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Back to the future: Beethoven symphony defies time and space

Back to the future: Beethoven symphony defies time and space

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Part of a rare first edition of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony from the Moravian Music Foundation’s archives.

To the casual viewer, the ecru-colored musical score sitting on a stand in the Moravian Music Foundation in Old Salem looks pretty much like any other sheet music.

“It’s immediately familiar and looks like the music of today,” said Timothy Redmond, music director of the Winston-Salem Symphony.

Upon closer inspection, a couple of things jump out: 1) The score has no rehearsal letters or measure numbers, so an orchestra leader couldn’t easily tell players where to start over during practice, and 2) The score was published in 1809.

Oh, and it’s a first edition printing of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, also called the “Pastoral.”

“It reminds you that this is both brand new and a little glimpse of history,” Redmond said. “The paper size is almost the same as what we have now.”

Greeted with the fact that the local Moravian Archive has a first edition of Beethoven’s Sixth, the Winston-Salem Symphony, which had been planning to perform Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony back in April, pivoted and decided to present the Sixth instead.

Sadly, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, the concert was postponed to July, then canceled. It was to be part of a huge area-wide celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday.

More than 30 arts organizations throughout the area had banded together to present Beethoven Rocks WS, but it’s all on hold, due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Realizing a first

It was during those early planning sessions last fall that David Blum, a research librarian at the Moravian Music Foundation in Old Salem, realized that the foundation owns an original edition of a set of parts of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the “Pastoral.”

While Blum was doing a routine cataloging of material that the foundation has owned for years, he noticed the plate number of the printing was 1809, his first clue that he was onto a first edition.

He thought that would be great — but unlikely; they are very rare — so he checked the information in the Grove, a classic compendium of historical documents, which affirmed his original suspicions.

Ever-vigilant and skeptical, Blum next contacted David Levy, a professor of music at Wake Forest University and a world-renowned Beethoven expert.

Levy then reached out to the Beethoven-Haus in Bonn, Germany, and they confirmed that what Blum had was, indeed, a first edition.

Only a few dozen libraries and archives around the world own first editions of Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Besides the Beethoven-Haus, other copies reside at institutions such as the National Library of Poland, Oxford University, the British Library, Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and the National Library of Austria (Vienna); and in the U.S.: The Free Library of Philadelphia, and the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San José State University.

Blum told Mary Beth Johnson, chief operations officer, at the symphony about his find, and Johnson told Redmond, who, it turns out, has a special place in his heart for the “Pastoral”: It was the first piece of music that he directed with an orchestra - when he was 16 or 17.

“Pastoral” was one of the very first “programmatic” symphonies with musical references to the physical world. Beethoven gave it a title and gave the movements titles: 1. Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside, 2. Scene by the brook, 3. Merry gathering of country folk, 4. Thunder, Storm, 5. Shepherd’s song; Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm.

“Scene by the brook” has three bird calls, and it was one of the first symphonies to use trombones.

“Trombones were used in church,” Levy said. “And to represent the supernatural in opera.

“This was Beethoven bringing the church into the symphony.”

The “Pastoral” was influental on all that came after it, Redmond said, “After that, programmatic symphonies took off.

“It’s absolutely astounding that the people in Salem had this first edition. It shows you how up to date the Moravians were.”

Carry it on

Although Redmond hasn’t yet been able to conduct the Winston-Salem Symphony in the Sixth Symphony, he recently spent a week teaching it to young conductors.

“The course I taught was for the Ingenium Academy, an international summer school for music,” Redmond said. “I developed the course a couple of years ago. We ran it virtually this year with conductors aged 14-21 from New York, California, Hong Kong, China, Germany, Jamaica and the UK.”

The first edition of the “Pastoral” Symphony that the Moravian Foundation has is a complete set of parts, not a full (conductor’s) score.

Often, in Beethoven’s day, concerts were performed without conductors, and the first violinist led the orchestra.

“It reminds us about how these pieces were performed at the time they were written,” Redmond said.

The violin part is full of cues so the violinist would know what the rest of the orchestra was playing.

“It will have a little note that tells you what the flute was playing, what the oboe was playing,” Redmond said. “The concertmaster could know what was going on.”

The Moravian Music Foundation has other early editions and arrangements of Beethoven’s music, which they plan to feature in chamber music concerts as part of the 250th Beethoven anniversary year — whenever that happens.

Levy had been heavily involved in plans for Beethoven Rocks WS before COVID-19. He has just returned from Bonn, Germany, with the thematic catalog of all the Beethoven works listed.

“These are connections that we are building,” he said.

Coming soon

The Moravian foundation also has an arrangement of the “Pastoral” for string sextet. The symphony plans to videotape a performance in December and share it online, according to Johnson.

“It should be easy to get six players and have them spaced far enough apart and be safe,” Levy said.

It’s something to look forward to until we can once again pack into a concert hall and hear 60 or so musicians play Beethoven’s symphonies — and more.


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