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2015年12月8日 星期二

The Alpha and Omega of Beethoven's Symphonies (貝多芬交响樂之始末)

It's always interesting to see someone develop. It is a heavenly experience if that someone happens to be a proto-romantic who revolutionized the way 18th century symphonies are written, someone typically represented in books about him with a pair of angry eyes and crazy frizzy hair sitting on a huge round forehead, like that of a lion. We had that experience at the Cultural Centre last Saturday. Classical symphonies are always quick, gay and stately but when Beethoven tried his hands at it at the turn of the century, about a decade after the French Revolution broke out and Europe was afire with new hopes, you can be sure that not a little of the spirit of rebellion would somehow find its way into the music, especially when it came from the hands of that eternal rebel. It's nothing like those delightful symphonies written by Mozart or Haydn, but not entirely unlike them either. We got the quick tempo and gayness but mixed into that is a certain force, a kind of defiance which you'd never find in the symphonies of his predecessors, in the form of what is later to become his trademark hammer like sound from the whole orchestra with the help of the timpani as they wham down three or four or even more times without any prior warning or preparation amidst otherwise softly flowing and beautiful melodies, with such patterns being repeated time and again with slight variations but each time progressively louder and more complex than the previous. You can already hear too in Beethoven's first symphony that massiveness in the way he develops the sonic structure of his sound of his principal and secondary motifs. .




Beethoven's No. 9 is something different altogether again. It's the first time that he used a full chorus to emphasize its effect in certain key passage. The hammer-strokes are used far more frequently and become more persistent, giving it a sense of determination and resolution which you'd never find in the music of any other composer. What started out as an innovation in the first has now become a structural feature and an inseparable part of the massiveness of the symphonic sound. Listening to it, it is impossible not to be touched and moved to the core  of your soul. You can feel almost viscerally the tremendous struggle wrenching the soul of this musical giant as he strives to assert himself time and again against the forces trying to overcome him, each time with greater power but also the soft sound of the wood winds which tries to soothe and console him from time to time and in addition, the decisiveness with which Beethoven repel the forces that try to overwhelm him in his march like rhythms as he surmounts them with tight-tipped grimness, fighting on with the full might of his indomitable will and spirit and finally breaking out in sounds of joy at the glorious beauty of the human soul. How elevating it is to hear the sound of that huge chorus breaking out in words of praise in that famous Ode to Joy, sometimes soft and sometime loud  when the the songs of male and female soloists come in, with the orchestra remaining silent and then joining in first softly and then suddenly becoming mighty and powerful again as the symphony draws to a close in a mad frenzy of ecstatic sound. As the words of Schiller's ode put it, we hear the "rapturous joy" amidst the flickering  flames of the gods and the magical power of that heroic sound bursting out in unison, a sound in which the entire human race join together in an indissoluble bond of brotherly love as their spirit soar towards the starry heavens. If Beethoven can be aptly described as a musical lion, then he certainly roared in his Ninth.



The No. 9 is really van Zweden's tumbler of tea: perfect control of the soft and loud passages, timing, rhythm and synchrony, full of dynamism and chop.But he could not have done it without the wonderful performance put in by the soloists, the chorus of the NCPA and all sections of the HKPO. It was not for no reasons that the audience in the packed hall clapped loud and long. Those who missed it have only got themselves to blame.