Notes from David Dyer, Aspen's Piano Man
Hello Valley Music Lovers,
The phenomenon of “late Beethoven works” staggers the imagination of most of us. In this blog post, we offer some observations concerning Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125. This symphony represents Beethoven taking his greatest creative risk in symphonic writing. The first movement depicts a journey from chaos to order, almost like the birth of music itself. The second movement brings delight to the ears with its scherzo-like movement. All this energy is followed by an adagio with a melody that is unsurpassed in beauty. The immense finale, including vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass), chorus and orchestra, is a symphony within a symphony.
To give you some insightful reflections on this monumental composition, I called upon my friend, David Dyer, known as Aspen’s Piano Man, a man with ubiquitous presence in the music world of this area, to share some of his thoughts concerning this symphony. He is known as pianist, organist, conductor and director in the field of musical theater and cabaret since 1980. Given David’s experience conducting vocalists and instrumentalists combined, he is the perfect choice to offer his personal reflections on Beethoven’s masterpiece. Here are his thoughts:
Personal Reflection on Symphony No. 9
When I received a request from Charlotte McLain to participate in the Beethoven blog series, I didn’t give it much credence, as her email arrived on April Fools’ Day, and I assumed it was a little joke. She later set me straight! The idea seemed a little daunting, as I have not made my living in the classical realm, yet she assured me I likely had the proper credentials to participate. So here I am!!! And I get to tackle Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in Dm, Opus 125!
I set about the task by revisiting and listening to several recordings. My first thought was OMG!!! This music is massive and overwhelming! It’s beyond me! I’ve had the good fortune to hear it live several times, and each time I’ve come away with different thoughts and ideas. It is serious music and it speaks to my soul on the deepest of levels. I’ve had a lengthy association with Beethoven as both a player and consumer of his work. I played Minuet in G in my first piano recital. I studied many of his sonatas throughout university, and as a theory student I orchestrated a few of them. As I’ve gotten older and widened my listening tastes, there have been times when I’ve questioned if his work still resonates in me in the same ways. We as listeners are now used to such a wider palette of sounds, rhythms, harmonies, moods, meters and the like, that I have sometimes been guilty of thinking that I’ve outgrown my taste for Beethoven. And then I hear the music and I am once again mesmerized, moved and impressed by his genius. I still believe he is a master of great brilliance.
On my most recent visit to the whole work, I was struck by the seriousness of the first two movements. The imaginative development of the rich themes leaves us with deeply stirring music. I was particularly struck by the emotional release I felt at the start of the third movement, with such a stark contrast of the previous two movements. For me, the vibrant fourth movement always inspires.
I share a final personal impression of the piece. I have listened to several renditions of the work, and I must say the Bernstein Berlin performance has raised every hair on my body more than a few times. I believe he was such a powerful and expressive conductor, and I could not help but be in awe of his prowess on the podium in this performance, especially under the circumstances that inspired and informed this particular rendition. I was alternately blown away by him and the music, but in the end, I realize it’s about the music. It’s always all about the music.
Beyond anything I share here, I urge you to discover and rediscover the amazing beauty and majesty of this great work on your own. I believe it remains timeless and fresh.
David's recommendation for listening:
Next week’s blog will feature David’s interview with his friend Jessica Thompson, who has sung the soprano solo part in Symphony No.9 several times. The interview will give us a peek into the vocal challenges of this work as she experienced performing it under different conductors.