RSCMNZ Canterbury Branch Member CBS (Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament) Choir and Orchestra planned a Beethoven Concert for 2.00pm Sunday 16 August 2020 in the Manchester Street Catholic Pro-Cathedral.
However along came C-19 Level TWO lockdown. This meant that no more than one hundred people could gather at any public event. With more than a 60 – strong Choir and Orchestra of Christchurch’s accomplished and enthusiastic performers, the occasion could not proceed, you’d think.
Maestro Don Whelan was not going to be beaten by the bug. He declared that we would rehearse the works and play them on Friday 14 Aug 2020 for a recording as if this was the concert after all. Sad though it was there would be no audience, performing just for ourselves was a treasured occasion for all the players and choristers.
Friday’s programme included Beethoven’s Fantasia for Piano, Chorus & Orchestra Op 80 magically performed by pianist Anna Maksymova. The orchestra provided Concertante and Tutti accompaniments and towards the end of the work the choir and soloists, Stephanie Waterhouse (soprano) and Louisa Pilkington (Alto), together with Anna gloriously brought it to an exhilarating climax.
Another highlight was the Beethoven Hallelujah Chorus from his only Oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives Op 85 (Libretto by German poet Franz Huber). This work was started in 1802 and was completed for the first performance in Vienna April 1803. It enjoyed considerable popularity following the 1st performance and was produced every year until it was banned in 1825 by the Hofmusikgraf (the Vienna based Council which controlled musicians and the music they played). The duration of the ban seems unknown but by mid-1800’s the Oratorio re-emerged and has retained to this day its tradition of frequent performances all over the world.
The Finale was a fitting work perhaps epitomising victory over the bug. Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C minor Op 67 (1804) is sometimes referred to as the Victory Symphony. It was played especially on the BBC towards the end of WWII as a patriotic stimulus. Allied military personnel recognised the code of the opening theme as a reminder of the popular Winston Churchill catch-cry of V for Victory. The symphony begins with three quavers followed by a long held semi-breve. This is repeated insistently and appears throughout the 3-movement work. Phonetically the theme sounds dit-dit-dit-DAH. Churchill would hold up index and middle finger in a salute that looked like the letter “V”. The Morse Code for the letter “V” is dit-dit-dit-DAH. Beethoven didn’t know about Morse Code – it wasn’t invented till 1830’s (shortly after his 1827 death). The theme is said to come from the pecking sounds of the Yellowhammer birds who lived and still do in the parks of Vienna.