Thursday 26 March

Symphony No 3

Tonight's programme

Weber Overture: Euryanthe
Mendelssohn Concerto for Violin and Piano
Schumann Symphony No 3, 'Rhenish'

Sir John Eliot Gardiner  conductor
Kristian Bezuidenhout piano
Isabelle Faust  violin
London Symphony Orchestra

Carl Maria von Weber
Overture: Euryanthe Op 81

The world premiere of Weber’s opera Der Freischütz (The Free-Shooter) in Berlin in 1821 was the high point of the composer’s career. Soon it was playing in opera houses all over the western world. The influence of Der Freischütz on a whole generation of Romantic nationalists was immense, and not just in Weber’s native Germany. Alas, he was never to repeat its success. His opera Euryanthe (1823) was reasonably well received at first, but doubts soon escalated, especially concerning its libretto, which degenerates into absurdity in the third act, in which all the characters meet quite coincidentally in the middle of a rocky desert.

The music, however, is another matter – the influential musicologist Donald Tovey even pronounced it musically superior to Wagner’s Lohengrin – and there have been several prestigious attempts to rescue it. Fortunately for orchestral concert-goers, the Overture to Euryanthe is an unqualified success, and it manages to give a taste of what Weber might have achieved if he’d found a better text.

Several themes from the opera feature in the Overture. After the introductory flourish, winds and timpani develop a motif from the hero Adolar’s aria expressing confidence in the fidelity of his beloved Euryanthe. Soon after this, the much more melodious second theme (violins) derives from another of Adolar’s arias, again expressing his love and devotion.

Weber’s flair for daring orchestration, so much on display in Der Freischütz, reveals itself at the beginning of the central development section, where the tempo drops to Largo and eight muted solo violins, with tremolando violas, conjure up the ghost of Euryanthe’s sister Emma, who saves the day by scaring the heroine’s duplicitous rival Eglantine into confessing her wickedness. The return of Adolar’s themes in the final recapitulatory section unquestionably heralds the opera’s concluding celebration of faith and true love.

Note by Stephen Johnson
Stephen Johnson is the author of Bruckner Remembered (Faber). He also contributes regularly to BBC Music Magazine and The Guardian, and broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 (Discovering Music), BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service.

Image: Theater am Kärntnertor, Vienna

Carl Maria von Weber

Born in Holstein, North Germany, Weber was the eldest of three children. After being discharged from the militia, his father Franz took up a number of musical directorships and founded a theatre company in Hamburg. His mother Genovefa was a Viennese singer. Weber had four musically gifted cousins, one of whom was Constanze Weber, who married Mozart in 1782, a catalyst in Franz’s ambitions of making the young Weber into a child prodigy like his cousin-in-law.

A gifted violinist, Weber’s father taught the boy music and gave him a comprehensive education. In 1798, Weber went to Salzburg to study with Michael Haydn, and that same year saw Weber’s first published work – six fughettas for piano. Aged 14, Weber and family moved to Freiburg where he wrote his first opera Das Waldmädchen (The Forest Maiden). The latter half of the first decade of the century was marred with troubles for Weber – debt, an ill-fated affair, his father misappropriating a vast amount of money – however, he remained a prolific composer.

Things brightened up from 1810; he visited several cities and spent time as Director of Opera in Prague and Dresden, and also worked in Berlin promoting and establishing German opera. The successful premiere of Der Freischütz in Berlin in 1821 led to performances all over Europe. In 1823, he was invited to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, to compose and produce Oberon, which premiered in 1826.

While in London, Weber was already suffering from tuberculosis, which then took hold entirely. He died during the night at the house of Sir George Smart in June 1826. Buried in London, his remains were transferred 18 years later to the family vault in Dresden

Composer profile by Andrew Stewart Andrew Stewart is a freelance music journalist and writer. He is the author of The LSO at 90, and contributes to a wide variety of specialist classical music publications.

