holyrood: savagery & inspiration

Murder of Rizzio by John Opie

“Tuning In” is LACO’s signature behind-the-music blurb that gives additional context to the repertoire that the Orchestra performs..

On March 9, 1566, the Palace of Holyroodhouse bore witness to a gruesome murder.

At the time, the castle was home to Mary Queen of Scots, the reigning monarch of Scotland. Queen Mary was relatively new to the country, having moved from France in 1561 following the death of her husband, King Francis II. Because of this, she was unprepared for Scotland’s volatile political climate and the ruthless plotting of those who wished to wrest power from her. Even her own royal entourage was not without its schemers, including David Rizzio, Queen Mary’s private secretary.

It was well-known that Rizzio was close to the queen (perhaps too close) and friendly to bribes. She regularly took his advice to heart, and at his suggestion, she married Lord Darnley in 1565. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a horrible match. Darnley constantly pushed for more power and spent most of his evenings at local bars and brothels with disreputable friends. As Queen Mary turned to her inner circle for comfort and support, suspicion began to grow about the nature of her relationship with Rizzio.

When she announced her pregnancy a few months after the marriage, many questioned who the actual father of her child was. Darnley was enraged by rumors of her infidelity, so much so that on the evening of March 9, 1566, he gathered a group of armed nobles for an attack. They burst into Queen Mary’s chambers, held a gun to her pregnant belly, dragged Rizzio from the room and stabbed him 56 times.

When Mendelssohn visited Scotland in 1829, he visited the Holyroodhouse Palace. After touring the grounds, he reflected:

We went, in the deep twilight, to the Palace of Holyrood, where Queen Mary lived and loved. There’s a little room to be seen there, with a winding staircase leading up to it. This the murderers ascended, and finding Rizzio, drew him out. Three chambers away is a small corner where they killed him. Everything around is broken and moldering, and the bright sky shines in. I believe I found today…the beginning of my Scottish Symphony.

johann peter salomon: the man who brought haydn to london

Johann Peter Salomon

“Tuning In” is LACO’s signature behind-the-music blurb that gives additional context to the repertoire that the Orchestra performs..

Joseph Haydn is beyond famous. Despite living centuries ago, his music is still played and studied around the world, and his compositional style has changed the shape of music forever. However, history has overlooked the man who helped launch Haydn to his legendary status: Johann Peter Salomon.

Born and raised in Bonn, Beethoven’s hometown, Salomon was a jack of all musical trades. He was a noted violin virtuoso, composer, arranger, orchestra director and concert entrepreneur. Deeply involved in London’s music scene in the late 18th century, Salomon was doing quite well scouting and bringing talent to perform for the city’s nobility. At the same time, Haydn was reaching international prominence as the Esterhazy Court’s brilliant composer.

Naturally, Salomon wanted to lure Haydn to London. He sent a well-known music publisher, John Bland, to purchase scores from the composer in an attempt to convince him to visit the city. Bland’s trip failed. Haydn was extremely happy working for his “beloved prince” and had no interest in selling music to the publisher. Nevertheless, fate was on Salomon’s side: shortly after Bland’s visit, Haydn’s patron Prince Nikolaus died. The Esterhazy House was succeeded by Prince Anton, who promptly fired the entirety of the court’s musicians and sent Haydn into retirement. This freed up the composer to travel and compose as he pleased. In 1791, thanks to Salomon’s persistence, he finally agreed to make the journey.

Ultimately, Haydn’s visits to London helped propel him even further into fame. He rubbed elbows with England’s elite and he met many prominent and up-and-coming composers, such as a young Beethoven. Salomon capitalized on the visit by appearing often as the principal violinist for the premieres of Haydn’s London pieces and by securing the rights to arrange and perform any and all of the works Haydn produced during his visits.

