By Karen Greer
For the Journal Inquirer
April 30, 2009
MANCHESTER — Manchester Symphony Orchestra and Chorale’s Beethoven, Incidentally concert on Saturday, May 2, at Manchester Church of the Nazarene, at 7:30 p.m., presents less-known but no less brilliant music of an immortal genius. These works were all inspired by specific events and composed by Beethoven for the audiences of his time.
While some of Beethoven’s incidental music includes some of his best-known pieces, others have been neglected as the events they commemorated faded from memory. It’s surprising that any of Beethoven’s music is obscure, but Chorale Music Director Kevin Mack will conduct the Eastern Connecticut premiere of “Die Ruinen von Athen ” (The Ruins of Athens). “Die Ruinen von Athen” is rarely performed in its entirety, although its. spirited “Turkish March” is a mainstay of piano recitals. At this concert, this familiar melody will be heard in the symphonic arrangement, with its lively percussion evoking the Turkish Janissary bands that were popular in Beethoven’s time.
In 1811, the Austro-Hungarian Empire regarded its rival, the Ottoman Empire, with a mixture of fear and fascination. The cultural scene in Pest (the western half of the modern city of Budapest) included themes from the exotic realms of Turkey and the Middle East. Beethoven composed “Die Ruinen von Athen” for a stage drama that included an odd juxtaposition of Turkish dervishes, ancient Greek gods, and, of course, the gracious and loyal Hungarian people. Beethoven surely had no hand in the choice of subject matter, but his musical settings depict dramatically what the audience came to hear and see.
The program also includes one of Beethoven’s earliest known works, a cantata composed to commemorate the death of Austrian Emperor Joseph II in 1790. Joseph II was an enlightened ruler, and his death was genuinely mourned by his subjects. The group that commissioned the work chose the poetry of Anton Severin Averdonk, which included such sentiments as “Joseph, the father of undying deeds!”
However, the planned performance never took place. Once the moment had passed, the score was forgotten until the contents of a music library were sold at auction in Vienna in 1884. Johannes Brahms and other Viennese musicians had no difficulty in recognizing the music as Beethoven at his full powers, and the cantata soon had its first performance, more than- a century after it was written. Music Director Kevin Mack agrees, saying “It is extraordinary writing for a 19-year-old.”
Today, the image of Beethoven is of a solitary genius, isolated both by progressive deafness and his extraordinary musical vision. He was, in fact, a man immersed in the events and ideas of his time, and he immortalized them with his gift for unforgettable melodies. The political dramas of Beethoven’s day may be long forgotten, but his music lives on.
The Manchester Church of the Nazarene is located at 218 Main St. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for seniors and students over 18, and free for those under 18. For more information, call 860-228-2921, e-mail tickets [at] msoc.org, or visit: