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On Forbes: Vienna: Premiering Beethoven Symphonies All Over Again

Martin Haselböck’s RESOUND project takes on the Ninth Symphony

Decades of research have been poured into every musical and instrumental aspect of the “Historically Informed Performance” (HIP) of classical music: From the way the continuo bands of the time improvised to how cat-gut was cured before making strings out of it. How the stems on the hammers of fortepianos were themselves tuned; what tempo indications meant depending on who indicated and where he lived; how Bach hinted at the right tuning by means of coded squiggles etc. et al. You get the idea.

Comparatively little has been done by way of research into how audiences behaved or listened on, or for that matter: where. And whatever has been done, it hasn’t been made visible or audible to audiences in the same way. No matter how authentic “17th century” the band plays in front of us, audiences still sit on the other side of the fourth wall as if it were 1977. We treat music from Monteverdi to Stockhausen as if it were Parsifal. The lights are dimmed, we listen in awed quiet, are embarrassed if caught snoring, and duly hiss if someone has shown his or her appreciation at a point that doesn’t fit the current convention of when to show appreciation. (I call those hissers the “Vigilant Applause Police”, an odious faction that happens to overlap considerably with the only slightly less annoying “Eager Early Clappers”; see the scientific looking, albeit completely speculative Venn diagram below.)

Historic Venues

Doing just that – researching where music was played – is the raison d’être of the “Resound” project of the Orchester Wiener Akademie (the Vienna Academy Orchestra) under organist-cum-conductor-cum-impresario Martin Haselböck. In seven concerts over two concert seasons, the orchestra will have performed Beethoven’s Nine Symphonies more or less in the venues they were premiered in. Interestingly that is possible with just a little fudging, sinceies more or less in the venues they were premiered in. Interestingly that is possible with just a little fudging, since...

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