A Beethoven marathon (partially) revived

A famous (or perhaps infamous) four-hour Beethoven ‘benefit’ concert in 1808 is the inspiration for a concert by the Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra conducted by Andrés Orozco-Estrada with pianist John Lill.

As Town Hall and Symphony Hall’s Music Advisor Lyndon Jenkins explains, it was an extraordinary occasion for both musicians and audience members:

At the Theater an der Wien on 22 December 1808 Beethoven made his last appearance as soloist with an orchestra. That concert was surely the most remarkable of the several long evenings at the Theater an der Wien in that decade in which Beethoven introduced new works – generally under near-catastrophic conditions. In addition to the Fourth Piano Concerto and Symphonies Nos 5 and 6, the programme in this case included the Choral Fantasy (a work involving all the evening’s performers including piano soloist and chorus), the concert aria Ah! Perfido, two sections of the Mass in C major and the Fantasia in G major for piano solo.

Rehearsal was, as always, inadequate, and Beethoven managed to antagonise the orchestra; everyone on stage and in the audience complained about the cold and there were ‘incidents’ all through the evening. The final work, the Choral Fantasy in which Beethoven made his valedictory appearance as soloist, was a shambles: having instructed the orchestra in rehearsal to ignore a repeat marking, he himself forgot during the performance with the resulting cacophony being “not altogether edifying” according to one witness. The piece had to be restarted.

Theater an der Wien

Theatre an der Wien

The evening was summed up by a member of the audience, Friedrich Reichhardt, “There we sat in the bitterest cold, 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 thing.”

Today’s audiences may be relieved to learn just three of original works – the Symphonies Nos 5 & 6, and Piano Concerto No 4 – will be performed in a warm and comfortable Symphony Hall. The Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra and John Lill Play Beethoven is on Sunday 2 March 2014.

Concert details and tickets

Images reproduced under Creative Commons Licence