I believe it was a Tuesday in 1792 and Vienna, the Nashville of the late 18th century, had just lost Mozart. The city fathers looked and looked but could not find him. Not only was Mozart a good hider, he was also dead and happened to be hiding six feet under, some say in an unmarked grave, which would have rather unfairly tilted things in favor of his not being found. Vienna, desperate to be dazzled, glommed onto pianist Abbe Gelinek to help them forget that they made little tiny sausages while the nearby Germans made big sausages (just a touch of sausage envy). In the best tradition of Western movies, which except for one John Wayne flick where unknown during the oft aforementioned 18th century, a stranger came sauntering into town, a young hotshot who wasn't afraid to boast of his own abilities. As this stranger was from Bonn, where sausages grow large and free like bunnies on steroids, a great deal of attention was being detracted from Gelinek and his newfound celebrityhood. "I'll fix him!" shouted Gelinek, in his best Snidely Whiplash impression, and a duel was arranged, not with swords, pistols, or free-range chickens, but with pianos. Since neither man could lift a piano to squash his opponent, they rather intelligently decided to duke it out with pianistic skills. Unfortunately for Gelinek, the squash-buckling pianist from Bonn was Ludwig Van Beethoven, a man who liked his coffee strong (thirty beans to the cup) and his women even stronger (Helga, able to lift twice her weight in pimento loaf). After being beaten to a proverbial bloody pulp, Gelinek gasped, "I have never heard anyone play like that! I have never heard even Mozart improvise so admirably. Then he played some of his own compositions which are marvelous, really wonderful, and he manages difficulties and effects at the keyboard that we never even dreamed of." Gelinek then took a jab at Beethoven's appearance, saying in the presence of women and children, "He is a small, ugly, swarthy young fellow" and then Gelinek faded from public memory. The G-man should have known better than to go against someone so hopped up on caffeine. A mere lad of twenty-one, Beethoven soon achieved greater fame, but he continued to be small, ugly, and swarthy.
This Saturday, or Samstag as Beethoven would have called it, the 44-member Chamber Orchestra will perform for your enjoyment and betting pleasure, Beethoven's first Piano Concerto. The young (just one year older than Beethoven when he swaggered into Vienna), award-winning Marina Kolomiitseva will be playing the part of Beethoven, and although she may be diminutive, she is neither ugly nor swarthy. Promptly at 8:00 PM at the Performing Arts Center she will commence tickling the ivories. The performance will be followed by a champagne and dessert party with rumors that strong coffee will be served. If you promise to keep mum, I'll let you in on a little secret. Beethoven's Piano Concerto No. 1 was actually his third attempt at the genre, the first one written at age fourteen. Only his hairdresser knows so keep a lid on it. Like any self-respecting concerto (be it piano, violin, theremin or moog), there are three sections, or movements, to this piece. Repeat after me: "Three shall be the number thy shalt count, and the
number of the counting shall be three." The opening movement has a kind of martial feel that gets the toes tapping. This is soon joined by the opening melody, which has a youthful, exuberant charm that is just darn pleasant to hear. Although Beethoven was later known for his brooding, he was but a novice grumbler when he wrote this piece and of that, only a little found it's way into the music. The second movement is like a tender love song and true to form, the final movement is an upbeat, rollicking, invigorating movement of a movement, whose movements are quite moveable. The piece ends with a flurry of notes, the pianists fingers twisted in cartoon-like knots while a little mouse plays with the hammers. Even if you have never heard this piece before, you would do well to attend as I promise the music to be quite enjoyable and easy on the ears.
Before I go and doodle on my sternum with indelible ink, there's another little concert you need to be abreast of (can I say "abreast" in this here family paper?): The next Masterworks performance. This is where the entire orchestra and a few of their college buddies gather at the Embassy and play really big pieces. This time they have been so gracious as to invite the Philharmonic Chorus. No, it won't be all punch and cake for this group as they will be expected to sing and sing and sing. And it's not Kumbaya they'll be singing but Brahms' Requiem, a glorious piece I don't have space to describe except to say that it's real keen. The concert begins promptly at 8:00 on November 17. No one will be seated after the horrifying cello scene begins, so plan to arrive early. Drink a few cups of coffee if you need to, but make sure it's extra strong.
Copyright 2001 Jason Hoffman