The Van Beethoven Code


Wed 15 May 2013 6pm
in the Vienna Konzerthaus, Lothringerstraße 20, 1030 Vienna, Austria

Wiener Symphoniker
Harke de Roos

A new way to Beethoven with live music and moderation by
Michael Haas, Harke de Roos, Richard Winter

We kindly ask for seat-reservation!
klassik@gramola.at; Tel.: 01-505 38 01

 

The story behind the record

Extraordinary stories do not happen every day, either in daily life, or in music. You would expect them least of all in the symphonic oeuvre of Ludwig van Beethoven, where every note has been played, described and analyzed countless times.

All the more astonishing is Harke de Roos with his interpretation of Beethoven’s 2nd Symphony, performed by the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The Dutch musician, music researcher and music author claims to have found a completely new approach to Beethoven, not only to his music, but also to his personality. According to his research, Beethoven’s music is based on the tempo structure of Viennese Classicism, which perished during the Romantic period and has never returned to the performance practice of classical music. This tempo structure is characterized by organic connections between the movements of each classical composition. In origin, all tempi had a very close relationship to one other like the members of a family. Over the years, they became more and more independent and their family relationship receded. At the same time, tempo contrasts increased and a gap arose in the centre of the tempo ladder. The broad spectrum of terms like ‘adagio’ and ‘allegro’ narrowed down to one-sided concepts such as ‘slow’ and ‘fast’.

This development of the performance practice of Viennese Classicism is only one part of the story. The other part concerns the correct reading of Beethoven’s own notation. Since 1817, there has been a list of single-handed metronome indications for the central section of Beethoven’s oeuvre, including the symphonies. It is common knowledge that these indications have led to controversies in the professional world because of extreme tempi and impossible note values. First of all, it is amazing that there is not the slightest trace of the organic relationship which must have existed between the original tempi. What has happened to the tempo family? Where has it gone?

The answer found by Harke de Roos is disturbingly simple. The prosaic metronome numbers do not constitute a technical user manual, but have to be read as a personal message by the composer. The indications have the form of an enigma and are related to the riddle canons of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven himself. The message behind the numbers is related to every interpreter personally and is in no way affected by Beethoven’s death. So the composer appears to anyone willing to listen to what the message says. Listening to the words behind the message, you will experience Beethoven as vividly as the spirit of Hamlet’s father or Mozart’s Commendatore.

What do the words tell you? The first statement is: I need you! Moreover: I need you personally! I need you to recognize the brokenness of my tempi. I need you to realize the insight that these broken tempi express my own brokenness. I need you to repair the ruptures in my life. I need you to heal me. I give you responsibility for my health. As a creative partner, I give you equal rights. So, on the one hand, Beethoven's tempo indications are an intellectual musical game and an act of despair, on the other.

Viewed in this light, the first recording of a symphony by Beethoven with repaired tempo relations is part of a great story. Nonetheless, the reactions of the professional world to this story are themselves parts of the whole story. How did the musical scene in Holland react, how did the one in Germany? How did great conductors respond, how did the ‘Beethovenhaus’ in Bonn?

It is evident that the Vienna Symphony Orchestra has reacted in an exemplary manner. The members of this long-standing orchestra did not argue for one moment, but simply performed the music. There are no better arguments!

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