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Happy 250th Ludwig Van

This month, the world has been celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of composer Ludwig van Beethoven, including the Quad City Symphony.  

In all three Masterworks concerts so far this season, the QCSO has featured Beethoven, including the December program, with the Third Symphony (the “Eroica”). Due to Covid, concerts during the last two months have been performed with no live audience, with video recordings available for 30 days after. 

Composer Jacob Bancks, of Augustana College, who writes the QCSO program notes, admires the orchestra effort.

Credit Augustana College
Jacob Bancks

“I’m aware of what a lot of orchestras have done to cope with the pandemic and keep the music going, and I think the Quad City Symphony’s efforts have been as good as anybody’s. This also from somebody who makes music, as a musician myself -- no one would ever claim that what we have now is superior to a live concert experience."

“I don’t think there’s anything that any orchestra could do, that could replace the intangibles of being in person. It’s the resonance of the concert hall; it’s being in the same room as the musicians. There’s just no substitute for it. That said, I think the symphony has adopted a plan that’s very flexible – that puts the safety of its musician and audience first, and gives us something to keep us coming back.”
Bancks also admires the persistence of Beethoven’s herculean personality, overcoming major obstacles, including deafness in later life.

“One of the things I love to bring out about Beethoven and his music is how his unique and very flawed personality gave birth to the music. Sometimes, we idolize Beethoven, which is not entirely wrong, because he was a manic genius. But at the same time, he was a very flawed human being with a lot of personal problems. And he had enormous difficulty keeping friends.  In fact, it’s a great testament to the character of the people he surrounded himself with that he had any friends at the end of his life.”
“Beethoven’s work comes from a very specific personality and he was a very powerful personality, but also very troubled. To think of the interactions between him and his friends and those who came into and out of his life, I guess it just shows how he was inspiring devotion early on, even when no one would think he’d
be a really good friend.”
“One thing that I love about Beethoven is that he took genres and perfected them. This is one thing we don’t always get an appreciation for, because we hear so many symphonies of is, especially when we’re talking about a symphony orchestra. But he did the same thing with the piano sonata and the string quartet that he did with the symphony. What is beautiful about tracing his output is, you can listen to the first piano sonata and the 32 nd piano sonata, and they’re all outstanding, and yet you can trace this incredible growth and deepening over the course of his career.”
Like his fellow genius Mozart, Beethoven had an incredible facility as a performer and improviser. But unlike Mozart, Bancks says the one genre he didn’t master was opera. Beethoven’s only opera is “Fidelio.”
“The human voice created a bit of frustration for him, because he couldn’t pin down what the range was and there were a lot technical things to latch onto. His vocal writing is a little idealistic, but it’s gorgeous. It’s actually amazing, but I think it took more from him. As a vocal composer, he certainly didn’t have the
impact that Mozart did in opera, or Schubert or Schumann did in song.”
Bancks is awestruck at what Beethoven could write as he wrestled with the long,  drawn-out loss of his hearing.
“It is absolutely amazing – I don’t want in any way want to take away from the fact that it’s like a miracle, that anyone could produce music of such high quality without actually being able to hear it. Two things – one was, he was a phenomenal keyboardist. Any really great pianist, it’s both ear and a muscle gift. His hands knew where to go. He knew his way around a keyboard. So, he had this muscle memory from when he was able to hear, that I’m sure he was able to rely on greatly after he was not able to hear the works performed.”
“The other thing he would have been able to rely on was – one of my favorite things about Beethoven, the pretense for going to Vienna from his native Bonn was to study composition.”
“That kind of rigorous training, the respect he had for the traditions of counterpoint. You have the fact that his hands knew what his ears couldn’t hear, then I think we go a little bit toward how that was possible. And the third thing was of course just a generational gift, like a supernatural gift for music. So those three
things are all you need, and you too can compose deaf.”
The QCSO Masterworks digital access is available through January 6th. For tickets, visit www.qcso.org.

A native of Detroit, Herb Trix began his radio career as a country-western disc jockey in Roswell, New Mexico (“KRSY, your superkicker in the Pecos Valley”), in 1978. After a stint at an oldies station in Topeka, Kansas (imagine getting paid to play “Louie Louie” and “Great Balls of Fire”), he wormed his way into news, first in Topeka, and then in Freeport Illinois.