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Czech Philharmonic • Giovanni Antonini


Subscription series A | Duration of the programme 2 hours

Programme

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Don Juan, ballet suite 

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

Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93

Performers

Giovanni Antonini
conductor

Czech Philharmonic

Photo illustrating the event Czech Philharmonic • Giovanni Antonini

Rudolfinum — Dvorak Hall

Dress rehearsal
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While Count Carl von Oppersdorff was visiting his friend Prince Lichnowsky, he heard Ludwig van Beethoven’s Second Symphony, and he was so enthusiastic that he immediately offered the composer a large sum of music to composer another symphony for him. But while Beethoven’s music thrilled Count von Oppersdorff, the critics in Vienna could not stand it. According to the “Newspaper for the Elegant World”, the Second Symphony made the impression of “a hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refuses to die, but is writhing in its last agonies and, in the fourth movement, bleeds to death.” Beethoven further strengthened the effect of this terrible, devilish music by excluding the elegant minuet and by putting a thorny scherzo in its place. As it turns out, scherzos would become a fixed feature of symphonic form, displacing the unfortunate minuet for good. The Eighth Symphony is one of Beethoven’s few compositions that does not bear any dedication. Beethoven called it “my Little Symphony in F Major” to differentiate it from the Pastoral Symphony. Although its premiere was not as successful as that of the Seventh Symphony that preceded it, the composer held it in very high regard musically.

The ballet Don Juan by Christoph Willibald Gluck also tells a very exciting story. Its importance to the ballet genre is similar to the importance of the revolutionary work Orfeo ed Euridice to opera. Don Juan is actually the first ballet to present the entire narrative of a story. Gluck had a very good grasp of dance, and he understood it as an art form all its own, entirely independent of music. The task of the dancer was to combine the musical and dancing elements into a single effective whole. There could be no better subject matter for this “prototype” than the drama of Don Juan.

Performers

Giovanni Antonini  conductor, recorder

Giovanni Antonini

A native of Milan, Giovanni Antonini has long been acclaimed worldwide for his innovative and polished approach to performing the Baroque and Classical repertoire while fully respecting the precepts of historically informed interpretation. However, the path of early music had not been his first choice of study. He had originally applied to the conservatoire as a violinist, and it was only because he did not succeed at his audition that he ultimately began studying the recorder, and he became a master of the instrument. It was thanks to his study of the flute at the Civica Scuola di Musica that Antonini fully discovered the world of Baroque music. In addition, as he himself recalls, it was a great advantage that as a flautist specialising in historical interpretation, he did not have many artistic models to rely on and simply imitate (after all, in the 1980s the field was still in its infancy), so he had to seek out his own interpretive approaches. He found further support in his studies at the Centre de Musique Ancienne in Geneva, but the urge never abandoned him to penetrate truly deeply into the music and to create his own language, which is now so appreciated for its uniqueness.

In 1985 he founded his own Baroque ensemble Il Giardino Armonico, with which he still appears all around the world in the dual role of soloist (whether on the recorder or the Baroque transverse flute) and conductor. Overall, perhaps the most ambitious project he threw himself into a few years back with the Basel Chamber Orchestra was to record the complete symphonies of Haydn, and to finish by the year 2032, the 300th anniversary of the composer’s birth. The project Haydn2032, of which Antonini is the artistic director, is daring not only for its scope (Haydn wrote 108 Symphonies, so it is necessary to release 2 CDs with three or four symphonies every year!), but also because of the interpretive difficulties of Haydn’s music. “Haydn is very difficult to perform well because many of the interpretive paths can sound boring. But Haydn is not boring, it’s just the matter of finding the key to the correct interpretation,” explains Antonini. So far, 14 CDs have appeared (most recently this September), so the Haydn symphonic repertoire he has already recorded, rehearsed, or prepared has also influenced the programming of Antonini’s concerts in recent years.

We will also be hearing Haydn at today’s concert, which is, among other things, a continuation of cooperation from this past February, when he performed the music of Telemann and Mozart with the Czech Philharmonic and the Czech Philharmonic Youth Orchestra. Of course, Antonini does not overlook other greats masters of the 16th through the 18th centuries, whose works he has recorded with Il Gardino Armonico (including the Vivaldi concerto on today’s programme) or performed in concert with such major orchestras as the Berlin Philharmonic, Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra, and the London Symphony Orchestra and with renowned soloists like Cecilia Bartoli, Giuliano Carmignola, Isabelle Faust, and Katia and Marielle Labèque. He also devotes himself to opera; in recent years, for example, we have been able to see him at Milan’s La Scala (Giulio Cesare), the Zurich Opera House (Idomeneo), and the Theater an der Wien (Rappresentatione di Anima, et di Corpo). He is also the artistic director of the Polish music festival Wratislavia Cantans and the principal guest conductor of the Basel Chamber Orchestra.

