At home with David Rowden and Ludwig van Beethoven

At home with David Rowden and Ludwig van Beethoven

Before reality television shows about home renovations and cooking, before television and the radio, people would gather around and perform music in their homes. These were either performed by chamber musicians or amateurs who loved music, and so was born the tradition of chamber music. This tradition has seen hundreds, if not thousands, of small scale works performed in intimate venues all around the world, delighting and entertaining audiences from the highest nobles to the more intimate and comfortable surrounds of a small cottage. Imagine being in someone’s home when suddenly Beethoven walks in and performs a dazzling rendition of one of his works, and then suddenly his rival appears and performs another work! The electricity in that home would have been surging with creativity!

It is this intimate, familiar feeling that David Rowden takes into account when programming music for Omega Ensemble concerts. David is very aware of the type of music that is suited to particular rooms; for instance, the Utzon Room provides a more intimate setting for smaller chamber works that highlight the intricate nature and delicacy of the music, while the City Recital Hall opens up the flood gates of opportunity allowing larger scale works (as you might have witnessed only a few weeks ago with Four Last Songs) and larger scale performances. Whether in the intimate setting of the Utzon Room with the backdrop of Sydney’s iconic harbour or in the City Recital Hall, Omega Ensemble provide a feeling of friendliness and being at home with their performance, their persona and their presentation. Each Omega ensemble makes you feel comfortable, as though you were in your own home.

Imagine being present in one of these performances where Beethoven and his biggest pianistic rival Daniel Steibelt performed the piano and their own compositions. Well, this actually happened when Beethoven gave the premier of his Clarinet Trio in Bb Major, op.11 in 1797 at the home of Count Ferdinand Ries. By this time Beethoven was one of the most noted and virtuosic pianists in Vienna and was winning audiences with his compositions and dazzling piano performances. The Clarinet Trio in Bb Major, op.11 is particularly interesting as the third movement contains a theme and variations based on a popular ‘street song’ of the day. The delightful theme is stated at the outset and given to the piano, clarinet and cello as they spin their magic. Not only a delightful and exciting trio work the piece was also a vehicle for Beethoven to demonstrate his pianistic skills.

Legend has it that eight days later, the two met at the Count’s home. Following a performance of a quintet of his, Steibelt began to improvise on the same theme that forms the basis of the finale of Beethoven’s Trio. Pria ch’io l’impegno was a currently popular tune from the opera L’Amor Marinaro (The Corsair) by Joseph Weigl (1777-1846). Outraged, Beethoven grabbed the cello part to Steibelt’s quintet, set it upside-down on the piano’s music stand, and began to pound out one of its themes with a single finger. His furious improvisations drove Steibelt from the room and the two remained bitter adversaries until their deaths. Imagine being in that home and witnessing the rivalry between Beethoven and Daniel Steibelt!

Beethoven is still loved and admired by audiences today. He is probably the most famous name in classical music and most people know the name Beethoven. Who could forget his heroic 9th Symphony, the Hammerklavier piano sonatas and the heart wrenching string quartets he wrote towards the end of his life. Beethoven’s music appeals to all audiences and his music is a demonstration of the sublime in music. Even as I write this blog in my own home my Beethoven bust stares at me, almost as though he is reminding me of his legacy.

In their second concert series this year Omega are performing a chamber arrangement of Beethoven’s iconic 7th Symphony in A Major, op.92. The work was premiered with Beethoven himself conducting in Vienna on 8 December 1813 at a charity concert for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau. This work was so popular that an encore of the Allegretto movement was demanded after the first performance. With it’s pulsing statement the Allegretto begins with a processional that provides a rhythmic framework that underlies the work. This is also a poignant symphony in that it was the last time Beethoven conducted his own music before he went completely deaf.

The sense of yearning in the Allegretto movement can be felt the music unfolds. Given that a repeat encore was required the work must have been very popular and of course audiences wanted to play it in their own homes (but of course there were no gramophones then, only sheet music and instruments) and so during Beethoven’s time it was not at all unusual for chamber music arrangements (and four handed piano arrangements) to be made of symphonies and other large scale works so that audiences could play them with friends in their own homes (there was also considerable commercial appeal for the composer who could make a few extra dollars by selling these arrangements through his publisher at the time). The chamber music arrangements offer a more intimate exploration of the work and with less musicians on the stage you can visually see the music unfolding and developing. It’s certainly a rare treat to hear these arrangements performed.

Speaking of the home, Omega Ensemble is also offering it’s patrons, old and new, the chance to have Omega Ensemble come to your home and perform an exclusive private concert. You too can experience the thrill of having some of history’s finest chamber music performed in the comfort of your own home: Find out more.

Don’t forget you can also enjoy Omega in your own home via their Digital Concert Hall

We hope to see you at the next Omega concert, enjoying the music of Bach, Brahms, Beethoven and Ben Hoadley at the Utzon Room on Sunday 29 May and then again for Beethoven’s Symphony No.7 at City Recital Hall on 11 July.

Book your tickets to Brahms and the Clarinet on 29 May 2016 at Sydney Opera House.

Book your tickets to Beethoven's Seventh on 11 July 2016 at City Recital Hall.

Samuel Cottell

Samuel Cottell is a multi-verstalie musician (pianist, arranger and composer), writer, music journalist (Leader Writer -Cut Common Mag, Fine Music Magazine, Music and Literature, Jazz Australia and Australian Jazz.org), and biographer. Samuel is also an music educator and currently tutors music theory and analysis in the Arts Music Unit, Sydney Conservatorium of Music. Samuel is currently undertaking his PhD (Musicology) at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music where he is researching the life and music of Tommy Tycho. Samuel has also been published in the Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians and has interviewed world-acclaimed musicians Renee Flemming, Steven Isserlis, Maxim Vengerov, Stuart Skelton and local musicians Daniel Rojas,  Simon Tedeschi and Katie Noonan. As well as these activities Samuel is in demand as a program note writer (Nexas Saxophone Quartet) and gives pre-concert talks for The Grevillea Ensemble and appeared on Radio National's "RareCollections" talking about Tommy Tycho's recording career and contribution to music.