For Enjoyment of Music class, I was required to watch the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 and evaluate the performance. As I am not classically trained, I was a bit shaky on the terminology, so if I got anything wrong…well, the instructor didn’t count off for it! Also note, that, for this post, I have removed the in-text citations and placed links to the sources used in the paper at the end of the report. I was not allowed to opine on the music itself but was tasked with delivering an objective description and analysis of the execution. Here, I am under no such restrictions and, therefore, say, without hesitation, that the piece is exquisite.
School: University of Southern Mississippi
Course: MUS 165
Instructor: Professor Reyelt
Date: March 16, 2021
Classical Concert Report
In January 2014, at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Netherlands, renowned conductor Ivan Fischer lead the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7. The first level of the stage contained the majority of the string section. Level two featured a percussionist on timpani plus four players from both the string and woodwinds sections, including two cellists, two flautists, and a clarinet player. The third level rounded out the woodwinds and also boasted the entire brass section, with two trumpeters and two French horn players. The fourth and final level housed four double bassists.
The orchestra opened the piece’s first movement (Poco sostenuto – Vivace) with a burst of music in major mode, played forte, at a moderate tempo, in 6/8 time, with the string section and timpani sounding prominently. The burst was followed by a flute solo played pianissimo and backed by rising strings. At 00:13, another burst—I believe what would be appropriately called a sforzando—sounded, followed by more activity from the woodwinds and rising from the brass section, adding to the overall volume of the quiet segments. Following another sforzando at 00:19, the French horns sounded prominently. The alternating loud bursts and quiet melodies effectively created an oscillating emotional effect of invigoration and relaxation in the space of mere seconds.
The musicians executed a shift in both melody and dynamics around 00:28, with something of a short “call-and-response” between the strings and woodwinds. The former played arpeggios up the scale while the latter sounded brief, gentle, three-note statements. With each statement, both sections grew louder, with the segment culminating in an epic crescendo at 00:54. A string-dominant passage ensued, segueing with a decrescendo at 01:22 into a woodwind-heavy segment, featuring a prominent showcase from the clarinet.
Another crescendo from the full orchestra began around 1:58 and ushered in a minor mode shift at 02:17. Although the orchestra returned to the major mode at 02:30, the brief shift seemed to serve as a bit of foreshadowing for the second movement.
Around the 03:50 mark, a flute rose from a near-silent passage with a melody seeming to act as a harbinger of an important event. Over the next twenty seconds or so, the strings and woodwinds, with the flute remaining as lead instrument, oscillated in volume, with a tune denoting quick motion. Around 04:17, the orchestra ascended the scale with a heroic crescendo, building anticipation for the entire orchestra to pick up the “motion” theme initially heralded by the flute. The passage was played lively and brought to mind the idea of “racing” or “adventure.”
For the next six and a half minutes, the orchestra played variations of the theme with alternating changes in dynamics, culminating around the 11:00 mark with an accelerando followed by a ritardando and a brief stop. At this point, the clarinet rose as the lead instrument, continuing the theme softly, then switching to minor mode. A crescendo ensued as the entire orchestra played the theme in minor mode. The ensemble eventually returned to the major mode and at last concluded in rousing fashion at 14:15.
Under the masterful direction of Fischer, the orchestra successfully delivered the first movement with regularly shifting dynamics and heavy interplay between the strings and woodwinds, with the brass shoring up the melody and the timpani adding depth to the affair.
The orchestra began the second movement (Allegreto) at 14:45, immediately noticeable as a marked departure from its predecessor. The movement is in a minor mode, and the low strings at 14:50 produced the sombre feeling of a funeral procession. The orchestra occasionally struck a major chord, but overall, the piece remained melancholy. The high strings rose at 16:34, adding to the haunting atmosphere. A slow crescendo began around 17:05, and the rest of the orchestra burst forth at 17:23, to chill-inducing effect.
18:17 saw a shift to a major mode, producing a much happier sound that seemed more compatible with the first movement. Around 19:40, however, the strings descended the scale, signalling another shift which began properly around 19:50. The new theme returned to the darkness of the piece’s beginning, but the rapidity of the melody hearkened back to “quick motion” feel of the first movement.
At 23:08, the woodwinds took center stage as the orchestra repeated the main theme piano. During this portion, at least two violinists used a pizzicato technique, adding another dimension to the segment. Around the 24:00 mark, the orchestra played a brief crescendo, before all music ceased, signalling the end of the movement—an abrupt and unexpected finale conducted to perfection by Fischer. Once again, the orchestra delivered a performance of great feeling, conveying a dark and chilling piece.
In stark contrast to the morosity of the preceding movement, the orchestra began the third movement (Scherzo. Presto) with a lively performance, which, as with Movement I, brought to mind imagery of rapid movement—the chase, the hunt—in other words, exciting action. Elements of note in the performance, included a chromatic shift around 28:00, a ritardando at 30:46, with the woodwinds once taking a starring role, and finally, a race to the finish beginning at 32:29 and ending the shortest and briskest movement yet at 33:52.
The orchestra then began the fourth movement (Allegro con brio), determined to continue the musical race from the previous movement at a gallop. Performing the swift piece at the direction of Fischer, the group turned toward “darkness” with minor shift around 36:05, modulated upward around 37:00, and finally ended in grandiose fashion at 40:50, giving the trumpets a moment to shine toward the piece’s conclusion. Following the conclusion of the fourth movement, Fischer and crew were met with thunderous applause and a standing ovation from their audience—a clear testament to the masterful craftsmanship of the night’s performers and their conductor.
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