2 or 8? 8 or 2? A Beethoven quandary.

When putting together the programming for the 2016 Wintergreen Summer Music Festival, I had a few "must-haves" on my list. With the theme "Expect the Unexpected," the great jokester Haydn had to be represented. We also needed some unique instrument representation (accordion, anyone?). We had to do Rhapsody in Blue, with its premiere that was a surprise to many, including the composer. And, of course, we needed to tell the unique stories of some surprising musical heroes - women such as Clara Schumann, Maud Powell, and Nadia Boulanger.  

By Friedrich August von Kloeber (1793 - 1864) - http://portrait.kaar.at/Musikgeschichte%2019.Jhd/image3.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=279449

By Friedrich August von Kloeber (1793 - 1864) - http://portrait.kaar.at/Musikgeschichte%2019.Jhd/image3.html, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=279449

But, we also needed Beethoven. Why? Because, well, Beethoven. There is something about his music and his story that brings together the past and the future of music, whips us up into a humanistic frenzy, and results in a breathless rush of shared excitement.

But which symphony?! Fairly recently, the Wintergreen Festival Orchestra has performed his first, third, fifth, sixth, and seventh symphonies, and we are aiming for a ninth in the near future. So, that leaves me with numbers two and eight. Although heard in recent seasons as part of our Academy, we have never tackled these two works as the Wintergreen Festival Orchestra. 

I have conducted both of these symphonies, and they are decisively joyful, playful, humorous, and bombastic. I love them both in very different ways, and I think each one pairs equally well with Clara Schumann's Piano Concerto, which is on the first half of the concert. Symphony No. 2 brings out the youthful characteristics of Schumann's brilliant concerto, while Symphony No. 8 highlights the concerto's mature forward-looking elements.

I have personal and musical reasons for doing either one (ask me the story about the second some time), and I know our musicians will dive into either one with their typical virtuosity, commitment, and artistry.

So, what is an Artistic Director to do when she has a rare moment of indecision? DELEGATE, of course.  I am leaving the decision up to you - our audience, friends, musicians, and students. Just head to Facebook before 5pm on Friday, June 3 to vote.  


The poll is "pinned" to the top of our Wintergreen Performing Arts Facebook page, so it should be easy to find. Feel free to urge your friends to vote for your favorite, too. Just share the poll on your own page and tell them how you want the vote to go. 

Thanks for participating!


If you need to do a bit of research first, here's a bit more information: 


Beethoven composed his second symphony soon after he wrote a letter to his brother - a heartfelt letter now known as the "Heiligenstadt Testament." In it, he admits to considering suicide upon realizing that he is losing his most precious sense: his hearing. He explains, however, that the art within him prevents him from committing such an act. 

(The most touching quote is excerpted on this page, but you can - and should! - read the entire text here.)

What was the art within him? The vibrant second symphony! It follows the model that Haydn set forth in his mature works: A slow introduction followed by a joyful, active first movement; a lyrical second movement with a melody that would make Mozart proud; a third movement scherzo with surprises abounding; and a finale that seems to start with a guffaw.

Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No 2 in D major, Op 36.

Christian Thielemann conducts the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra.

Ah how could I possibly admit such an infirmity in the one sense which should have been more perfect in me than in others, a sense which I once possessed in highest perfection, a perfection such as few surely in my profession enjoy or have enjoyed . . . [W]hat a humiliation when one stood beside me and heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard the shepherd singing and again I heard nothing, such incidents brought me to the verge of despair, but little more and I would have put an end to my life - only art it was that withheld me, ah it seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt called upon me to produce.


When asked why the premiere of his eighth symphony received less attention than his seventh, Beethoven ironically replied: “because the eighth is so much better.”

Beethoven: Symphony No.8 in F Major, Op.93.

Paavo Jarvi conducts the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen.

The eighth symphony is a different story. It is sometimes called the "Little" symphony, because its position in Beethoven's output is between two giants: the famous dance-like seventh and the historic ninth. Also, Beethoven called it "my little symphony in F" to distinguish it from the much longer
"Pastoral" (sixth) symphony, also in F Major. But even with its comparatively diminutive stature, it displays Beethoven's maturity as a experienced symphonist. The first movement has no formal introduction, but rather starts right out of the gate briskly and "con brio" ("with vigor"). There is great confidence in this opening - a confidence that spills over into the second movement. Rather than blindly follow the model of the cantabile second movement, he offers a "scherzando" (literally "joke") in the style of a playful clock. The third movement, an old-school elegant minuet, delivers a moment of peaceful respite before the fourth movement brings the work to a close with a famously bombastic, drawn-out, and thrilling ending.