THE CONCERT OF EUROPE: NAPOLEON & THE MUSICAL WORLD

 "Congress de Vienne" Anonymous engraver, after  Jean-Baptiste Isabey  (1819).

"Congress de Vienne" Anonymous engraver, after Jean-Baptiste Isabey (1819).

 
 

 

“Imagination rules the world” Napoleon

PROGRAMME*

 

Friedrich Kuhlau 1786–1832
Andante e Polacca

Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827
Sonata for fortepiano and horn in F, Op. 17

i. Allegro moderato
ii. Poco adagio, quasi andante
iii. Rondo, Allegro moderato

 

Ferdinand Ries 1784–1838
Grande Sonata for fortepiano and horn in F, Op. 34

i. Larghetto, Allegro moderato
ii. Andante
iii. Rondo Allegro

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Ludwig van Beethoven 1770–1827
Variations and Fugue in Eb, Op. 35

Nikolaus von Krufft 1779–1818
Sonata for fortepiano and horn in E major

i. Allegro moderato
ii. Andante espressivo
iii. Rondo “alla Polacca”

* A one hour recital version of this programme is also available.

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It is now over 200 years since Napoleon crowned himself Emperor of France and still the
“Corsican Ogre” both horrifies and fascinates us in equal measure. This ambivalence was also felt during his reign with some artists, such as Goethe, admiring Napoleon, others, were revolted by him, and some revised their opinions as history took its course.

One of the most famous volta-face has to be that of Ludwig van Beethoven and his violent re-dedication of this 3rd Symphony – “The Eroica”. Ferdinand Ries, a friend of Beethoven, and a pianist and composer in his own right, recounted:

“In writing this symphony Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him and compared him to the greatest consuls of ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven's closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word “Buonaparte” inscribed at the very top of the title-page and “Ludwig van Beethoven” at the very bottom. ...I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, “So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!” Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be re-copied and it was only now that the symphony received the title "Sinfonia Eroica.”

In our programme we bring together works by composers whose lives were turned upside down by Napoleon’s advancing armies. Friedrich Kuhlau, born in 1786, grew up near Hamburg. By all accounts it was a humble beginning, his father has been described as a “poor military bandsman” and Kuhlau’s early years were marred by the loss of his right eye in a fall. However Kuhlau had begun to gain a good reputation as a pianist and composer prior to Napoleon’s army invading Hamburg in 1810. Kuhlau fled to Denmark and spent the rest of his life in Copenhagen where he enjoyed a successful career as an opera composer.

The loss of sight in one eye (this time due to childhood smallpox) luckily prevented the compulsory conscription of Ferdinand Ries into the French Army. Due to Ries having being born in Bonn (in 1784) he was called up to serve in 1805 but rejected due to his partial blindness. As a young man Ries had diligently worked as a music copier, saving up to go to Vienna and study with Beethoven who became a central part in his life. After an auspicious debut at the Viennese Palais Augarten in 1804 performing Beethoven’s own Concerto in C minor he had a highly peripatetic life as a pianist travelling throughout Europe and settling in London for 11 years.

The revolutionary idea of the uprising of the downtrodden can be ideally illustrated by the ascent of the horn player Giovanni Punto. Born a Boehmian serf named Johann Stitch he absconded from his master and thus began one of the most glorious careers horn playing has seen. Beethoven wrote his Sonata, one of the earliest written for the combination of horn and fortepiano, specifically for Punto. Beethoven apparently was under great time constraints in writing it and utilised many of Punto’s famous “party tricks” such as rapid arpeggios and very low notes.

The Beethoven Variations and Fugue in Eb are more widely known as the “Eroica Variations” due to the use of the finale theme from that Symphony. The theme was earlier used both in the ballet music Creatures of Prometheus and in a set of Contradanses. This work is a tour de force from a composer renowned as a master of the variation form. Beethoven wrote 21 sets of variations for the piano alone which range from simple light works, often on operatic or song themes by other composers to larger sets such as the

Diabelli variations and this set on the Eroica theme.

The composer of the final work in our programme, Nikolaus von Krufft, would have seen much of the impact of Napoleon’s first hand. Born into an affluent family (his father, Andreas Adolph von Krufft, was a state minister and his mother, Maria Anna, was a pianist) Krufft was destined to follow in his father’s footsteps. After graduating in 1801 from the University of Vienna where he had studied philosophy and law he undertook various posts as a civil servant where his day-job would have included attending the congress of Vienna in which the fate of post-Napoleonic Europe was to be determined. It is from the outcome of the congress of Vienna that the title of our programme, “The Concert of Europe” is taken, the term being used to describe the sharing of power between the victorious nations.

Artists are frequently an indispensable part of society during periods of upheaval and it is often commented upon how culture can thrive throughout terrible chapters in our history, finding new ways reflect upon the world we live in and in this programme, “The Concert of Europe – Napoleon and the musical world” we relive some of the experiences of artists living in a time of turmoil through the music they created.