The Luther College Chamber Orchestra will present an early spring concert at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 21, in the Main Hall of the Center for Faith and Life. Chamber Orchestra is conducted by Daniel Baldwin, professor of music and director of orchestras at the college.
The concert is open to the public with no charge for admission.
The program will begin with a performance of the first movement of the Concerto for Horn and String Orchestra by Gordon Jacob. Sophomore music major Stephanie Diebel—Symphony Orchestra horn principal and one of two winners of the Department of Music 2012 Concerto Contest—is the soloist. Gordon's piece was written in 1951, and has since come to be regarded as one of the most beautiful, most important and most difficult horn concertos in the repertoire.
After a brief intermission, the program will conclude with a performance of the Symphony No. 5 in C minor by Ludwig van Beethoven.
Written between 1804 and 1808, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony dates from the composer's middle years, a rather dark period in what continued to be an unhappy life. Although his musical/compositional career was developing well, Beethoven's hearing was failing quickly, and by 1802 he could no longer ignore the approach of deafness. It is not altogether clear precisely when Beethoven began to lose his hearing; he may have begun to notice the ailment as early as 1796. In any case, Beethoven at some time came to the bitter conclusion that the deafness was progressive and probably incurable. By 1818 the composer was in fact completely deaf.
Beethoven's doctors suggested that a quiet, countryside vacation away from the noisy bustle of the city might be therapeutic, at least emotionally if not physically, so in the spring of 1802 the composer left Vienna to spend several months in the nearby village of Heiligenstadt. Tragically, Beethoven's hearing did not improve that spring, and despite the lovely, pastoral surroundings, the composer fell into the deepest of depressions.
In October 1802, Beethoven composed a rather long letter, written for his brothers, Carl and Johann, known as the Heiligenstadt Testament. This document, which was meant to be read and executed after Beethoven's death, was in fact not discovered until after the composer's death.
The letter contains instructions for the dispensation of Beethoven's instruments and other belongings, some wise and affectionate counsel for his brothers, and a rather compelling profession of faith in art and life, the composer's description of his struggle with fate and deafness and questions of life and death. It may perhaps be understood as a kind of last will and testament for Beethoven.
The composer wrote, "It was not possible for me to say to men, 'Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf!' Alas, how could I declare the weakness of a sense which in me ought to be more acute than in others… How humiliating was it, when someone standing close to me heard a distant flute and I heard nothing, or a shepherd singing and, again, I heard nothing. Such incidents almost drove me to despair."
A sympathetic reading of this remarkable letter suggests that life for Beethoven had become so intolerable as to lead him to consider suicide, but he stayed his hand. In his own words, "it seemed as if I could not quit this earth until I had produced all I felt within me, and so I continued this wretched life."
Beethoven was a man who chose to live solely for the sake of his art, for as long as his inspiration might last and no longer. In the final 25 years of his life, Beethoven produced many of his greatest compositions—piano sonatas, symphonies, string quartets, transcendent and beautiful beyond words. And of all these mature works, none is more heroic than the Fifth Symphony. Only a composer of unswerving devotion to his art, who could set aside his own pressing, overwhelming concerns in favor of artistic goals, could have produced such a symphony at such a time.