Felix Mendelssohn
Concerto for Violin and Piano
in D minor


1. Allegro
2. Adagio
3. Allegro

Isabelle Faust violin
Kristian Bezuidenhout piano

Mendelssohn wrote his Concerto for Violin and Piano in 1823, when he was 14. For any 14-year-old to be writing a concerto would be precocious enough, but by this stage Mendelssohn was already an experienced composer, with a piano concerto, a violin concerto (not the famous one) and nine symphonies for string orchestra to his name. Just two years later, he was to create one of the towering masterpieces of the Romantic chamber repertoire, his glorious Octet for strings.

Growing up in an energetically cultured family environment certainly helped. As assimilated Jews, the Mendelssohns were dedicated to the German notion of Bildung: education in the widest possible sense – development of the philosophical, emotional and spiritual, as well as the intellectual faculties. Mendelssohn’s mother, Lea, was a prime example of what we’d now call the ‘Tiger Mother’. One young visitor to the Mendelssohn household remembered her pricking up her ears when she heard young Felix laughing somewhere, and calling out, ‘Felix, tust du nichts?’ – ‘Felix, are you doing nothing?’

Initially Mendelssohn’s parents weren’t happy with the idea of his becoming a musician – there were safer, surer ways of finding fame and fortune. But by the time he was eight they yielded to the inevitable and found him a composition teacher, Carl Friedrich Zelter. It turned out to be an inspired choice. Zelter gave his young pupil a thorough grounding in the craft of music-making, at the same time introducing him to the music of the 18th-century giant J S Bach, then little-known outside specialist musical circles.

The encounter with Bach was a turning point for Mendelssohn, and Bach’s influence can be heard at several points in this Concerto. The choice of two soloists – in an age in which the soloist as romantic individual was beginning to achieve cult status – shows how deeply Bach (who wrote several magnificent ‘double’ concertos) had left his mark. So too does the energetic, muscular counterpoint at the beginning of the first movement. There are also echoes of Mozart, especially the magnificent D minor Piano Concerto, K466, and yet this is also clearly the work of a young composer who is beginning to know his own mind. Especially daring is the slower, recitative-like section later on, in which intensely romantic violin writing is accompanied by tremolos from the piano – suddenly this is very much 19th-century music.

Mendelssohn was an important exponent of J S Bach's music in his lifetime. After reviving a score of Bach's St Matthew Passion from his grandmother, he staged the work in Berlin in 1829 – the first ever performance outside of Leipzig. Mendelssohn's admiration for Bach's music is also reflected in the oratorios Elijah and St Paul, as well as his six Preludes and Fugues for solo piano.

The long, complex first movement is followed by a simpler but very touching Adagio, its style looking forward to Mendelssohn’s famous Songs Without Words – soon to be a must-have in every middle class Victorian and German ‘Biedermeier’ parlour. The finale returns to the driven, impassioned style of the first movement, but before long the piano introduces a hymn-like theme with a strongly Bachian flavour. Chorale-like themes were to play similar roles in some of Mendelssohn’s later masterpieces, yet Mendelssohn’s use of it here has a dramatic force of its own. The chorale returns on violin and piano near the end of the Concerto in a confident D major, appearing to herald a triumphant major-key ending – all very suitable for a Romantic concerto. Yet it is in the Concerto’s original dark and stormy D minor that soloists and orchestra have their emphatic last word. Even at this early stage in his career, Mendelssohn is capable of being very much his own man.

Note by Stephen Johnson

Image: Bohemian Landscape with Mount Milleschauer by Caspar David Friedrich, 1808

Felix Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn was the grandson of the Enlightenment philosopher Moses Mendelssohn and son of an influential German banker. Born into a privileged family, as a boy he was encouraged to study the piano, taught how to draw by his mother and became an accomplished linguist and Classical scholar. In 1819, he began composition studies with Carl Friedrich Zelter.

'Even the smallest task in music is so absorbing, and carries us so far away from town, country, earth, and all worldly things, that it is truly a blessed gift of God.'
Felix Mendelssohn

His family’s wealth allowed their home in Berlin to become a refuge for scholars, artists and musicians. The philosopher Hegel and scientist Humboldt were among regular visitors, and members of the Court Orchestra and eminent soloists were available to perform the latest works by Felix or his older sister Fanny. Young Mendelssohn’s twelve string symphonies were first heard in the intimate setting of his father’s salon.

