What is a symphony? What is the role of each instrument in the orchestra? What is a variation? What is a theme? In his Clefs de l'orchestre, Jean-François Zygel seeks to convey to a wide audience the keys to understanding a work from the symphony repertoire performed at the Maison de la Radio. Accompanied by the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra and prestigious conductors, the pianist decomposes the work with humour and provides a context for a clearer explanation.
It would be a mistake to believe that the love Beethoven had for nature was mainly due to a liking for beautiful landscapes or to the need of physical exercise. Even though we do not have any proof other than the way he studied the many and varied natural phenomena discussed [in the book by Christian Sturm2], we can affirm that, since he was young, Beethoven mastered the art of reading the book of Nature and of grabbing her multiple manifestations. The author of these lines, who had the chance to accompany Beethoven in his walking through mountains and valleys, affirms that the master was his guide in the nature and that his teaching on it was more enthusiastic than the one he gave on music. To say it plain, we could say that in Beethoven's perception nature was personified. It wasn't the rules of nature that impressed him the most, but the brute power of nature which made him react in an emotional way, namely, the only possible response.
In April 1823, during a period of his life in which Beethoven was suffering from health's problems, he decided to get some rest in Heliegenstadt, a charming place where he get the inspiration to write several works. The author of these lines writes that walking in Heliegenstadt's mountains Beethoven was used to stop frequently to observe the landscapes surrounding him and once he revealed that it was there that he composed the Scène au bord du ruisseau and that the buntings, the nightingales and the cuckoos had been composing with him. So, when the author asked him the reason why he dint' put buntings in that scène, Beethoven took his note-book and wrote down one theme of the Symphony.
1 Anton Felix Schindler, violinist, was the Beethoven's assistant between 1822 and 1827, when the composer was suffering from deafness. He published a controversial biography on Beethoven because of the many places of the text where he exaggerated his own importance in the relationship with the composer and some episodes he made up.
2 Beethoven copied out some passages of the book Sermons sur l'œuvre de Dieu dans la Nature by Christian Sturm.
Keys to the Orchestra by Jean-François Zygel