LUDWIG van Beethoven was not an easy man to please. He changed residences more than 60 times in the 35 years he lived in Vienna. Today you have to wonder how much longer he can stand the strain of nonstop public performance. By Aug. 15, the National Symphony Orchestra will have playd 38 compositions by Beethoven in 10 months, nine of them twice in that time. (All of this, of course, in addition to the visitations of Beethoven can the National Symphony dish out and still stay awake?" For the NSO is now coming up with the suggestion that you should (and I ask your pardon for their expression) "Cool off with a six-pack of Beethoven." Their pack takes place at the Kennedy Center July 31 through Aug. 15.
Carrying their idea still further, the NSO's advertisers have come up with a snazzy little blue-and-white throwaway that shows the great L. in a tank top, floating in an inner tube (down the Danube presumably) while firmly grasping with both hands his own private six-pack.
Now Ludwig was the last man to interfere with all-Beethoven concerts, the longer the better. Probably the most famous one was the notorious concert in 1808 which was announced this way: "On Thursday, December 22, Ludwig van Beethoven will have the honor to give a musical AKADEMIE in the R.I.Priv. Theater-an-der Wien. All the pieces are of his composition, entirely new, and not yet heard in public.
"First Part: 1, A Symphony, entitled: 'A Recollection of Country Life,' in F major (No. 5).
"3, Hymn with Latin text, composed in the Church style with chorus and solos.
"4, Pianoforte Concerto played by himself.
"1, Grand Symphony in C Minor (No. 6).
"2, Sanctus with Latin text composed in the church style with chorus and solos.
"3, Fantasia for pianoforte alone.
"4, Fantasia for the pianoforte which ends with the gradual entrance of the entire orchestra and the introduction of the Choruses as a finale.
"Boxes and reserved seats are to be had in the Krugerstrasse No. 1074, first story. Beginning at half past six o'clock."
Beethoven lovers will quickly notice that Beethoven was still numbering his Pastoral Symphony 5 and the famous C Minor 6. The numbers were switched on publication.
These who really know their Beethoven will know that item 2, the aria, was "Ah, Perfido!" while the "hymn" was the Kyrie and Gloria which came from the Mass in C, as did the later Sanctus. The concerto was the fourth, in G major, nowadays often described as "sublime." The Fantasia for solo piano was not played, since it had not yet been written and Beethoven had more than enough to do to finish the Choral Fantasy, the title by which the last work on the program is now known.
The concert was, in several ways, a mess, much of which was directly due to Beethoven's social habits and his methods of working. The "Ah, Perfido!" was a debacle because Beethoven, having won Anna Milder's enthusiastic assent to taking part in the concert, then proceeded to so offend the noted singer that she withdrew. This necessitated engaging an inexperienced young Josephine Killitschgy, who botched the whole thing.
The Choral Fantasy was finished so late that there was hardly any time to rehearse it. As a result, as Beethoven said shortly after the concert, "Some of the instruments had counted wrong in the rests. If I had let them play a few measures more the most horrible dissonances would have resulted. I had to make an interruption and have them start over, which had never happened before."
This music was not the evening's only problem. Beethoven's friend and a noted composer, Johann Friedrich Reichardt, wrote a vivid description of the affair: "I accepted the kind offer of Prince Lobkowitz to let me sit in his box with hearty thanks. There we continued, in bitterest cold, too, from half past six to half past ten, and experienced the truth that one can easily have too much of a good thing -- and still more of a loud . . . Poor Beethoven, who from this, his own concert, was having the first and only scant profit that he could find in a whole year, had found in the rehearsals and performance a lot of opposition and almost no support. Singers and orchestra were composed of heterogeneous elements, and it had been found impossible to get a single full rehearsal for all the pieces to be performed, all filled with the greatest difficulties."
Today most conductors think that the Fifth Symphony is an ideal way to end any concert. But Beethoven had strong opinions about where certain compositions should go. He wrote about the Eroica, "This symphony being purposely written much longer than is usual, should be performed nearer the beginning rather than at the end of a concert and shortly after an overture, an aria, AND a concerto(!) so that if heard too late it will not lose for the listener already tired out by previous performances, its own proposed effect."
Well, Erich Leinsdorf is going to end the opening of the National Symphony's six-pack with the Eroica on Friday. Maybe he has not read Beethoven's thoughts on the matter.
All five piano concertos will be played during the coming half-dozen programs, along with symphonis 2, 3, 5, 6, and 7, the violin concerto and such novelties as the Leonore Overture No. 3. The only unusual item in the series is the complete "Egmont" music which Christopher Keene will conduct with Phyllis Bryn-Julson, soprano, and a narrator to be named. The programs will be played in the Kennedy Center under conductors Leinsdorf, Rostropovich, Wolff, and Keene on July 31, Aug. 1, 2, 8, 14, and 15.