Mendelssohn’s maturity as a composer was marked by his Octet (1825) and concert overture to Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1826). In 1829, Mendelssohn revived Bach’s St Matthew Passion exactly 100 years after its first performance. Soon after, a trip to London and the Scottish highlands and islands inspired the overture The Hebrides. In 1830, he travelled to Italy at the suggestion of Goethe and while in Rome started his so-called ‘Scottish’ and ‘Italian’ symphonies. In 1835, he was appointed conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, greatly expanding its repertoire with early music and his own works, including the E minor Violin Concerto. Two years later, he married Cecile Jeanrenaud and in 1843, he founded the Leipzig Conservatory.

His magnificent biblical oratorio Elijah, commissioned for and first performed at the 1846 Birmingham Musical Festival, soon gained a place alongside Handel’s Messiah in the hearts of British choral societies and audiences. He died in Leipzig in 1847.

Composer profile by Andrew Stewart

Schumann Symphony No 3 in E-flat major Op 97,

1. Lebhaft (Lively)
2. Scherzo: Sehr mässig (Very moderate)
3. Nicht schnell (Not fast)
4. Feierlich (Ceremonious)
5. Lebhaft (Lively)

In March 1850, Robert Schumann was offered the post of Music Director in the Rhineland port of Düsseldorf. At first he was apprehensive: he had doubts (well-founded, as it turned out) about his abilities as a conductor, and he remembered his friend Mendelssohn’s disparaging comments about the quality of the musicianship in Düsseldorf. It seems he was hoping for something more prestigious in his home city of Leipzig, or possibly in his adopted home of Dresden – though the experience of the recent armed uprising in Dresden had made him understandably nervous. Even so, Schumann’s mood could swing suddenly: a trip to Cologne, just up river from Düsseldorf, later that month sent his imagination soaring. The magnificent Gothic cathedral thrilled him, and in September, he made a point of returning to witness a procession for the enthronement of the city’s new Cardinal.

Delight in the sights, sounds and general character of the Rhinelands was a major influence on the moods and colours of the Third Symphony. But the title Schumann chose, ‘Rhenish’, is also a sign of his growing nationalist sympathies – as is his use of German tempo markings instead of the usual Italian. For Germans, the River Rhine has long been a potent national symbol, as Wagner understood well when he made it the hiding place of the elemental treasure in his opera Rhinegold.

It is important to remember that in Schumann’s time, ‘Germany’ as a political entity did not exist: instead there was a strange, loose federation of German speaking duchies, principalities and city states, and the notion of a unified pan-German land was still a Utopian dream, a long way short of the sinister significance it was to acquire in the 20th century.

While Schumann may have been thinking in specifically national terms, the glorious opening – a theme that bursts straight onto the scene and sustains its song as though borne forward on a powerful current – has been strongly influential outside German-speaking lands: Dvořák, Borodin, Elgar and Nielsen were all audibly impressed by its headstrong 3/4 momentum. For Schumann, this was undoubtedly a reflection of the great river itself: there are quieter moments, but the sweeping energy continues to the end.

Schumann may also have been thinking of the river in the following Scherzo. This movement is often described as a Ländler – the country cousin of the sophisticated urban waltz – and the main theme does have a hearty Germanic folksy quality. But Schumann’s metronome marking is relatively fast which, combined with the emphatic downbeat, gives this music the character of an energetic rowing song.

Popular in Austria and Bavaria at the end of the 18th century, the Ländler is a folk dance in 3/4 time featuring hopping and stamping. With the growing popularity of dance halls in 19th-century Europe, the Ländler became both quicker and more elegant.

