By Charlie Mcbride
THESE JANUARY days may be cold and wet, grim and grey, but Music for Galway’s aptly named Midwinter Festival can be relied upon to spread cheer and warmth on the weekend of January 25 to 27.
Sponsored by DERI and NUI Galway, this year’s festival is entitled Beethoven: Genius, Passion, and the Irish connection, and sees MfG celebrate the great composer and his connections to Ireland and Galway, with a series of concerts in the Town Hall Theatre.
An international cast will descend on the city for the event, including Osiris Piano Trio and soprano Charlotte Riedijk from the Netherlands; clarinettist Paul Roe, tenor and pianist Robin Tritschler; and pianist Rebecca Cápová from Ireland, with an exciting programme of piano solos, trios, and Irish folk melodies arranged by Beethoven.
The music will be complemented by actor Rod Goodall’s readings from the letters of Beethoven as translated by Galway scholar Emily Anderson in the 1960s.
The concerts takes place on Friday January 25, Saturday 26, and Sunday 27, with each one having a particular focus. The opening night centres on the theme of ‘Genius’, giving a commanding overview of Beethoven’s talent with compositions from his earliest phase to his final piano piece.
Among the featured performers are the Osiris Piano Trio, Rebecca Cápová, and Paul Roe performing the Piano Trio in E-flat major (Op 1, no 1), Clarinet Trio in B-flat major (Op 11), and Six Bagatelles (Op 126).
On Saturday evening ‘Passion’ is the focus with the song cycle for tenor and piano ‘An Die Ferne Geliebte’ (‘To The distant Beloved’), the Piano Trio in B-flat major (Op 97), and readings from the Beethoven letters brought to life by such diverse talents as Robin Tritschler, Simon Lepper, Rod Goodall, and the Osiris Trio.
There is sure to be keen interest in Sunday’s concert at 3pm, which highlights Beethoven’s Irish connection with a selection of Irish poems and lyrics for which he composed music.
These songs for soprano, tenor, and piano trio are not so widely known as Beethoven’s other works, but they came about through the efforts of Scottish folk music collector and publisher George Thomson (1757 -1851). A friend of Robert Burns, Thomson was keen to give the Scottish, Irish, and Welsh folk melodies he had collected more ‘gentrified’ musical settings which would make them suitable to be performed in family drawing rooms.
To this end he commissioned prominent European composers, such as Haydn and Beethoven, to provide fresh arrangements for the songs and while Haydn seems to have viewed the exercise as mere hackwork, Beethoven applied himself fully to the task and produced compositions that bear the authentic stamp of his genius.
Indeed, he might have applied himself a bit too well for Thomson’s liking, as surviving correspondence between the two men reveals heated disputes over Beethoven’s refusal to simplify his arrangements. Be that as it may, this concert provides a rare opportunity to hear Beethoven’s setting of 10 Irish songs which audiences are sure to enjoy.
Also featured on the Sunday programme are further readings by Rod Goodall from Beethoven’s letters in the superb translations of Emily Anderson. Emily Anderson was the daughter of former UCG president, Alexander Anderson.
An amateur musician and German linguist, she went on to translate and publish the correspondence of Mozart in the 1950s and 10 years later that of Beethoven from German into English. To this day these translations are of huge importance to musicians, musicologists, film makers and music lovers all over the English speaking world.
Pianist Rebecca Cápová is another who features on the Sunday bill with her rendition of Eleven Bagatelles (Op 119) to follow up the Six Bagatelles (Op 126) that she will play on the Friday programme. Ahead of her Galway performance she took time to talk about her music career and the challenge of playing Beethoven.
Cápová was born into a musical family in Cork and has won numerous prizes, most recently the Premio Accademia International Piano Competition in Rome, and she has given recitals throughout Europe, Japan, and China. While Rebecca grew up in Ireland, Cápová is clearly not a Hibernian surname.
“My father is Czech and he came to Ireland in the 1970s,” she explains, speaking from her current Cologne home. “Both he and my mother are pianists and teach at the Cork School of Music. My sister Kirsten is a pianist too and we sometimes play together fourhand.
“It was inevitable we would pursue music. There was always a piano there. When I was very little my mother taught privately at home and I always used to listen to her pupils and I started trying myself when I was three or four and then my mother gave me some lessons before I started at the Cork School of Music.”
Rebecca is looking forward to taking part in the festival.
“It’s very nice to play in the Galway festival because I would probably have never studied the repertoire that I am learning for that – the bagatelles,” she says. “I haven’t performed them before, I learned them specially for the festival.”
She expands on the character and appeal of the bagatelles.
“They’re very short and at first sight seem rather slight in comparison to his piano sonatas or other larger works,” she says. “For that reason they’re often overlooked by a lot of musicians, which is a pity because they are absolutely beautiful. Some of them are very easy but behind the simplicity they are quite complex somehow.
“Beethoven was deaf when he wrote them, which is incredible. Opus 126 is very late on whereas the piano sonatas go up to Opus 111, so they are later than the piano sonatas and it is as if he is looking backwards on life, it’s very nostalgic. They’re very interesting, it’s like playing 18 mini-sonatas.”
As well as the concert programmes cited above, on Saturday afternoon at 2pm there will be a ‘Meet the Musicians’ event where audiences will have a chance to meet the artists in conversation with Jane O’Leary, with whom they will discuss their approach and experiences with Beethoven’s music.
All in all, it should make for a truly memorable and delightful weekend.