US Premiere @ Spoleto: Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony

June 3, 2014

On June 3, John Kennedy and the Spoleto Festival Orchestra present the US Premiere of Michael Gordon’s monumental Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony.

Commissioned by the Beethoven-Bonn Festival and premiered by the Bamberger Symphoniker in 2006, Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony filters one of the classics of the symphonic repertoire through the lens of the 21st-century. Not looking to improve on the work’s timeless quality, Gordon imagined “what if someone unknowingly used this material in the course of writing his or her new work?”

Gordon writes:

Beethoven’s brutish and loud music has always inspired me. At the time it was written, it was probably the loudest music on the planet. The raw power of his orchestral writing burned through the style of the time.

A commission by the Beethoven-Fest Bonn gave me the opportunity to ask this question: What if someone, while writing a piece of music for orchestra, just happened to stumble over the same material that Beethoven used? What if someone unknowingly used this material in the course of writing his or her new work?

In Rewriting Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, I retained one essential musical idea from each movement of the original work. From the first movement, I couldn’t resist working with the huge barbaric opening chords. From the second movement, I took the divine and other-worldly theme, adjusting it slightly so that when it ends, it is in a key one half-step higher. The theme continues to cycle around and slowly spirals up. From the third movement, I lifted the background accompaniment and brought it to the foreground. From the fourth movement I used the main theme.

Did this “rewriting” transform the music, or did the music transform me? Throughout the process I questioned, Who am I to take these precious notes and mash them into clay? But at a certain point I simply got lost in the material. I reveled in its power. I forgot about these questions in my mind. I forgot about Beethoven.