A secret love message, a solemn vow, and an ode to heroism, revolution, and freedom. Wow! That’s quite a meaningful program for one orchestra concert!

This week’s National Symphony Orchestra opens with Alban Berg’s 3 Pieces for String Orchestra, which he extracted from his 6-movement Lyric Suite of 1927. The titles of the three movements give us a hint of the romantic mystery behind the work: “Andante amoroso”, Allegro misterioso—Trio estatico” and “Adagio appassionato.” Many years later, the key to the puzzle was given to the American composer and Berg expert George Perle by the daughter of Hannah Fuchs-Robertin with whom Berg shared a secret and impossible love. Hannah’s copy of the score was annotated with private messages from Berg, and much like one carves one’s initials on a tree trunk, the composer had even woven the notes representing their initials into the music’s thematic material.

The solemn vow came from Erich Korngold, a child prodigy in his native Vienna, who came to America to escape the Nazis in 1934 and became famous in the US for his many film scores (Captain Blood, The Adventures of Robin Hood, etc.) He vowed that he wouldn’t return to writing “concert” music until Hitler and the Nazis had been defeated. So, in 1945, at the urging of violinist Jascha Heifetz, he completed his violin concerto, a romantic work enriched by extensive quotes from his most popular movie scores, leading one critic to proclaim that the concerto was “more Korn than gold.” Hilary Hahn will perform it this week at the Kennedy Center and on tour with the NSO. Congratulations to Hilary Hahn for winning the prestigious Avery Fischer Award last month. The crystal trophy came in a Tiffany box which she unwrapped for her legion of fans on Instagram. 

As for Beethoven’s Third Symphony, the “Eroica,” the story of Beethoven’s rage at discovering that Napoleon, to whom he had originally dedicated the symphony, wanted to declare himself Emperor is well known. He angrily scratched out the dedication and renamed the work: “Heroic Symphony, composed to celebrate the memory of a great man.” The National Symphony Orchestra is releasing their complete cycle of Beethoven Symphonies this month. As Gianandrea Noseda affirmed, “Beethoven symphonies are still today one of the most important and greatest achievements in the history of music. For the National Symphony Orchestra, it is the first Beethoven cycle to be recorded, so there is this extra element of excitement.” 

We'll have much more on the NSO’s upcoming European tour and the Beethoven cycle release on air and at WETAClassical.org. And for a really fascinating deep dive into Korngold’s Violin Concerto, check out ClassicalBreakdown.org. The episode is titled: “Korngold’s Violin Concerto, from the Golden Age of Hollywood.”


February 7-9, Kennedy Center Concert Hall|
Gianandrea Noseda, conductor
Hilary Hahn, violin

Alban Berg: 3 Pieces for String Orchestra from the Lyric Suite

Erich Wolfgang Korngold: Violin Concerto

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No.3, “Eroica”

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