Compositions

Christoph Willibald Gluck
Don Juan, ballet suite

It is quite justified that the music of Christoph Willibald Gluck should appear on the programme of a concert under the baton of an acclaimed expert in the field of early music. Gluck’s importance for the development of European music is in no way lesser than that of Haydn or Vivaldi. He is regarded as an operatic reformer who tossed out the affectations and exhibitionism of bombastic Italian opera of the mid-18th century, returning to simplicity and comprehensibility. Gluck was well versed in the Italian and German musical tradition, travelled around Europe, and even spent some time in Prague. At just under 30 years of age he won an engagement in a Milanese orchestra, and in that city he mostly composed works in the opera seria genre. He also wrote two operas on commission for London’s Covent Garden.

Gluck’s ballet music on the popular subject of Don Juan belongs to his period in Vienna, where he was appointed in 1754 to the prestigious post of Kapellmeister of the Court Opera and court composer of theatrical and chamber music. He finished his pantomime-ballet based on Molière’s comedy in 1761, just a year before the premiere of his pivotal work, the reform opera Orfeo ed Euridice. According to period accounts, just like in Orfeo ed Euridice, here too the composer was able to bring into the world a work that departed from the conventions of the period. Instead of a traditional performance in the gallant style with virtuosic dancing and musically more-or-less interchangeable numbers, he let the dramatic story unfold, filled with the wide range of emotions and personality traits of the individual characters. Several composers took inspiration from Gluck’s Don Juan, including Gluck himself, when he worked the concluding dance of the furies into the French version of Orfeo (Orphée et Eurydice, premiered in 1774). Gluck’s influence on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart can be heard in the final scene of Act III of The Marriage of Figaro, into which Mozart composed one of Gluck’s musical motifs. 

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

In the early nineteenth century, Beethoven was known to the Viennese public mainly as a pianist and a skilled improviser, but after the premiere of his Symphony No. 1. in C Major, he also began to earn a reputation as a composer. While composing his Symphony No. 2 (1801–1802), Beethoven was undergoing a crisis involving his physical condition. He was not healthy, and the problems had been manifesting themselves for several years. Without knowing the real cause of his problems, physicians had been prescribing various therapies, but they did not help. His hearing – the most important sense for a musician – was constantly worsening. In 1802 Beethoven wrote his brothers a letter later named after its place of origin, the "Heiligenstadt Testament". Heiligenstadt, now part of Vienna, remains an idyllic place. The despair of Beethoven’s words sharply contrasts with the peace and quiet and the undisturbed atmosphere of the place. He contemplated death, but he chose to live. We can sense this decision from the Symphony No. 2 in D Major. One period music critic descried the symphony’s defiant music as being like "a wounded dragon that refuses to die, but furiously thrashes about with its tail". This was the first symphony to contain a movement labelled as a "scherzo".

Ludwig van Beethoven
Symfonie č. 8 F dur op. 93

V létě 1812 se Ludwig van Beethoven konečně seznámil s Johannem Wolfgangem Goethem. Setkání v Teplicích ho však spíše zklamalo – básník na něho nepůsobil ani jako revolucionář, ani jako spřízněný demokrat, spíše jako stárnoucí dvořan. Ani Beethoven neudělal dobrý dojem na Goetha – byl na něho moc náruživý a jeho způsoby podle Goetha hraničily s hrubostí. V jediném ohledu básníka oslovil: jako neohrožený a originální umělec. Právě v letech 1812 a 1813 byl Beethoven plný kompozičního elánu, mimo drobnější skladby psal současně SedmouOsmou symfonii. Obě skladby vyzařují energii a radost, je proto s podivem, že první uvedení Osmé 27. února 1814 za řízení autora velký úspěch nepřineslo. Současníkům se ve srovnání s předchozími symfoniemi zdála příliš málo náročná a překvapující. Na vině však byla především nešťastná dramaturgie premiérového koncertu.

Beethovenovu Osmou symfonii můžeme charakterizovat jako dílo rozjasněné, čiré, dílo mistra zkratky a znalce hudební podstaty. Navíc není vše nudné a podle „šablony“. Běžná čtyřvětá struktura i klasické formy jednotlivých částí jsou periodicky narušovány různými, mnohdy humornými prvky. V první větě jsou to velké rytmické nepravidelnosti. Zvláštní ráz díla zvýrazňuje i absence typicky pomalé části. Allegretto scherzando je jiskřivé, brilantní a suverénní. Menuet třetí věty je spíše zemitým, ale rychlým ländlerem s noblesní instrumentací, podtrženou melodií lesních rohů v triu. Finale v rondové formě je nejenergičtější částí symfonie. Má pochodový charakter, Beethoven zde používá „sforzando“ v přiznávkách smyčců, dokola opakuje hlavní téma, vytváří velký kontrast mezi extrémně vysokými a extrémně hlubokými tóny. V některých částech mezi rondy se setkáme s určitou delikátností, za okamžik však opět nastupuje rázné úvodní téma s fanfárami trubek a bicích a s hlučným tečkovaným rytmem. Beethoven považoval osmou symfonii za jednu ze svých nejlepších, Robert Schumann ocenil jeho „hluboký humor“ a napsal, že druhá věta ho naplnila „klidem a štěstím“.

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