Haydn would go on to establish himself as one of music’s greatest composers, while Salomon would help found the London Philharmonic Society. Despite being a prominent musician and entrepreneur in his own right, Salomon’s achievements are often overshadowed by his associations with composers such as Haydn and Beethoven. His gravestone mentions only one of his many accomplishments: “He brought Haydn to England in 1791 and 1794.”

tuning in: order & disorder in beethoven’s “archduke”

Beethoven

“Tuning In” is LACO’s signature behind-the-music blurb that gives additional context to the repertoire that the Orchestra performs..

The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that the universe is constantly trending towards disorder. Strangely, this rule of physics seems to apply to music as well. Looking at almost any style of composition, we can see a distinct pattern in which strict formalism leads to looser and looser (i.e., more chaotic) forms and eventually to the establishment of entirely new forms or styles. From the transformation of shuffles into bebop to the evolution of Bach’s structured sounds into Glass’ cacophonous pieces, the definition of music is constantly diversifying.

Mozart and Haydn established piano trios as a genre in the mid-1700s. While they continued to fine-tune the form throughout their lives, Beethoven’s “Archduke Trio” is the first true expansion of the style. Prior to Beethoven’s work, most traditional piano trios were glorified solos in which the violin and cello acted as accompaniment and occasionally doubled the piano’s melody. This is because these pieces were written for fortepiano, the modern piano’s predecessor.

The fortepiano, which had a much smaller octave and dynamic range, gave way to the modern piano in the early 1800s as composers began to push the tight musical boundaries set by prior composers. When he composed the “Archduke Trio,” Beethoven utilized the newly extended versatility of the instrument. As a result, the trio can almost be considered a quartet, with the left and right hands of the piano contributing unique lines to the music. Further, he expanded the traditional three-movement form to a four-movement format mirroring a quartet. Throughout the piece, Beethoven experimented with the relationship between each of the “four” instruments to create a variety of textures and moods. Since the premiere of this piece, composers have continued to expand on Beethoven’s ideas, pushing the limits and definitions of piano trios and propelling music further into entropy.

tuning in – beethoven: haunted by his heroes

Beethoven

“Tuning In” is LACO’s signature behind-the-music blurb that gives additional context to the repertoire that the Orchestra performs..

When we think of Ludwig van Beethoven, we often picture the famously belligerent composer with wild hair, furiously scribbling pages of music his deaf ears will never know. There is perhaps no better anecdote that illustrates the accuracy of this image than the story behind the name of Beethoven’s Third Symphony: “Eroica,” or “Heroic.”

At the turn of the 19th century, Beethoven’s world seems to be crashing down around him. His hearing is failing, he is withdrawing into solitude and his music is the only thing preventing him from suicide. It is in this tumultuous time that the idea for his third symphony is born.
Given the circumstances, it may seem surprising that Beethoven would write such an heroic piece. However, while experiencing his own personal hell, Beethoven finds hope in Napoleon Bonaparte. Fresh off the victory of the French Revolution, Napoleon has catapulted to power, much to the delight of the non-aristocratic classes of Western Europe.

Beethoven finds solace in Napoleon, and comes to idolize him as a champion of the common man—a true hero. In his admiration, the working title for his third symphony becomes “Bonaparte,” and on the title page, he signs his first name as Louis, the French translation of Ludwig.
Then, Napoleon declares himself Emperor.

Needless to say, Beethoven did not take the news well. Ferdinand Ries, the man who broke this news to Beethoven, recounts that the composer flew into a fit of rage, ripping the dedication from the page and proclaiming Napoleon “no more than a common mortal…a tyrant.” To this day, the manuscript’s torn visage reflects the immensity of Beethoven’s wrath.

Following Beethoven’s disillusionment, the symphony is renamed “Eroica,” and Beethoven’s subsequent works embark on a darker path, reflecting the composer’s descent into madness. Nevertheless, the question still stands: why “Eroica?” Perhaps the composer viewed the symphony’s themes as too triumphant to name it anything else. Or perhaps, it is because music itself is Beethoven’s only remaining hero.