSNO Junior Chorus and includes Scottish songs, nursery rhymes and child-friendly classical works by Tchaikovsky, Mozart and Debussy, conducted by music director Peter Oundjian, chorus director Christopher Bell and conductor laureate Neeme Järvi. It is hoped the album, produced by Chandos with support from Year of Creative Scotland, will form the beginning of a lifelong relationship between the child recipients and the RSNO.
‘When I was an infant my godfather gave me a tiny record player,’ said Oundjian. ‘I would place it under the family piano and put on my prized recording of Peter and the Wolf. It became my sanctuary, a place where I knew I could find joy. I have found that the power and beauty of music can truly transform lives and I seriously hope the recipients of “Astar” enjoy many hours of shared pleasure.’
A number of high-profile conducting appointments have been in the news in recent months. Jonathan Nott, currently principal conductor of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, was named the third music director of the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra at the beginning of October, succeeding Hubert Soudant, who has headed the ensemble since 2004. Nott’s three-year contract will begin in September 2014 and he will conduct eight weeks per season.
Also making headlines at the beginning of November was 26-yearold resident conductor of the LA Philharmonic, Lionel Bringuier, who scored the coveted role of Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich principal conductor. The young Frenchman’s four-year contract will begin in 2014-15, taking over from David Zinman. The appointment to one of Switzerland’s leading orchestras is a major coup for Bringuier, who assumes his first major conducting post.
Finally, there was good news for Alan Gilbert, who extended his contract with the New York Philharmonic for a further three years to the end of the 2016-17 season. During the last three years, Gilbert has forged a strong bond with the Philharmonic, evident in confident performances and programming of a wide range of repertoire. Long may their partnership continue.
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12 GRAMOPHONE DECEMBER 2012