BEETHOVEN ONCE REMARKED he “never learned anything” from his former teacher Haydn. Ouch.

By most accounts, Haydn wasn’t a particularly attentive teacher. But it’s possible Beethoven was overeager to distance himself from this influence. After all, Herr Haydn wrote more than 10x as many symphonies, and wounded B’s pride with less than glowing reviews of his music. Beethoven’s Ninth is sometimes regarded as the final word on Romantic symphonies, yet Haydn’s joyful symphonies continue to resonate in concert halls across the world to great fanfare.

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One such concert hall is Westminster Church, where MCO Music Director Anne Manson has often conducted symphonies by Haydn. Beethoven’s popular reputation as the symphonic GOAT (greatest of all time) may be secure, but it’ll be such fun to hear Anne speak to MCO audiences at this concert about the connections between the two composers and their pieces.

Up for consideration are 1) B’s Symphony No. 7, whose second movement may be the greatest sequence of classical music ever written in a minor key; and 2) H’s ecstatic Symphony No. 96, whose original nickname ‘the Miracle’ has stuck for good reason. Which is better overall? Are they equals?

We’ll let you be the judge. 😀

The concert begins at 7.30pm on Thursday, October 6th, in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Casual tickets will be available 10 August 2022 here and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.

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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster Church in Wolseley
7.30pm, Thursday, 6 October 2022
Online presentation 24 November 2022

Anne Manson, conductor

Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 96, in D Major, ‘The Miracle’

Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 7, Op. 92 in A Major

Season sponsor / CN
Concert sponsor / Johnston Group
Guest Artist sponsor / Scott & Sonya Wright
Music Director sponsor / Don Streuber
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Symphony No. 96 in D Major, ‘The Miracle’
Joseph Haydn

Haydn composed Symphony No. 96 in 1791, and it was probably premiered in London on 11 March of that year. Following the common practice of the day for orchestral concerts, he sat at a keyboard toward the rear of the orchestra and shared the direction of the performance with the orchestra’s concertmaster, Johann Peter Salomon, who stood or sat at the front of the ensemble.

Haydn made two trips to England, in 1790/2 and 1794/5. They won him enormous success, in terms of both art and commerce. He composed 12 new symphonies (Nos. 93 through 104), six for each season. They have become known as his ‘London’ Symphonies, and proved to be his final works in this form. Symphony No. 96 was probably the first of them in order of creation.

Musicologist Edward Downes describes the origin of its nickname. “When Haydn came to take his place at the keyboard during one of his London concerts, the audience, curious to observe the great man at close quarters, crowded forward towards the orchestra, leaving empty a large number of seats in the middle of the auditorium. While the seats were still empty, a huge chandelier plunged down and smashed, terrifying the whole audience. When those whose lives had perhaps been saved by the accident of their curiosity realized what had happened, the cry went up ‘Miracle! Miracle!’ The odd thing about this incident is that it did not happen at the performance of Symphony No. 96, but in 1794, at the premiere of Haydn’s Symphony No. 102, but the nickname ‘Miracle’ has stuck to No. 96.”

The first movement opens with an unexpectedly serious introduction in slow tempo, before Haydn, in the blink of an eye, shifts impishly to a bright and cheerful Allegro. Wind instruments play a prominent role, as they will throughout the entire work. The second movement offers a relaxing stroll, based on one of those artless, folk-like tunes that Haydn produced so effortlessly. A substantial section in a minor key provides contrast, while a passage towards the end that spotlights solos winds and two violins offers a taste of a form much favoured in London at the time, the sinfonia concertante. The following minuet is pure Austria, a happy joining of ballroom (outer panels) and village festival (central trio). The single-theme, perpetual-motion finale bounds ahead joyously from first bar to last.

Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92
Ludwig van Beethoven

Three years had passed since the completion of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the relaxed, rustic ‘Pastoral,’ before the urge to create another piece of this kind came upon him. He composed the principal sketches for his Seventh Symphony during the autumn of 1811, while taking a rest cure in Teplitz, a small resort town near Prague. He returned to his home in Vienna later that year, taking up the new symphony once again early in 1812. He finished it in May, and dedicated it to Count Moritz von Fries, a wealthy banker whose firm acted on Beethoven’s behalf in a dispute with Scottish publisher, George Thomson.

The Seventh had to wait 19 months for its premiere. Along with Beethoven’s ludicrous ‘Battle Symphony,’ Wellington’s Victory, it was included in the program of a benefit concert in aid of Austrian and Bavarian troops who had been wounded in skirmishes with the armies of Napoleon Bonaparte. The event was organized by Beethoven’s friend Johann Mälzel, the inventor of the metronome, and took place on 8 December 1813 in the Grand Hall of the University of Vienna.

The concert’s worthy cause had enabled Mälzel to persuade many of Vienna’s most famous musical figures to take part. The orchestra included such luminaries as Louis Spohr and Domenico Dragonetti (playing in the violin and double bass sections, respectively); Johann Hummel and Giacomo Meyerbeer (timpani); Ignaz Moscheles (cymbals); and even Beethoven’s former teacher, Court Composer Antonio Salieri. A glittering audience was in attendance, too, dotted with important political figures. Also on hand was a musical star to be, sixteen year old Franz Schubert. A great admirer of Beethoven, he had completed his own Symphony No. 1 just six weeks earlier.

The Seventh was received warmly—although not as warmly as Wellington’s Victory! The audience did, however, demand an encore of the second movement. The entire program was repeated four days later, with equal success. This marked a turning point in Beethoven’s career. Previously, there had been deep and widespread division of opinion on the merits of his music. Following these concerts, his acclaim as one of the great masters of his day became virtually unanimous.

The range of moods the symphony covers is striking, even by Beethoven’s standards. Three of its four movements overflow with energy and high spirits, a fact that led composer Richard Wagner to label it “the apotheosis of the dance” (although this oft-quoted remark refers to the finale only). The first movement begins with a substantial introduction, bold and teasing in its forecast of what is to follow: an exhilarating romp. In terms of form, the third movement scherzo duplicates the corresponding movement in the Fourth Symphony: its restrained trio section alternates repeatedly with the bustling opening panel. The finale is a headlong perpetual motion engine. It hurtles along joyously with scarcely a pause to catch its breath between first bar and last.

On the other hand, the second movement—the one which so impressed the first audience—communicates the most profound expression of grief and despair that had been heard in symphonic music up to that time. It became so popular, in fact, that during the balance of the nineteenth century it was regularly inserted in performances of other Beethoven symphonies (No. 2 in particular), to replace slow movements that audiences found less to their liking. It is heard on the soundtracks of numerous films when music of a tragic nature is called for. Among them is the 2010 Oscar winner for best picture, The King’s Speech.

On the whole, Beethoven was rather modest when discussing his own compositions. But in at least two letters, he referred to his Seventh Symphony as “one of my best works.” Who are we to disagree?