The Master’s Masterwork

T he launch of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance 2018-19 season combines the forces of the Dayton Philharmonic, Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, the Dayton Opera Chorus and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus to present an evening of Beethoven masterworks, culminating in the majestic Symphony No. 9. In addition, the evening features noted guest vocalists Kasia […]

Dayton Philharmonic opens season big with Beethoven’s 9th at Schuster


The Dayton Philharmonic, Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, the Dayton Opera Chorus,
and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus unite for a spectacular presentation,
supplemented by dramatic projections and the majesty of Beethoven.

By Dr. Dennis Loranger

The launch of the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance 2018-19 season combines the forces of the Dayton Philharmonic, Dayton Opera, Dayton Ballet, the Dayton Opera Chorus and the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra Chorus to present an evening of Beethoven masterworks, culminating in the majestic Symphony No. 9. In addition, the evening features noted guest vocalists Kasia Borowiec, Noragh Devlin, John Pickle, and Justin Hopkins.

The unique presentation is achieved by the collaboration of orchestra, opera, and ballet, enhanced with dramatic visual production effects and imagery created specifically for this event. Harkening back to the triumph of last season’s opening spectacular, this promises to deliver even greater grandeur for a captivating once-in-a-lifetime experience.

The first of the evening’s pieces will be the Egmont Overture. This overture is taken from a set of pieces Beethoven wrote as incidental music for Egmont, a play by the famous German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Though Beethoven was paid to write the overture, he claimed that he composed the work purely out of love for Goethe’s work.

Goethe’s Egmont is set in the sixteenth-century Netherlands, and is loosely based on events during the Spanish occupation of the Low Countries. The play depicts the fatal struggle of the title character against the oppressive Spanish invaders, a struggle that ends in failure. However, despite Egmont’s imprisonment and execution at the end of the play, his fate is portrayed as an example of selfless integrity, as a martyrdom in the cause of liberty.

Beethoven may have identified with the title character’s plight. When the commission was given him in late 1810, Vienna, just like 1500s Netherlands, was occupied by an oppressor—in this case the French army led by Napoleon—and Beethoven sometimes felt demoralized and isolated, since some of his closest friends had fled the city ahead of the invading army. He himself must sometimes have hoped a bigger-than-life character would free his city.

The Egmont Overture is an exciting and dramatic piece written in his best heroic style. After a slow introduction, the piece moves into a sonata allegro form, and concludes with an extensive coda.

The other symphonic work on the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance program is the Ninth Symphony, one of Beethoven’s most famous and popular works. In composing the Ninth, Beethoven both culminated his own work as a revolutionarily original symphonist and created a sometimes intimidating model for subsequent composers. 

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, composers wrote symphonies as a form of light entertainment of their wealthy patrons. It was only by the end of the century that composers began to write symphonies for a broader audience. The development of Haydn’s symphonies illustrates this change. His earlier symphonies, those written before 1780, were almost all intended for performance in one of the aristocratic Esterházy family’s establishments. But, however many people may have been in attendance, Haydn knew that his audience really consisted of one person: the cultivated nobleman who paid his salary. This is not to say that Haydn did not write accessible music during this period; the “Farewell” symphony, for instance, was written very specifically to send a message to his highborn patron, but the work remains a popular part of the symphonic literature. But, after 1780, in both the so-called Paris and London symphonies, written for performance in public venues and heard by middle-class audiences, Haydn integrates masterfully the popular and cultivated styles. Members of the audience wanting to hear pleasant tunes would not be disappointed, while connoisseurs could always find learned matter to appreciate.

Beethoven, however much of a musical revolutionary he would become, wrote his first and second symphonies using the formal and expressive outlines laid out by his immediate predecessors and his contemporaries. But starting with his Third Symphony, the Eroica, he considerably expanded both the musical complexity and expressive range of this genre. Now the symphony was no longer simply a public occasion or even an aesthetic experience; it had become, at least to a large part of the audience, a spiritual event.

The Ninth Symphony continues the artistic program begun with the Third. The work follows the standard four-part form established for the symphony. The first movement is in sonata-allegro form, and in a tempestuous style similar to that of the “Thunderstorm” movement from the Sixth Symphony. The second movement is a scherzo, very fast in tempo and humorous—even grotesque—in mood (the word “scherzo” means “joke.”) The speed of the second movement is contrasted by the slow, almost languorous quality of the third movement, a set of variations on the opening theme.

The last movement is the most famous part of the symphony, and some would argue, the best. The movement opens with a return to the furious mood of the first movement, alternating with an instrumental recitative in the lower strings. The orchestra then quotes from each of the preceding movements, as though it were searching for its subject. After each of these quotes the lower strings continue to grumble out their recitative, apparently rejecting each of the preceding themes, before finally settling on the famous “Ode to Joy” tune, which, after a set of instrumental variations, sets Schiller’s poem, An die Freude.

The rest of the movement is a completely original, and spectacular, development of the tune. We hear instrumental variations of the tune, tremendous solo and choral singing, a tenor solo in the classical “Turkish” style, and contrapuntal fireworks galore, including a double fugue.

See for yourself what the combined Symphony, Ballet, and Opera can achieve to do justice to the Master’s Masterwork.

The DPAA Signature Event Beethoven’s Ninth: Season Opening Spectacular will be Saturday Sept. 15 at 8 p.m. and Sunday Sept. 16 at 3 p.m. A pre-show “Take Note” discussion will take place an hour before each performance. Tickets are available at daytonperformingarts.org or by phone at 888.228.3630. The Schuster Center is located at One West Second St. at Main St.

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