≈ 2 hours · With intermission
This is a work filled with nostalgia. It breathes the air of centuries past, in the grandiose baroque of the opening introduction, then the wistful theme, with its echoes of an old hymn tune – or is there a folk tune also hidden there? There is a playful ambivalence of mood throughout the work, as if moving forward is too dangerous and retreating into the past also has its pitfalls.… The outcome, which so often threatens to be tragic, is only relieved six measures before the end, with a massive C major chord that leads us to the triumphant conclusion.
Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony holds a special place in the hearts of us trombone players. It’s one of the earliest instances in which the trombone was initiated into the world of the symphony. This is a work where the Principal Trombonist, after waiting patiently (and nervously) through the first three movements, begins the fourth movement on a high C, and soon after has to “pick off” ostensibly the highest note in the orchestral trombone repertoire – a high F, almost an octave and a half above middle C. Ah, living the dream!
There is a tongue-in-cheek definition of orchestral trombone playing: “Unrelieved boredom interspersed with moments of sheer terror”. In the case of this piece, the quote definitely has merit. Still, as attitude is so much a part of the job, I prefer to immerse myself in the glorious music of the first three movements and look forward to a successful performance. There aren’t many notes as compared to the violins but we’re talking quality over quantity here! It is an honour and a privilege to have performed this piece many times over my 35 years with the NAC Orchestra!
I always associate Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the Classical Kids Beethoven Lives Upstairs CD I listened to countless times as a child. Even now, I can hear stories of Beethoven’s life weaving together with the themes of his iconic symphony as I play it. Even though it is a “high mileage” work from my repertoire, it always poses the same challenges – at times demanding utmost delicateness and balance, and others, maximum energy and power. This performance will be extra special for me, not only because it is full of the kind of musical moments we violists live for, but also because the last time I played it was here on stage in Southam Hall for the final round of my audition for the NAC Orchestra about a year ago. What a joy to get to perform it for you tonight with the entire orchestra!
Last updated: March 9, 2020
“Forgetfulness leads to exile, remembrance is the secret of redemption,” as the 18th-century Jewish mystic Ba’al Shem Tov once said. This poignant statement seems a particularly appropriate way to frame tonight’s concert, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Netherlands by the Canadian Armed Forces during the Second World War. It honours, in musical fashion, the special relationship that Canada and the Netherlands continues to have today.
This program, conducted by Jessica Cottis, consists of two halves that follow similar psychological trajectories that can be interpreted through the idea of remembering as leading to redemption, release, renewal. The first half highlights three works by Dutch composers, opening with Hendrik Andriessen’s Theme with Variations for organ (1949), performed by Thomas Annand. Andriessen wrote this granitic and powerful piece after being unable to compose during the war years, because he had refused, as an act of resistance, to join the Kultuurkamer in German-occupied Netherlands. For the second piece, Symphony No. 2 (“Children’s War Diaries”, 2010/2019), Dutch-Canadian composer Jaap Nico Hamburger took as his inspiration the diaries of five teenagers who were murdered during the war, as well as a trip he took with his mother, who had survived multiple Nazi death camps, to the Children’s Memorial at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem.
Following Hamburger’s musical memorial, the first half of the concert closes with a work that celebrates friendship: Michel van der Aa’s double concerto, akin (2018–2019). As the composer has described, in this concerto, the relationship between the solo parts, performed tonight by Dutch musicians Simone Lamsma and Harriet Krijgh, “is not contrapuntal or a conflict of opposites… but much more an active and engaged discussion between good friends,” with the orchestra as the “alter-ego” of the twinned soloists.
With his Symphony No. 5 (1804–1808), Beethoven created a landmark work in which he imbued Classical symphonic form with story-telling capabilities. In it, he used the elements of music itself to take the listener on a journey from darkness to light; there’s even a moment of remembrance in the fourth movement, before victory over the struggle is finally attained. The potency of the Fifth Symphony’s message is the reason it was – for one, the famous opening motive was the rallying cry of the Second World War’s Allied forces – and remains one of the most popular and beloved orchestral works today.
