Beethoven’s Mighty Ninth to be Performed in May

By Punch HowarthBeethoven

Linus Lerner will conduct the Southern Arizona Symphony Orchestra, SASO Chorus, and soloists in a season-closing presentation of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in d minor, Op. 125, “The Choral.” This work is acknowledged to be the greatest symphony ever composed, and greatly influenced later composers of orchestra music, particularly Brahms and Mahler.

Born in Bonn on December 16, 1770, Beethoven lived in the Age of Enlightenment with great upheavals in political and social beliefs. In his 57 years of life—he died on March 26, 1827—Beethoven became the greatest composer of instrumental music in both form and substance. Each of his nine symphonies established new and profound direction of this form. Prior to the Ninth, he felt that his Third (“Eroica”) was his greatest, but the Fifth has always been most popular, with the Seventh close behind. However, the Ninth was his career-culminating masterpiece; although he could never hear it, he could think it in his mind. If he had been born deaf there would never have been a Beethoven, but his hearing loss was gradual and he was an accomplished musician prior to his loss. He also was the greatest pianist of his time and one of the greatest ever along with Liszt, Chopin, and Rachmaninov. Another gift he had was his ability to improvise/extemporize at the keyboard. He was known to make up new piano parts to his own and others’ concertos without rehearsing them.

After a pattern established by Haydn, the Symphony in d minor is in four movements. At approximately 67 minutes, Op. 125 was very long for its time, but the vast divergence of each movement does not allow the audience to lose focus. Concert posters announced the premiere and in part stated: “Large Musical Academic work by Herr Ludwig van Beethoven on 7 May, 1825 in L.L. Hoftheater (in Vienna) … presents the newest works of L. van Beethoven. First—Great Overture, Second—Three large Hymns with solo and choir voices, Third—Large Symphony with Finale entrance (of) solo and choir voices of Schiller’s Song of Joy. …. Mr. Schuppazich has the direction of the orchestra. … Mr. L. van Beethoven himself will conduct the whole program. …. The entry prices are as usual … free tickets are invalid. The program starts at 7 p.m.”

Note: The overture was Consecration of the House; the hymns were the Kyrie, Credo and Agnus Dei from the Missa Solemnis, of which the church forbad performances at a secular concert; the large symphony was the d-minor Ninth. This was a time when concerts for the public were just starting and could last from three to five hours. I wish to thank Mr. Norman Benecke for translating the above notice from the original German.

Movement 1 is long at 16 minutes; it is serious, somber, articulate, and is in sonata form, which has an introduction, presentation of themes, development of them, recapitulation, and a special ending. In addition there are key and tempo changes, variations, counterpoint, and demands of very dramatic power and sudden subdued passages, all typical of Beethoven. Its finale is a forceful restating of the first theme.

Beethoven chose to have a fast, somewhat humorous second movement where the slow movement would normally appear. This section is a scherzo in 3 time and is known as “the kettledrum joke” as the timpani in octaves have surprise interruptions. Beethoven used solo timpani in numerous works. Theme 1 is a fugue in the strings and is followed by a second theme, also in 3. Following development come a fast trio in 1 time returning to the first theme. The ending is an abrupt four measures.

All of Beethoven’s slow movements are both profound and beautiful, and the Ninth’s is especially so. There are two themes, variations, and profound counterpoint where you hear melody above and below the primary melody.

Following a very sublime third movement, the fourth opens with an explosion and is followed by cello and double bass in an isolated recitative. Now it gets a bit confusing on paper, but not to the ear. There is a series of 12 motifs: the introduction is repeated; theme from the first movement; theme from the second movement; theme from the third movement; a sample of the new fourth-movement theme; and then that entire new theme, but with the returning bass recitative separating each of the above. The opening storm returns and is followed by a baritone singing the recitative. The music now alternates between soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Amid all of this is a military march with triangle, cymbals, and bass drum. The main and stirring theme is Schiller’s “Ode to Joy.” The ending coda for orchestra alone is dramatic and abrupt. This movement does need a blueprint, and how Beethoven conceived it is beyond understanding and relates to pure genius.

There will be three performances: Saturday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. at DesertView Performing Arts Auditorium in SaddleBrooke; Sunday, May 11 at 3 p.m. in northwest Tucson at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church; and Monday, May 12 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pima Community College West Campus Center for the Arts Proscenium Theatre, 2202 W. Anklam Road.

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SASO’s Story

The first concert was Oct. 28, 1979, conducted by former University of Arizona music professor Henry Johnson, featuring Jonathan Kramer in a Boccherini cello concerto.
Alan Schultz became music director in Year 2 and continued leading SASO for 15 seasons. He frequently conducted from the keyboard—organ or harpsichord. He also composed several works premiered by SASO.
The largest event SASO has produced was Berlioz Te Deum, presented at the Tucson Community Center Music Hall with the Tucson Civic Orchestra, Tucson Masterworks Chorale, Tucson Arizona Boys Chorus and Pima College Singers.
Composer, pianist and conductor Warren Cohen served as music director for eight seasons, routinely commuting from his home in Phoenix, but one year all the way from Hawaii. His wife, coloratura Carolyn Whitacre, was a favorite soloist.
In December 1995 SASO was the first to present a concert at SaddleBrooke. This was the brainstorm of concertmaster Sam Kreiling. The concert sold out, as did a four-concert series the following year. SASO has performed there ever since.
Adam Boyles was the music director for three seasons, bringing bountiful youthful energy and a passion to serve the music. Then the Tucson native moved East to brave the snow and conduct the orchestra at MIT in Boston.
Our most famous alumnus is Rico Saccani, associate conductor of SASO our inaugural year and piano soloist for the second concert. He later conducted opera companies and orchestras around the world and was music director of the Budapest Philharmonic Orchestra from 1985 to 2005.
The visionary founders of SASO were Barbara and Bill Chinworth, Scott Bracher and Janet Lombard. Barbara has played with SASO through its entire history, originally in the horn section, now on bass.
One spring SASO proved it has animal attraction. When it played at the Reid Park Zoo, some of the critters sang along with the music
Turkish maestro Orhan Salliel, after guest-conducting SASO in the fall of 2012, wrote to us, "The time in Tucson I shared with you in SASO for me was so special. I felt the real love of music from the bottom of everyone's hearts. It was something I do not feel often—never, ever in the professional world anymore. Please keep it, save it, try to build everything from this power of love for music."
The most colorful performance was a Halloween concert in Nogales—a ghoulish event where the conductor was a clown and all the musicians were in costume.
Early audiences had to be loyal followers of this itinerant orchestra, which performed all over the city, frequently in churches. In the 1980s SASO rented the Temple of Music and Art for a concert. The City of Tucson condemned the building the morning of the dress rehearsal and the concert was canceled.
Brazilian-born Linus Lerner, in his first year as music director, challenged the orchestra to learn his native Latin rhythms by playing Villa-Lobos. This proved surprisingly hard to do. We finally got it, but not until the week of the concert.
SaddleBrooke is home to many of our loyal donors and the place where we’ve held our gala celebrations—first a black-tie dinner with music from "Phantom of the Opera" and later our annual StarStruck Gala evenings from 2008 through 2013.