Promenade Concert No.372

Beethoven: Overture to „Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus“, op.43

When Beethoven (1770-1827) was about to come out of his youthful days and to venture into the innovative mid-period, he wrote the music to a drama „Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (The Creatures of Prometheus)“. The libretto is lost, but extant material suggests something like what is given below.

“Prometheus created images of men and women out of mud and water, then stole fire from heaven and breathed it into those images to give them life. However, since this early mankind did not possess intellect, he had them learn from Apollo and other gods to become true human beings.”

Under the plot lies the contemporary ideal of enlightenment that advocated reason and intelligence of mankind. There also lies an allegory of the French revolution. Beethoven wrote the music for it in 1800-01, and the premiere in March 1801 in Vienna won acclaim.

The suite comprises 18 pieces: an overture, introduction and 16 ballet movements. The overture is outstanding and is played often as an independent piece. It starts with the introduction in Adagio, with creative usages of chords. The following main part in Allegro molto con brio is in sonata form in a bright tone, with an ever-moving first theme, and a light second one. It is an attractive overture brimming with the youthful energy of Beethoven.

Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, op.37

Among the five piano concertos Beethoven left behind, this is a peculiar work since it is the only one written in a minor key.

Up to the first half of the 19th century or even later, European aesthetics considered each tonality to possess its own characteristic. C-minor, in particular, was thought to embody tragedy and struggle. Beethoven brought such a key into the world of piano concertos.

Traditional piano concertos had a purpose of displaying the virtuosity of pianists. Brilliant and flamboyant expression in major keys was thus favored. Amidst such conventions, Beethoven dared to choose a minor key, moreover C-minor. A well-known predecessor to apply minor keys to concertos was Mozart (1756-91), and it was this Concerto No. 3 that succeeded his path and extended it.

Although C-minor lays the basis of tonality in the concerto, occasional major passages intertwine with it, heroically at some moments and gently at others, and these reflect the momentary sparks of hope for Beethoven in his distressful days. This work, while narrowly staying within the framework of classical concertos, lets passion and emotion burst out in abundance, and thus looks ahead towards the romantic piano concertos of the 19th century.

Ⅰ Allegro con brio: On a rhythm reminiscent of wartime marches, intense music is played in sonata form.
Ⅱ Largo: Meditation and consolation meet in a compound ternary form.
Ⅲ Rondo. Allegro: After the fierce struggle between minor and major passages in rondo, the brilliant sonority of C-major prevails in a rapid tempo towards the conclusion.

Mendelssohn: Symphony No.3 in A minor, op.56, “Scottish”

The serial numbers of the five symphonies by Mendelssohn (1809-47) were given in the order of publication, not of creation, and this third symphony was virtually the last one written by him.

There is a lingering discussion whether the name “Scottish” reflects the intentions of the composer. It is true that Mendelssohn stayed in Edinburgh in the summer of 1829, and felt the first inspiration for this symphony. With the castle breathing the mediaeval air, the old city must have stimulated the musician’s imagination, who loved nature and history. He even wrote “my Scottish symphony” in his letters. However, as his conducting activity grew busier, his pen slowed down, and the work was left with little progress for a long time. It was only in 1841-42 that he took it up again with renewed concentration, bringing it to completion and then on to the stage.

Neither his manuscript nor the published score shows any concrete indications associated with Scotland. On the one hand, although Scotland gave him the first inspiration, it sounds more reasonable to believe that he tried to distill it to an absolute piece of art, carefully avoiding the inclination towards program music. On the other hand, it is natural for the literally-minded audience to attach greater value to “Scotland as the source of inspiration”, and we cannot simply deny listeners’ appreciation of the work in such context.

The symphony consists of four movements, but all are played attacca in succession, which is an instruction by Mendelssohn himself.

Ⅰ Andante con moto - Allegro un poco agitato: Sonata form with introduction.
Ⅱ Vivace non troppo: Scherzo in merry atmosphere.
Ⅲ Adagio: Slow movement with reserved melancholy.
Ⅳ Allegro vivacissimo - Allegro maestoso assai: Energetic and rhythmical finale. The dramatic change in the coda is particularly impressive, making one imagine a beam of light coming through the cloudy sky.

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