Dr. Hannah Chan-Hartley is a musicologist, active in the public sphere as a writer, speaker and researcher. On Twitter: @hanchanhartley
Baptized in Bonn, Germany, December 17, 1770
Died in Vienna, Austria, March 26, 1827
“How irresistibly does this wonderful composition transport the listener through ever growing climaxes into the spiritual realm of the infinite,” commented E.T.A. Hoffmann, on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in 1810. Two years earlier, the work premiered on December 22 at the Theatre an der Wien to mixed reception; no doubt the context of its performance – the massive length of the concert (spanning four hours, the program also included the premieres of the Sixth Symphony and the Choral Fantasy, plus the Fourth Piano Concerto, with Beethoven as soloist, and excerpts from other works), the bitterly cold temperature of the theatre, and an under-rehearsed orchestra – contributed to the lukewarm response. However, with Hoffmann’s landmark critical review, general opinion about the Fifth Symphony shifted; it was soon established as a cornerstone of the classical music canon…and there, it has stayed. Today, it remains one of the most frequently performed symphonies, continuing to draw audiences to concert halls all over the world.
Whether it’s the first or the umpteenth time you’ve heard this symphony, it’s simply impossible not be grabbed by the explosive opening of first movement: the famous “short-short-short-long” motive, the so-called “fate knocking on the door.” With this germ, the Allegro con brio propels forward with furious energy, developing as if organically. The motive becomes like an obsession, and appears in the later movements as well, transformed into different guises: as a triumphant second theme, proclaimed by French horns and trumpets in the second movement; as a militaristic march tune, also intoned by French horns, in the scherzo; and as a vivacious contrasting theme, played by the violins, in the finale.
Ultimately, the potency of the Fifth Symphony that Hoffmann rapturously describes in his 1810 review arises from how Beethoven conveys the psychological arc of victory over struggle across the work’s four movements. Indeed, the “short-short-short-long” motive is just one of several methods through which the composer connects them into a cohesive narrative design. Another is his specific use of mode: from the pathos and stormy drama of C minor in the first and third movements, which bracket a lyrical slow movement in A-flat major, to the jubilant C major of the fourth movement. Moreover, in each movement, the C major triumph is foreshadowed – in the recapitulation of the second theme in the first, the bright theme in the second, and the energetic trio of the third. A wonderfully mysterious transition that directly connects the third movement to the fourth – beginning with the timpani tapping the main motive on a low C, over a long A-flat in the cellos and basses – further heightens the dramatic progression towards its final fulfillment. Yet, even in the exultation of the concluding Allegro, Beethoven briefly reminds us – in a recall of the scherzo “march” theme – of the darker C minor anguish, before we are finally released into the light, encumbered no more, towards the symphony’s ecstatic conclusion.
– Program note by Hannah Chan-Hartley
BEETHOVEN’S “V” FOR VICTORY
During the Second World War, the opening motive of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony became a potent symbol for the Allied forces. They adopted the musical motto as their rallying call due to its coincidental likeness to the representation of the resistance symbol “V” (for Victory), in Morse code: three dots and a dash. As part of the campaign, a V for Victory postcard was produced with the musical quotation of this motive surrounded by the flags of the Allied forces.
Thomas Annand was a student of Graham Steed, John Grew, and Marie-Claire Alain. In 1987 he won First Prize at the RCCO National Organ Competition and since then has pursued an active career as a performer on organ, harpsichord and as conductor. He has been Director of Music at St. Andrew’s Church, Ottawa since 1992, giving over 200 recitals there including a series of weekly recitals where he performed a vast repertoire including the ten symphonies of Widor, the complete organ works of Liszt, Franck and Mendelssohn. As harpsichordist he performed all the major works of Bach in 7 marathon recitals in 2004-2005. He has performed as a soloist with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and Les Violons du Roy, touring with them to Carnegie Hall on three occasions. He has been a featured artist in the Boston Early Music Festival, the Carmel Bach Festival, the International Congress of Organists and the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. As a conductor he was the founder of Capital BrassWorks with whom he recorded for the CBC SM5000 series, and a frequent guest conductor of the Thirteen Strings. He has appeared on film (Denys Arcand’s Le Règne de la Beauté), radio and television. In addition he has had his choral music published and performed and has contributed continuo realizations to editions of early music. Thomas Annand is a Fellow of the RCCO for which he has worked as an examiner and a jury member for the Organ Playing Competition, and is a past-Chair of the Ottawa Centre.