Updated June 7, 2007 at 12:08 a.m.
Steamboat Springs Beethoven and Mozart both had, although briefly, Joseph Haydn as a teacher of composition. Haydn defined that which is specifically, not generically, classical, as distinct from the baroque, which preceded, and the romantic, which followed, his long career.
Mozart stayed with Haydn's rules of composition, with notable success. Beethoven, who was born somewhat later and lived longer, moved on, pushing limits and becoming the first romantic composer.
The assumption of Sunday night's play-concert is - based in part on Beethoven's own letters and the basic facts of his life - that his creative genius was due in large part to his personal misery. Could be. Whereas Mozart always enjoyed a good family and social life, Beethoven was a loner, abused as a child by a drunken father and forced to compose for money at an early age. He was restless; in 23 years in Vienna, he moved 21 times, especially a pain for a piano teacher. He also was living in tumultuous times: His life spanned the French Revolution and Napoleon's rise to power.
Bonnie McGee's script fits Beethoven into that historical context. His growing deafness must have seemed particularly unjust and yet his very last composition, and the last on the program, the Cavatina movement, is indescribably joyful. In transcending his own infirmity he let us experience heaven.
First, we heard the Adagio movement from Beethoven's String Quartet in F, Opus 18, No. 1, and the Allegro movement from his String Quartet in D, Opus 18, No. 3. These are from his first five string quartets and provide us with the baseline to assess the innovation to follow.
Next, we heard a recording of a bit of Haydn's Symphony No. 92 in G major, played by the Cleveland Orchestra, conducted by George Szell. This interlude, which displayed Haydn at his finest following (the character) Beethoven's grumbling about Haydn being so stuck, was followed by the Allegro movement from Beethoven's String Quarter in F, Opus 59, No 1. This piece is from one of the three quartets composed in Beethoven's middle period. It begins with the viola dominating and then progresses to the second violin, then the cello, and finally the first violin.
Then, we heard Allegro assai, alla danza tedesca, based on a German dance from the String Quartet in B flat, Opus 130. Beethoven's late quartets are particularly soul-wrenching and somewhat dissonant and seemingly modern. Then, the musicians went back to Opus 59, the Quartet in C Major, No. 3. Finally, the aforementioned joyful Cavatina movement from the quartet in B flat, Opus 130, a final gift to humanity from one of history's greatest misanthropes.
Cody Poirot, who played the lead, is a sophomore at Steamboat High. His excellent performance, especially of the cantankerous and volatile old Beethoven, is all the more impressive given his youth. The musicians were the Steamboat Strings Quartet. The violinists were Teresa Steffen Greenlee and Bonnie Murray. The violist was Mary Anne Fairlie. And John Sant'Ambrogio played his exquisite 18th century cello.
Lock McShane deserves special thanks for his able technical assistance. The fine informative script was written by Bonnie McGee.
Remarkably, the entire production, except for the compositions, of course, was produced and performed by locals.