Beethoven's Choral Fantasy - Friday's Free Ensemble Monterey Download

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Dear Ensemble Monterey Fans - Beethoven composed this Fantasia in the autumn of 1808, and played as well as conducted the first performance on December 22 of that year in Vienna. In addition to pairs of winds and brass plus timpani and strings, it calls for solo voices and mixed chorus.

Although a hybrid work without precedent, the "Choral Fantasy," as it has come to be called, was composed hurriedly as a crowd-pleasing finale for a pre-Christmas Akademie (meaning self-financed by the composer) concert. A great deal went wrong during that four-hour marathon in the Theater an der Wien, yet it was destined to become one of the most famous evenings in all of musical history.

A soprano soloist had been engaged to sing the concert aria Ah! Perfido, but quarreled with Beethoven during rehearsal and withdrew in a rage; her replacement was a teenager, not only intimidated but uncontrollably tremulous. The orchestra, which had had trouble previously with their famously irascible composer, who had maligned them in the bargain, refused to rehearse until he left the room. Choral parts for the Fantasie came from the copyists still wet. The old theater's primitive heating system, taxed by a cold wave that year, broke down before the concert. To cap the litany of misadventures, Beethoven forgot to tell the orchestra to ignore a repeat in the Fantasie; thus, while he went forward on the keyboard, they went backward until the performance broke down, and had to start over. Beethoven, to his credit, accepted the blame.

Before that debacle, an intrepid audience had shivered through the world premieres of the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the first public performance of Piano Concerto No. 4, and half of the recently composed Mass in C , as well as the works already mentioned. As for the bedeviled "Choral Fantasy," it proved to be a prototype, in effect, of the choral finale to come 15 years later in the Ninth Symphony. (from a note by Roger Dettmer)

In this May, 2009 performance, the soloist is Malia Jade Roberson, now Dr. Roberson, and the chorus are our long-time collaborators, Cantiamo!

To download this piece just click here, then click on the Ensemble Monterey logo. Until Monday -

Yours in Music - John Anderson