The third movement is a gentle intermezzo, with fine watery imagery: the flowing, divided lower strings (subtly enhanced by cello solo) in the second theme, and the running bass semiquavers in the coda, are suggestive of deep, unseen undercurrents. This hint of something powerful at work under the surface prepares the way for the fourth movement. Here the key changes to a grave E-flat minor, as Schumann records his impressions of the ceremony in Cologne Cathedral. So far in this symphony we’ve heard nothing from the three trombones; now they enter in solemn splendour, imitating the counterpoint of a sombre church motet. E-flat minor was a key Schumann chose for some of his darkest utterances: the tragic Manfred Overture and the dread-saturated ‘Ich hab im Traum geweinet’ (I wept in a dream) from the song cycle Dichterliebe are in the same key.

The final movement brings extreme contrast, bursting into life without any preparation – a reminder perhaps of how Schumann was prone to abrupt moodswings. The effect is like stepping out of a vast, dimly lit cathedral, full of grim reminders of suffering and mortality, into the bright sunlight of a bustling Rhineland market town. Gradually Schumann draws together memories of themes from earlier movements, before ending in a rousing tumult of brass fanfares and surging strings. The elemental power of the great river now carries us through to the close.

Note by Stephen Johnson
Stephen Johnson is the author of Bruckner Remembered (Faber). He also contributes regularly to BBC Music Magazine and The Guardian, and broadcasts for BBC Radio 3 (Discovering Music), BBC Radio 4 and the BBC World Service.

Image: Town on the Rhine by Heinrich Eduard Heyn, late 19th century

Robert Schumann

The youngest son of a Saxon bookseller, Robert Schumann was encouraged by his father to study music. Soon after his tenth birthday in 1820, young Robert began taking piano lessons in his home town of Zwickau. Although Schumann enrolled as a law student at Leipzig University in 1828, music remained an overriding passion and he continued to study piano with Friedrich Wieck.

'To send light into the darkness of men's hearts – such is the duty of the artist.'
Robert Schumann

The early death of his father and two of his three brothers influenced Schumann’s appreciation of the world’s suffering, intensified further by his readings of Romantic poets such as Novalis, Byron and Hölderlin and his own experiments as poet and playwright. Schumann composed a number of songs in his youth, but it was not until he fell in love with and became secretly engaged to the teenage Clara Wieck in September 1837 that he seriously began to exploit his song-writing gift.

Schumann wrote hundreds of songs and his cycles Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, Frauen-Liebe und Leben and Myrthen continue to enjoy pride of place in recital repertory. Less well-known is his one opera, Genoveva, premiered in 1850 around the same time as Wagner’s Lohengrin and similarly inspired by Germanic legend. Unfortunately, negative criticism in the press was instrumental in the composer’s decision not to write a second opera.

Besides welcoming the financial return that published Lieder (songs) could deliver, Schumann was also able to preserve his intense feelings for Clara in the richly expressive medium of song. The personal nature of Schumann’s art even influenced his choice of certain themes, with the notes A–B–E–G–G enshrined as the theme of one set of piano variations in tribute to his friend Countess Meta von Abegg. Schumann also developed his skills as a composer of symphonies and concertos during his years in Leipzig.

Four years after their marriage in September 1840, the Schumanns moved to Dresden where Robert completed his C major Symphony. In the early 1850s, the composer’s health and mental state seriously declined. In March 1854, he decided to enter a sanatorium near Bonn, where he died two years later.

Composer profile by Stephen Johnson

Sir John Eliot Gardiner

Sir John Eliot Gardiner stands as an international leader in today's musical life, respected as one of the world's most innovative and dynamic musicians, constantly at the forefront of enlightened interpretation. His work as Artistic Director of his Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique has marked him out as a central figure in the early music revival and a pioneer of historically informed performance. As a regular guest of the world's leading symphony orchestras, including the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, Gardiner conducts repertoire from the 17th to the 20th century.

