To the editors:
This letter is in response to Dennis Polkow’s review (July 21) of the Grant Park Symphony’s performance of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture. While Polkow found conductor Parrott’s “nice and pretty Beethoven” not as personally satisfying as it could have been had the more “revolutionary and avant-garde qualities” of Beethoven’s composition been emphasized, the general public should be reminded that this particular work was composed in 1809-10. Beethoven was forty years old, and this was during the conservative years of what is generally called his Middle Period.
The Egmont Overture, incidental music to Goethe’s drama, is an orchestral overture, related in style to his symphonies of that time. The music of Beethoven written between 1809 and 1812 is considered less radical and turbulent, and more effortless in technique than what immediately preceded it. With this in mind, the typical overly romantic “heightening tension and drama” that would have satisfied Polkow was wisely avoided by Andrew Parrott, probably to allow the music of Beethoven to speak for itself. The decision of whom to satisfy–the masses of music lovers, or the dictates exposed by a thorough understanding of the composer and his music, was obviously made carefully by conductor Andrew Parrott.
Northern Illinois University
Dennis Polkow replies:
I know of no contemporary Beethoven scholarship that would label the music of the composer’s middle period as “conservative,” and would be interested to know Ms. Schwan’s criteria for making such a bizarre judgment. Indeed, this was when the composer created the core works and perfected the musical language that were to become the springboard for Romanticism, as his Egmont score typifies. This does not mean, however, that I have a taste for performances that take licenses with Beethoven that are appropriate to late Romantic music, but it does mean that when the music calls for drama, I prefer a performer to evoke it. The issue is taking out of Beethoven–or any music–that which the composer intended to be heard, versus reading into the music that which the performer brings to it. Although many of the “authentic” interpreters set out to do the former, the ones with early-music training, such as Parrott, often end up doing the latter; their early-music expertise is carried into the later music that they perform. There are also many maestros who bring their late-Romantic expertise to Beethoven, so fair enough. One approach is as legitimate as the other, but neither has much to do with allowing the music of Beethoven “to speak for itself.”