Notes From The Conductor: Beethoven’s Triple Concerto

Mozart’s Linz Symphony is a real proof of his genius that even surpasses what generally would be believed possible in the musical realm. He wrote the piece in 4 days that is in its totality from conception to finished work. Bearing in mind that this is a work with four movements, he must have written each movement in about a day. Clearly Mozart was able to write directly in score and have a piece completely finished in his mind and then bring it to paper. How interesting it would be to analyze his brain in an MRI scanner and see how differently it works from others.

Anyway, you would be forgiven to think that a work written in such a short time would be lesser, somehow maybe shortened or a little “dumbed down” to be sure it is finished in time. And the really surprising thing for me is, that isn’t the case. It is neither shortened in length nor in content, being a full-fledged symphony, full of beautiful melodies, harmonic progressions so typical for Mozart. All is there, just written in an impossibly short time span.

Mozart’s works are sometimes considered lighthearted and joyful, I hear from audience members on occasion that they very much enjoy listening to his music, but some pieces strike them as sunny and a little surfaced. I would like to point out that Mozart was gambling, drinking and engaging in all kinds of activities of “escapism”. He was enjoying life to the fullest, but there is also an element of melancholy that he was trying to escape, brushing over with another night going out with his friends, sometimes writing pieces in the middle of a pub, because he forgot to finish it. I think this undercurrent can be found in his music. Karl Böhm once said in an interview, that he never can smile while listening to Mozart, that even the happiest pieces have this undercurrent of darkness. I will agree with this statement. Mozart´s music is clearly very lighthearted in places and contrary to Böhm it actually makes me smile a lot. But the surprising readiness of Mozart to turn a passage into a melancholic character, which often takes him only a second to change the moods and also the somewhat manic character of some of the happy passages suggest a much deeper and more troubled person behind the notes. For me the fascination of Mozart’s music is, that is has both and these two worlds coexist at the same time. A deep, highly intelligent, complex, troubled and anxious person and at the same time a happy, surfaced and laughing character all blended into one picture.

Beethoven’s Triple Concerto is quite unique, as it has not one, but three soloists. That poses of course special challenges and as a conductor you work with three soloists that have their opinions and musical ideas. The piece works on three levels. First it is a solo concerto in which the soloists change from passage to passage. Then it is a trio piece in which three musicians perform chamber music on stage. And then it is a piece for trio and orchestra, in which a trio performs together with a full orchestra. No surprise that it was crazy Beethoven who thought that would be a good idea. But, you know, he makes it work. In his own very typical way, emotion and humanity trump everything else in his musical approach to writing; Beethoven gives a real life to this piece. I think it is satisfying for the audience to hear three soloists at the same time, sometimes being on their own, sometimes competing for attention and sometimes playing as friends together. Also a great value proposition, three soloists for the price of one ticket.