Beethoven Night (Leicester) – School Trip

As remembered by A.J. Williams, U.VISc

On November 1st, 1960, members of the Music Club accompanied by several members of staff visited the De Montfort Hall, Leicester, to hear a Beethoven Concert given by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Royalton Kisch.

The following works were played : Overture to “Egmont” ; Symphony No. 7 in A major ; Symphony No. 3 in E flat major (Eroica).

“Egmont” is a play by the German poet and philosopher Goethe, to which Beethoven composed incidental music. It tells the story of the struggle for freedom of the Dutch people against their Spanish oppressors. In gaining their liberty, however, the hero Egmont is killed.

All his life Beethoven was obsessed with this theme — the right of humanity to freedom and liberty, and it is to be found in many of his large scale works, notably the 3rd and 5th Symphonies. The overture is programmatic in design — the sombre opening bars which lead to a tense and agitated section portray the oppression of the Dutch and their struggle for freedom.

The final section depicts the death of Egmont in the battle, but liberty is gained and the overture ends on a triumphant note.

The Eroica symphony is closely allied in mood to the Egmont overture, but the issues involved are bigger and more universal. One can, I think, dispense with the many “programmes” that have been hoisted on to its shoulders, for the music speaks for itself. Suffice to say that in composing this gigantic symphony Beethoven opened the door to a completely new world of symphonic thought and expression. The movements are all longer, more complex in design, and structure and express more profound and lofty emotions than had hitherto been heard.

The first movement is intensely heroic and noble, and the second is a profoundly tragic funeral march. For the third movement Beethoven writes one of his “daemonic” scherzi. full of rough, buffeting good spirits and impulsive energy. The trio, with its wonderful parts for the horns, is more serene.

For the finale Beethoven wrote a series of variations, enclosing a fugue, on a theme from his “Prometheus” ballet, and the symphony is rounded off in the most noble manner.

The seventh symphony is characterised in all of its movements by a constant rhythmical drive, and of all Beethoven’s works it is the most vitally alive in its super-abundance of pure creative energy. The first movement is prefaced by a long introduction which sets a note of grandeur on the whole work. It leads into the vivace with its impulsive rhythms and brilliant orchestral colouring. The second movement in A minor is in no way tragic as is its counterpart in the Eroica, but moves thoughtfully and seriously forward under its rhythmic pulse. The scherzo is full of Beethovenish fun and high spirits, and after the trio, an Austrian pilgrims’ hymn, has been heard twice, threatens to repeat it yet a third time before it is rudely cut short — a typical Beethoven joke. The finale is supposed to have had its origins in a Cossack folk tune, but whatever the origins the energy and drive are terrific and one is borne forward on the crest of a continuous wave of sound to be precipitated headlong in the closing bars.

The orchestra, with the exception of the second trumpet, who seemed to be having an off night, played superbly throughout, handled with extreme precision by Royalton Kisch. His tempi were finely judged on the whole, although the first movement of the seventh symphony seemed a little lax, and the trios of the third movement would have been more impressive if taken a little more slowly. On the whole it was a most successful night.


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