Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Tuesday, April 2

Beethoven's First

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1800, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 1 had its first performance in Vienna, at a benefit concert for the 29-year-old composer.

It would be several years before any of Beethoven’s orchestral music reached American shores, but it did occur during Beethoven’s lifetime. In 1819, for example, a “Grand Piano Concerto” by Beethoven was performed in New Orleans—only we have no idea which one. On today’s date in 1825, when Beethoven was 54, his “Egmont” Overture was performed at the City Hotel in New York, and was performed again in Philadelphia on March 28, 1827—just two days after its composer had died back in Vienna.

By the 1840s, Beethoven’s overtures and symphonies appeared with some regularity on the East Coast, and slowly worked their way Westward.

In 1853, Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3 was performed in San Francisco by musicians gathered from that city’s gambling houses. A letter describing the event recalled, “there were many Chinese present,” and that it “lasted four hours owing to an overwhelming demand for encores, which the performers dared not refuse in the face of rugged California individualism.”

In 1856, when San Francisco’s German Society gave the West Coast premiere of Beethoven’s Fifth, The San Francisco Chronicle review the following day noted: “The pieces were very beautiful, but it must be said that some of them appeared to be considered very tedious by the greater number of the audience. The Adagio, Scherzo and Finale of Beethoven’s Symphony, for instance, caused many to yawn.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Symphony No. 1 Concertgebouw Orchestra; Bernard Haitink, cond. Philips 442 073

Additional Information

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