Pasatiempo - - Listen Up - JAMES M. KELLER

Beethoven, Cheru­bini, and a son of a Bach

Santa Fe au­di­ences have been hear­ing an aw­ful lot of Beethoven in or­ches­tral con­certs this sea­son. I make that ob­ser­va­tion not by way of com­plaint, to be sure. His sym­phonies and con­cer­tos rep­re­sent a high stan­dard, in­deed. They are a rite of pas­sage for or­ches­tras and con­duc­tors, and for en­sem­bles ca­pa­ble of re­fine­ment they of­fer an on­go­ing wealth of chal­lenges.

Au­di­ences love Beethoven’s sym­phonies, of course, es­pe­cially the big, mus­cu­lar ones — the Third, the Fifth, the Sev­enth, and the Ninth — to which lineup the Sixth is also ad­mit­ted among the fa­vorites to pro­vide pas­toral con­trast. Those five works, in fact, are all be­ing played in Santa Fe this sea­son. The Sixth and Sev­enth fig­ured on Santa Fe Pro Mu­sica’s all-Beethoven week­end at the end of Jan­uary; the Santa Fe Con­cert As­so­ci­a­tion Orches­tra per­formed the Ninth on New Year’s Eve, and SFCA brought in the Opole Na­tional Phil­har­monic of Poland (the sym­phony orches­tra of the south­ern Pol­ish city of Opole) to play the Third ear­lier this month; and this week ar­rives Beethoven’s Fifth, with Steven Smith lead­ing the Santa Fe Sym­phony Orches­tra and Cho­rus on Sun­day, March 27. The Beethoven con­cer­tos are rep­re­sented even more densely. Pro Mu­sica has given the Vi­o­lin Con­certo and the Fifth Piano Con­certo, SFCA has of­fered the Triple Con­certo, and on May 21 and 22 the sym­phony of­fers its own Beethoven marathon, most of which is given over to a tra­ver­sal of all five Beethoven piano con­cer­tos, with An­ton Kuerti as soloist. Tick­ing off that list re­veals that, in this sea­son alone, Santa Fe au­di­ences get to hear ev­ery con­certo the mas­ter com­pleted.

Clas­sics are clas­sics for a rea­son, and it is im­por­tant that they re­main in the ro­ta­tion as ex­am­ples of sur­pass­ing achieve­ment. Nonethe­less, a diet ben­e­fits from va­ri­ety. Even if we are in­or­di­nately fond of as­para­gus, an oc­ca­sional sam­pling of broc­coli can be most wel­come, even if only be­cause it re­minds us of the su­pe­ri­or­ity of as­para­gus. We there­fore cheered when we saw that at this week­end’s Santa Fe Sym­phony con­cert, Beethoven’s Fifth Sym­phony will serve as pre­lude to Luigi Cheru­bini’s Re­quiem, a work for cho­rus and orches­tra that goes prac­ti­cally un­heard — and we’re the poorer for it.

Luigi Carlo Zanobi Sal­vadore Maria Cheru­bini (to use his full and glo­ri­ous name) lived from 1760 to 1842; his long life com­pletely en­com­passed Beethoven’s. He was pro­foundly re­spected in his time, and he even earned Beethoven’s ad­mi­ra­tion, which was not easy to do. Thayer’s

Life of Beethoven, the in­dis­pens­able repos­i­tory of anec­dotes in­volv­ing that com­poser, re­lates, in a chap­ter de­voted to the year 1817: “Beethoven used to walk across the fields to Vi­enna very of­ten and some­times [the con­duc­tor, pi­anist, and com­poser Cipri­ani] Pot­ter took the walk with him. … One day Pot­ter asked: ‘ Who is the great­est liv­ing com­poser, your­self ex­cepted?’ Beethoven seemed puz­zled for a mo­ment, then ex­claimed ‘ Cheru­bini.’ ” Cheru­bini seems to have ad­mired Beethoven rather less in re­turn, re­fer­ring to him as “brusque” and at one point liken­ing him to “an un­licked bear.” On the other hand, Mrs. Cheru­bini thought Beethoven was the bee’s knees.

Though he was born in Florence, Cheru­bini spent most of his ca­reer in France. He set­tled there at the age of 27, some­how man­aged to weather the revo­lu­tion and the Reign of Ter­ror, and af­ter those un­pleas­ant times be­came a pil­lar of French mu­si­cal so­ci­ety, serv­ing as di­rec­tor of the Paris Con­ser­va­toire from 1822 to 1842. He was gen­er­ally well liked there, though not by Hec­tor Berlioz. In his Memoirs, Berlioz re­counts how Cheru­bini, in­formed by the Con­ser­va­toire’s porter that Berlioz had en­tered the school by what had just been de­clared the women’s door, tracked him down in the li­brary, in­ter­rupted his pe­rusal of a Gluck opera score, and chased him around a desk, shriek­ing in Ital­ian-ac­cented French. Af­ter that, Berlioz never missed an op­por­tu­nity to nee­dle Cheru­bini in print.

Cheru­bini com­posed this Re­quiem in 1815, seven years af­ter the pre­miere of Beethoven’s Fifth Sym­phony. It was com­mis­sioned by the

Luigi Cheru­bine

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