"With Beethoven, you never stop learning."..
...states Claudio Abbado who has constantly reworked the symphonies of the master from Bonn (1770-1827). Even though he was he director of the Scala in Milan for fifteen years, which earned him a reputation as an outstanding opera conductor, he has also been familiar with the German and Viennese repertoires since he studied with Hans Swarowsky in Vienna. In the Austrian capital, he underwent another essential experience by singing in choirs, which gave him access to the rehearsals of the great conductors of the time, Bruno Walter, George Szell, Herbert von Karajan.
He made his debut as a conductor at the Scala of Milan at the age of twenty-seven, on the occasion of the tri-centenial of Alessandro Scarlatti. He then won First Prize at the Mitropoulos Competition in New York, was invited by Karajan to conduct in Salzburg and made his debut with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Vienna and Mahler's Symphony No. 2. With the same orchestra he recorded from 1985 to 1988 his first complete Beetoven symphonies. But his relations with the Viennese formation experienced ups and downs, contrary to those he developed with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra in 1966. Thirty years later, in 1989, he succeeded Karajan at the head if the prestigious formation, a position he held until 2002. With the musicians from Berlin he did a second recording of the complete Beethoven symphonies (Deutsche Grammophon, 2000) then performed them at the Académie Sainte Cécile de Rome from January 5th to February 15th 2001. It is this memorable series, performed before an enthusiastic audience that was filmed in Rome, except for the Ninth Symphony filmed in Berlin.
This monument in the history of Western music to which Claudio Abbado is so attached, was composed by Beethoven in less than a quarter of a century, from 1799 to 1823. A monument which covers the greater part of his life: he wrote the First Symphony at thirty-one and the Ninth Symphony at fifty-four. With Beethoven ended the era of symphonists who composed, like Haydn, up to a hundred symphonies. From then on musicians composed approximately ten symphonies, each stamped with its own personality.
Although this monument is imposing it is familiar. Beethoven's symphonies represent in Western music what appeals to the widest audience. That is why, they were widely used for political (the Ode to Joy of the Ninth Symphony is the official European anthem) and commercial purposes (advertising) and in films (Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick, among others.
As symbols of freedom and acts of independence, Beethoven's symphonies are a fantastic statement concerning the dignity of man, who in return, recognises himself in each of them. That is how Abbado conducts his pieces, with a majesty that places the sublime before the gratification of emotions. And thanks to the incredible sounds that the conductor obtains from the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, beauty becomes a human victory.
Fate knocking at the door or the Fifth Symphony The Fifth Symphony, is simply Beethoven. He started to compose the Symphony No.5 in C Minor Op.67 in 1805 and finished it in 1808, at the same time as the Sixth Symphony ("The Pastoral Symphony"). Both were performed for the first time the same evening, on December 22 in 1808 in Vienna. The symphony is the most famous piece of classical Western music, and maybe even of all music, because of its first four notes. Four very simple notes that Beethoven describes as "fate knocking at the door," and from which the whole symphony is born. We shall let others express their admiration: "It is truly great! It's absolutely mad!" (Goethe). "It expresses to a very high degree, Romanticism in music, Romanticism revealing the infinite." (E. T. A. Hoffmann)
Lucerne Festival 2009