The extent of Gardiner's repertoire is illustrated in the extensive catalogue of award-winning recordings with his own ensembles and leading orchestras including the Vienna Philharmonic on major labels (including Decca, Philips, Erato and 30 recordings for Deutsche Grammophon), as wide-ranging as Mozart, Schumann, Berlioz, Elgar and Kurt Weill, in addition to works by Renaissance and Baroque composers. Since 2005, the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras have recorded on their independent label, Soli Deo Gloria, established to release the live recordings made during Gardiner's Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in 2000, for which he received Gramophone's 2011 Special Achievement Award and a Diapason d'or de l'année 2012. His many recording accolades include two Grammy awards and he has received more Gramophone Awards than any other living artist.

Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras perform regularly at the world's major venues and festivals, including Salzburg, Berlin and Lucerne festivals, Lincoln Center and the BBC Proms, where Gardiner has performed over 60 times since his debut in 1968. In 2017, he celebrated the 450th anniversary of the birth of Monteverdi with Benvenuto Cellini, for which they were awarded the RPS Music Award and Gardiner named Conductor of the Year at the Opernwelt Awards. Last season, they also toured together to Carnegie Hall, Concertgebouw Amsterdam, Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, Teatro alla Scala and Vienna Musikverein. Gardiner has conducted operas at the Wiener Staatsoper, Teatro alla Scala, Milan, Opéra national de Paris and Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where he has appeared regularly since his debut in 1973 and returned last season for Mozart Le Nozze di Figaro. From 1983 to 1988 he was artistic director of Opéra de Lyon, where he founded its new orchestra.

Gardiner's book, Music in the Castle of Heaven: A Portrait of Johann Sebastian Bach, was published in October 2013 by Allen Lane, and awarded the Prix des Muses award (Singer-Polignac). From 2014 to 2017, Gardiner was the first ever President of the BachArchiv Leipzig. Among numerous awards in recognition of his work, Sir John Eliot Gardiner holds honorary doctorates from the Royal College of Music, New England Conservatory of Music, the universities of Lyon, Cremona, St Andrews and King’s College, Cambridge where he himself studied and is now an Honorary Fellow; he is also an Honorary Fellow of King's College, London and the British Academy, and an Honorary Member of the Royal Academy of Music, who awarded him their prestigious Bach Prize in 2008; he became the inaugural Christoph Wolff Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Harvard University in 2014/15 and was awarded the Concertgebouw Prize in January 2016. Gardiner was made Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur in 2011, and was given the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2005. In the UK, he was made a Commander of the British Empire in 1990, and awarded a knighthood for his services to music in the 1998 Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Image: Sim Canetty-Clarke

Kristian Bezuidenhout

Kristian Bezuidenhout is one of today’s most notable and exciting keyboard artists, equally at home on the fortepiano, harpsichord, and modern piano. Born in South Africa in 1979, he began his studies in Australia, completed them at the Eastman School of Music, and now lives in London. After initial training as a pianist with Rebecca Penneys, he explored early keyboards, studying harpsichord with Arthur Haas, fortepiano with Malcolm Bilson, and continuo playing and performance practice with Paul O’Dette. Kristian first gained international recognition at the age of 21 after winning the prestigious first prize, and audience prize in the Bruges Fortepiano Competition.

Kristian is an Artistic Director of the Freiburger Barockorchester and Principal Guest Director with the English Concert. He is a regular guest with the world’s leading ensembles including Les Arts Florissants, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Orchestre des Champs Elysées, Koninklijk Concertgebouworkest, Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Leipzig Gewandhausorchester; and has guest-directed (from the keyboard) the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century, Tafelmusik, Collegium Vocale, Juilliard 415, Kammerakademie Potsdam and Dunedin Consort (St Matthew Passion).

He has performed with celebrated artists including Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Philippe Herreweghe, Frans Brüggen, Trevor Pinnock, Giovanni Antonini, Jean-Guihen Queyras, Isabelle Faust, Alina Ibragimova, Rachel Podger, Carolyn Sampson, Anne Sofie von Otter, Mark Padmore and Matthias Goerne.

