Beethoven’s Fifth, rife with false endings, continued on and on. Crescendos did not remain full and the finale was laced with an uncertain air. Once it had ended, in a style described as a dragon trying to escape a box, conductor John Finney’s hands fell to his sides. As Finney closed the music manuscript, the certainty of the end was understood by the audience, which loosed a hearty applause on the symphony.
Boston College’s Symphony Orchestra championed two pieces at their annual Winter Concert. The first, Camille Saint-Saens’ “Concerto No. 1 for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33,” saw Monica Grady, MCAS ’17, take the spotlight as the co-winner of the BC Symphony Orchestra Concerto Competition. The second, Beethoven’s infamous “Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67,” was characterized by the glorious ascension from each of the four movements. The overall sentiment created left listeners in awe of these pieces canonized in time and in the souls of those with a penchant for classical staples.
For those unfamiliar with the many intricacies of these classical pieces, each performance was fronted by a brief taste and analysis of the music to come.
With regard to “Concerto No. 1,” Finney commented on the nature and repetition of the falling triplets. This motif is repeated throughout for most of the instruments. The falling triplets were analogous to the continuous, uninterrupted nature of the three movements within the piece itself. These triplets followed by a lick upwards brought to life ideas of strife within the piece. Additionally, Finney pointed out the use of mutes on several of the instruments used to veil the sound, allowing for other instruments, namely the centerpiece cello, to take the spotlight.
Grady’s fingers danced about her cello in a compelling and powerful showcase. Her agile digits visibly brought the shimmering nature of the other strings’ notes to life. She conveyed these feelings through her poise during the soft sections, in which she adopted a tender and warm demeanor about the instrument. Such developments were seen in part as an obvious call and answer between her cello and the rest of orchestra.
As a prelude to Beethoven’s Fifth, Jeremiah McGrann, associate professor of the practice in the music department, described the overarching motifs within the famous Fifth. He first described the different outlooks on the piece. In the U.S., those familiar with the piece generally recall the renown four-note progression that opens the symphony: GGGE♭ … FFFD. In France, however, the most recalled progression remains in the latter half. Part of the Fifth’s progression resembles the national anthem, La Marseillaise. This symphony adopts markedly different sentiments based on its context.
The historical context of the Fifth was manifest in its performance by the orchestra. Exploring sentiments pertaining to mankind, this rendition highlighted on the struggle and perseverance of mankind.
In the first movement, the initial struggle and negativity of life took the form of a finite set of upward progression. This struggle was brought to a slightly timid progression upward in the second movement, but ultimately left whimpering as negativity squelched any meaningful ascension. The trumpets and winds try to break through but are left tethered to the strings drear and melancholy.
The third finds a ceiling met again as the strings pull the progression down. This time, in a quick progression to the fourth movement, a triumphant orchestra breaks through, culminating in its famous, jarring ending. As the ending is met, symbolically, notions of an uncontainable positivity and lust for life are created.
As a conductor, Finney used reserved movements throughout, but this restraint brought emphasis to his more eccentric movements as the orchestra swelled and grew in sound. This kind of command brought a visual complement to the already engrossing performance.
The orchestra performance brought history into Gasson Hall through thoughtful words and a sea of notes. Throughout all the movements, the room was transported to different places and times in a way that only classical music can. The combined talents of all these musicians attest to the fervor imbued by the medium and the timelessness of the notes of ancient composers.
Featured Image By Jake Catania / Heights Staff