Two more last Symphonies at the RFH

A few weeks ago the RFH presented the last symphonies of Haydn and Bruckner: yesterday evening it was the turn of Mozart and Beethoven.

Mozart's last Symphony, no.41(nicknamed the 'Jupiter', though not by Mozart) was composed in 1788, three years before his death, so it doesn't represent any 'last thoughts' the way that Bruckner's and Mahler's last symphonies may do. It is a masterly display of techinque, including some chromatic and contrapuntal passages which were innovative for the time, and carries a more serious weight than much of Mozart's earlier work. Yesterday evening's performance by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Daniele Gatti, seemed little muted to begin with, partly because of the usual problem of an over-sized string section and modern woodwind instruments failing to cut through the sound, so that the result was less clear and articulated than Mozart would have expected. By the final movement the performance had warmed up and the movement's twists and turns were well conveyed and with more sparkle.

Beethoven's last completed symphony, his 9th (sketches survive for a tenth which have been worked into a performing version) must have seemed quite extraordinary for the period ((1824): the orchestra is large even by modern standards, plus four soloists and a choir in the final movement, and the work runs for over an hour - all unheard of at the time. Beethoven continued the innovations of Haydn and Mozart in the development of the symphony form from its polite beginnings and laid the groundwork for the massive works to come from Bruckner, Mahler and others. Each of the first three movements follows in general terms the established formats - sonata form, a scherzo, and a slow movement, but stretching the format to its limits and developing thematic ideas in a much more complex way than had been accepted. The final movement - itself running longer than many symphonies of the previous century - is the famous setting of words drawn from Schiller's Ode To Joy: the well-known theme is subjected to a number of variations (including an impression of a military band) and finishes with a glorious vocal outpouring - taken last night with a speed and precision which made it truly exciting and captured some of the revelation that must have accompanied its first performances. It's one of the best-known works in musical history, but still captures the emotions and imagination.

Posted: Thu - March 19, 2009 at 09:47 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM