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Beethoven's "Eroica," with Luks and the Handel and Haydn Society

Sunday, March 26, 2023

This Sunday at 7pm, on WCRB In Concert with the Handel and Haydn Society, Václav Luks conducts Beethoven's revolutionary Symphony No. 3, the "Eroica," as well as rarely heard music by Wranitzky.

Václav Luks, conductor
Handel and Haydn Society Orchestra
Handel and Haydn Society Youth Chorus, Dr. Kevin J. McDonald, conductor

Giovanni Battista MARTINI Domine, ad Adjuvandum me Festina
Paul WRANITZKY Symphony in D minor, La Tempesta
BEETHOVEN Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, Op. 55, Eroica

Recorded at Symphony Hall on Jan. 22, 2023

Learn more about upcoming concerts by the Handel and Haydn Society

Read Handel and Haydn Society's program notes for this concert

This concert is no longer available on demand.

Hear a conversation with Václav Luks and CRB's Alan McLellan using the audio player above, and read the transcript below:


Alan McClellan I'm Alan McClellan and this is WCRB In Concert, and Václav Luks is conducting the Handel and Haydn Society in music by [Paul] Wranitzky and Beethoven this weekend. And we're very excited to welcome him to the studio today. Welcome.

Václav Luks Hello.

Alan McClellan It's been several months since you were here last and you've been busy with the 1704 Project, which is your early music orchestra and chorus as well. What projects have you been working on?

Václav Luks 1704, Collegium 1704 is an orchestra I founded in 2005. And it's, I would say it's my major part of my musical life is connected to Collegium 1704. And so we are doing not only symphonic repertoire, baroque repertoire, adding also opera. And one of the most important things recently was Alcina by Handel in the National Theater in Brno, and we did it in France. We are very often in France and in Germany. And so I would say our field is overall baroque music, but recently we did also a lot of repertoire close to Beethoven and Mozart. In two weeks we will do Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, for instance. And one year ago we did the opening concert for Prague Spring Festival, which is the biggest festival in Czech Republic and most prestigious festival with Smetana, my homeland. And from that concert we have a very nice recording, so, life recording. And I'm proud to present our national music on period instruments.

Alan McClellan That's wonderful. Yeah. Because we don't usually think of Smetana as being done by a period instrument orchestra, but...

Václav Luks It's quite rare. Yeah, And especially in the Czech Republic, there is a very huge tradition. It's like something very special for the hearts of Czech people. So to do it on period instruments is not without danger [laughs].

Alan McClellan I'm sure. Yes. Just from the standpoint of the trumpets alone, I would imagine, yeah [both laughing]. So this program with the Handel and Haydn Society is a trip to Vienna in the late 1700s, early 1800s, and music by Wranitzky and Beethoven...must have been a vibrant place to be at that time.

Václav Luks Yes.

Alan McClellan And Wranitzky was deep in the heart of it, I understand, a contemporary of Mozart's.

Václav Luks Exactly. He was born the same year, 1756, and he was a very important person for musical life in Vienna. In 1790, from 1790 here he was principal conductor, Kapellmeister in the Hoftheater [court theater] and highly respected as a conductor by Mozart, Haydn, and Beethoven. It's also interesting that he conducted, for instance, the premiere of Beethoven's First Symphony, and was really like a VIP person for musical life in Vienna around 1800. He composed more than 40 symphonies, operas, very broad repertoire. And it's very rare that his music is today, not so well known, because there's really a lot to discover.

Alan McClellan Yes. It seems that after he died, he was not heard—

Václav Luks Yeah.

Alan McClellan —again.

Václav Luks That there is the problem always when we have the three big geniuses like Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, sometimes we are looking into the history of music with some limits because we see the big composers, but we don't see the broad field that the...Because we don't think that Mozart or Beethoven was like isolated person. There was a lot of other composers maybe for us, not at the same level, but with very high quality of the music composing very high quality of the music. And when Beethoven respected someone like Wranitzky, so it must be interesting person I think, because yeah, usually Mozart and Beethoven were very strong, critical to the colleagues and if someone was in their eyes on the high level, it means something. Yeah.

Alan McClellan Yeah. He was highly respected by Haydn as well, right?

Václav Luks Yes, yes, yeah.

Alan McClellan So what was the atmosphere in kind of a revolutionary time, wasn't it?

Václav Luks Yeah. Not only musical, also politically, yeah.

Alan McClellan Yes. And I think...Did Wranitzky respond to it differently than Beet—I mean, Beethoven we have an idea that he was very politically connected and idealistic, but...perhaps Wranitzky, not so much?

Václav Luks We don't know exactly about his opinions, like we don't have so many letters and the, let's say, evidences about the life of Wranitzky, like with Beethoven. But he composed a lot of program music, I mean, with non-musically content, like very famous at his time, Grande Sinfonie [Caractéristique], for Peace with France. So there's this very beautiful piece with a lot of, illustration of the battle, of the peace on a funeral march. And if you hear like a funeral march in the Eroica in the second movement, in Beethoven and you hear the funeral march in the Wranitzky Symphony, you can understand that the political themes, subjects were very interesting also for composers to be inspired by the political situation at the time.

Alan McClellan Yeah, that's interesting. But in this symphony that we're going to hear by Wranitzky—

Václav Luks Yes.

Alan McClellan It's not so much political—

Václav Luks No.

Alan McClellan —as all about nature or at least the final movement is all about nature.

Václav Luks Final movement is a—

Alan McClellan A tempesta.

Václav Luks Tempesta. Then we have a lot of, uh, effects like...For me, it's very modern music. You can hear instrumentation and the musical effects. Like sometimes sounds like Berlioz, it's really very modern. And he used also percussions like a big drum and timpani, very strong. And that's really a very interesting piece. I don't know any other piece in this form from around 1800, of course, the tempest in Baroque music, you have a lot of different tempests from composers like Handel or Rameau. But in the classical time, not so many. But this is very interesting piece between Baroque and Berlioz—I would say this is some strange combination and a very original and very particular musical language.

Alan McClellan That's interesting. We were talking about how highly respected Wranitzky was, and I think Beethoven didn't put as much of a priority perhaps on being so highly respected.

Václav Luks Yeah.

Alan McClellan They had a very different approach to music and to life, I feel.

Václav Luks Yes, and to the social status, let's say, yeah. But because Beethoven was a very strange person, I would say he was like, really someone outside of the system and I mean, the story of the dedication of Eroica speaks itself, no? Originally dedicated to Napoleon. And after coronation, Napoleon to the Emperor, he distorted the dedication and he changed the dedication to [Joseph Franz von] Lobkowitz, his supporter. It is interesting because the family of Lobkowitz was Czech nobility, and the first performance in the small chamber group was in Bohemia, in the small castle of the family of Lobkowitz. And of course, the first performance with the orchestra was in Vienna. But the very first performance, we don't know how exactly it was. Maybe a few instruments, string quartet, maybe with the piano, a few winds was in the castle, Jezeří, close to Prague from the family—

Alan McClellan So there's a close connection with—

Václav Luks Yes! Yes, yes.

Alan McClellan —Czech culture—

Václav Luks Yeah, yeah.

Alan McClellan Beethoven's Eroica, yeah. And yeah, Beethoven's disgust with Napoleon was, is a marvelous thing to to note in that story, but it just, it illustrates his personality as well.

Václav Luks Yeah.

Alan McClellan Napoleon was the impetus for the composition—

Václav Luks Yeah.

Alan McClellan —of the symphony. How did Beethoven put that kind of heroic aspect into it?

Václav Luks We have to see the symphony in context, not only of Beethoven's time, but also of his work. Because when you hear the Second Symphony, and the Fourth Symphony, in between the Third, of course, obviously...The Second and the Fourth are very classical. They're...let's say, "normal". What is normal in...Beethoven's never normal, but in the classical form, not too short, not too long, really very beautiful, symmetric, nice.

