In the 19th century, there were no radios, no speakers, no iTunes. So one day, when a young composer wanted to entertain a woman at his home, he had to invite over a student who could play piano, situate the piano bench so that the kid couldn’t see what was happening on the couch behind him, and call out commands. “Play something romantic! Now something melancholy! Now something passionate!” One can only imagine what was going on behind the pupil’s back - and when the girl finally left, the composer had to confess to his student that he didn’t even know her name. It really wasn’t a bad accomplishment for a man who was once rejected by a woman, “because he was so ugly, and half crazy!” I bet if she had that one to do over with hindsight, she’d reconsider sleeping with Ludwig van Beethoven.
This weekend at Benaroya Hall, you can hear Beethoven’s triple concerto, along with Schubert’s ninth symphony. Beethoven and Schubert are often billed by music scholars as adjacent bookends of two different eras: Beethoven as the end of the classical and Schubert as the beginning of the romantic. It’s as though Beethoven died and the world said “Finally! The Romantic era can begin!”
The truth is, history is much more interesting than that. Around Beethoven’s time, the arts were struggling in a lot of ways. The industrial revolution was creating new money all over the place, and as these nouveaux riches started stepping into roles as patrons of the arts, they began looking ruthlessly at the bottom line: trying to cut back on expenses, downsize or eliminate orchestras, and demand that stricter budgets be kept in arts organizations. Sound familiar?
At the same time, the king of France, Louis XVI (later beheaded in the French revolution), was trying to lead his country forward into a more Enlightenment-minded government, while his nobility fought him at every step, trying to preserve their privilege and make him look bad by ensuring that the government ran at a snail’s pace, if it ran at all. Sound familiar?
Well, maybe we haven’t learned anything from history. That’s ok, because this weekend at Benaroya Hall you can get a history lesson from the Seattle Symphony. This week, the orchestra is led by Thomas Dausgaard, an exacting leader whose tendency to use every single second of available rehearsal time generally elicits more respect than resentment from orchestras. The result, whether or not it prevents another world revolution, will be a beautiful and interesting evening in your life as a human being on Earth.
Saturday 8:00 pm
Sunday 2:00 pm