Kristian's rich and award-winning discography on Harmonia Mundi includes the complete keyboard music of Mozart (Diapason d’Or de L’année, Preis der Deutschen Schallplattenkritik, Caecilia Prize); Mozart Violin Sonatas with Petra Müllejans; Mendelssohn and Mozart Piano Concertos with the Freiburger Barockorchester (ECHO Klassik); Beethoven, Mozart Lieder and Schumann Dichterliebe with Mark Padmore (Edison Award). In 2013, he was nominated as Gramophone Magazine’s Artist of the Year and was awarded the Wiener Flötenuhr by the Mozartgemeinde Wienin 2019 for his recordings of Mozart keyboard music. Recent releases include Winterreisse with Mark Padmore, Bach sonatas for violin and harpsichord with Isabelle Faust and a recording of Haydn piano sonatas.

Image: Marco Borggreve

Isabelle Faust

After winning the renowned Leopold Mozart Competition and the Paganini Competition at a very young age, Isabelle Faust soon gave regular performances with the world’s major orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the NHK Symphony Orchestra Tokyo, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and the Baroque Orchestra Freiburg.

This led to regular collaborations with conductors like Claudio Abbado, Giovanni Antonini, Frans Brüggen, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Bernard Haitink, Daniel Harding, Philippe Herreweghe, Andris Nelsons and Robin Ticciati.

Isabelle Faust’s vast artistic curosity includes all eras and forms of instrumental cooperation. Thus she never considers music as an end in itself but rather advances the piece’s essence in a devoted, subtle and conscientious way. In addition to big symphonic violin concertos this includes, for instance, Schubert’s octet with historical instruments as well as György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments with Anna Prohaska or Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du Soldat with Dominique Horwitz. With great commitment she renders an outstanding service to the performance of contemporary music. Premieres of Péter Eötvös, Brett Dean, Ondřej Adámek and Oscar Strasnoy are in preparation for the upcoming seasons.

Numerous recordings have been unanimously praised by critics and awarded the Diapason d’or, the Gramophone Award, the Choc de l’année and other prizes. Recent recordings include Johann Sebastian Bach’s violin concertos with Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin and Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s violin concerto with Freiburg Baroque Orchestra under the direction of Pablo Heras-Casado. In 2018, a recording with sonatas for violin and harpsichord by Johann Sebastian Bach was released, recorded with Kristian Bezuidenhout. Isabelle Faust presented further popular recordings among others of the Sonatas and Partitas for violin solo by Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as violin concertos by Ludwig van Beethoven and Alban Berg under the direction of Claudio Abbado. She shares a long-standing chamber music partnership with the pianist Alexander Melnikov. Among others, joint recordings with sonatas for piano and violin by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig van Beethoven or Johannes Brahms have been released.

Image: Felix Broede

The LSO was established in 1904 and has a unique ethos. As a musical collective, it is built on artistic ownership and partnership. With an inimitable signature sound, the LSO’s mission is to bring the greatest music to the greatest number of people.

The LSO has been the only Resident Orchestra at the Barbican Centre in the City of London since it opened in 1982, giving 70 symphonic concerts there every year. The Orchestra works with a family of artists that includes some of the world’s greatest conductors – Sir Simon Rattle as Music Director, Principal Guest Conductors Gianandrea Noseda and François-Xavier Roth, and Michael Tilson Thomas as Conductor Laureate.

Through LSO Discovery, it is a pioneer of music education, offering musical experiences to 60,000 people every year at its music education centre LSO St Luke’s on Old Street, across East London and further afield.

The LSO strives to embrace new digital technologies in order to broaden its reach, and with the formation of its own record label LSO Live in 1999 it pioneered a revolution in recording live orchestral music. With a discography spanning many genres and including some of the most iconic recordings ever made the LSO is now the most recorded and listened to orchestra in the world, regularly reaching over 3,500,000 people worldwide each month on Spotify and beyond. The Orchestra continues to innovate through partnerships with market-leading tech companies, as well as initiatives such as LSO Play. The LSO is a highly successful creative enterprise, with 80% of all funding self-generated.

Image: Ranald Mackechnie

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In the mean time: 

Sunday 29 March 7pm
Sibelius Symphony No 5

Janáček Sinfonietta
Sibelius Symphony No 5

Sir Simon Rattle conductor