Václav Luks But the Eroica, is something really absolutely out. Yeah. It's...The dimension of the symphony is after the Ninth Symphony, the longest symphony, and the construction of the first movement. It's so complicated. There's so many, so many ideas, so complicated construction. It's a sonata form, but so free. So...I think this inspiration, this heroic aspect is omnipresent. Yes. Because the first movement, or the first two chords, this [mimics opening chords of Eroica] And then you get [sings Eroica theme] the theme, but just the beginning, is so...something very proud, and very straight, and very... yeah. This is the effect of the music is of course, this is the muscles and this power in the music, yeah? And the dimensions, and then the second part, of course, there's this Traumarsch, the...

Alan McClellan A funeral march.

Václav Luks Funeral march. Exactly. This is a...You can hear the military aspects here. Also the small motifs from the trumpet and the horns behind the music. You have the beautiful melody of the march. And then...and behind the music is this [sings] with sadness, and the ceremonial also somehow...yeah. But the third movement scherzo...I don't see here any heroic aspect, this only in the trio horns. Maybe, this is like luscious, this is something like a divertissement for the nobility. You can hear that the horns like, I don't know what I mean, this sense to the favorite entertainment of nobility is somehow, something like that. Napoleon or Lobkowitz, I don't know. But... and very interesting because for me, the fourth movement, which is very—

Alan McClellan Wild, yes.

Václav Luks Wild, yeah? Very fast, very virtuoso. And at the end is the Andante. The Andante which is very peaceful is like the end, reminds me to Missa Solemnis after the battle scene of the Agnus Dei is peaceful music with a...this is just the piece. And he also after this...I don't know if it's a battle or something...It could be, but this Adagio, which is very shocking before the coda, the large part is very beautiful, heavenly music. So, yeah, we don't know exactly the description by Beethoven, which part means what, but for me, that's like, very obviously this is the piece immediately before the coda, which is even more wild [both laughing].

Alan McClellan Just to remind you of the wildness, so yeah, right at the end.

Václav Luks Yeah.

Alan McClellan And it's such a contrast to Wranitzky and his kind of musical description of the external forces of the storm. It's quite different to think about the, you know, kind of the internal nature of Beethoven, or is that just something that we read into it?

Václav Luks The difference between Wranitzky and Beethoven is that Beethoven symphony is dedicated to someone, or I think he composed the music for himself because he expressed his respect to a person like Napoleon before he turned in his political profile, and what he expected on the person of Napoleon was [in] the context of the French Revolution. And so it was for Napoleon something very important for his soul. This idea of revolution.

Alan McClellan Very personal.

Václav Luks Very personal, yes.

Alan McClellan Yeah.

Václav Luks And Wranitzky, this is very good conventional music, with good ideas, fantastic ideas. But Wranitzky was, let's say, like servant for the Hoftheater and for the emperor, and he made very good his work, but he was definitely not the revolutionary person like Beethoven. And he composed for the audience, and Beethoven composed for himself. I think that's the biggest difference. Yeah.

Alan McClellan That's a fascinating way to look at it, yeah. Wranitzky taking care of business—

Václav Luks Yes.

Alan McClellan —and becoming extremely successful, with good reason, because he was extremely creative and talented, and Beethoven making...Perhaps, making his mark on history, music history more because of how internal and personal he was.

Václav Luks Yes. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Alan McClellan Wow. Thank you so much for your time today. What's next for Václav Luks?

Václav Luks After one week home, next week I go to Cologne to conduct Belshazzar, Handel—fantastic oratorio, with Concerto Köln, and the great soloists I'm very much looking forward to in the Philharmonie, in Cologne, in Germany.

Alan McClellan Fantastic.

Václav Luks And then we have the program with Beethoven Seventh Symphony, and Haydn 98th Symphony—very beautiful piece, also. It's a little similar program like here. We have Wranitzky, Beethoven, we have Haydn, Beethoven, with 1704, yeah.

Alan McClellan Fantastic. So the Collegium 1704.

Václav Luks Yes.

Alan McClellan We should watch for their recordings. Václav Luks, thank you so much for this time.

Václav Luks Thank you for the invitation. Yeah. Yeah.