Simple Symphony, Op. 4
Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major, S. 125
Ludwig van Beethoven:
Symphony No. 4 in B-flat major, Op. 60
About the event
A composer starting his career as a child prodigy; a pianist swapping his virtuous career for that of a composer; and a composer struggling with the weight of his own grandness will be in the focus of our concert. The opening piece by Britten playfully evokes fragments from his youth. Before Beethoven’s masterpiece, often relegated to the background, the BFO will be joined for Franz Liszt’s concerto piece by Alexandre Kantorow, this “young czar of the piano” praised by Fanfare Magazine as “Liszt reincarnated.”
At the age of 20, Britten decided to elaborate his eight dance themes written by him as a child. He arranged them into pairs, and the four-movement Simple Symphony, composed for strings, dedicated to his viola teacher was born. The titles of the movements are invariably alliterative: Boisterous Bourrée, Playful Pizzicato, Sentimental Sarabande and Frolicsome Finale.
In the late 1840s Liszt retired from performing on the piano, and settled in Weimar as court conductor. His focus as a composer shifted to hitherto neglected symphonic genres. At the premiere of his Piano Concerto in A major in 1857, he only appeared as conductor, while the solo part was played by one of his students. Though the piece gives the impression of a single movement, it can be divided into several sections. The character of the sections is determined by a single, lyrical concept, bringing back the same theme with a different style and tempo each time—finally, in the finale, as a fanfare of brasses.
The Beethoven symphony to be performed in the first half of the concert was composed in the summer of 1806. Beethoven was vacationing at the country estate of his patron, Prince Karl von Lichnowsky, in Silesia, where he met Count Oppersdorff. The Count was so impressed by Beethoven’s Second Symphony that he offered him a substantial sum to write yet another symphony for him. Robert Schumann is said to have called the Fourth Symphony “a slender Greek maiden between two Norse giants” in reference to the light tone of the work (at least in comparison to the Third and the Fifth) obviously chosen with an eye to Oppersdorff’s taste. The symphony’s 1807 performances at diverse private concerts were well received by the musical public (the fact that the original manuscript was later owned by Mendelssohn is also a testament to that). The fast opening movement with its slow introduction and minute motifs is followed by one of Beethoven’s most poetic slow movements. The scherzo-like third movement, which breaks away from the conventional minuet, leads up to a finale, a genuine musical perpetuum mobile.