Beethoven 6 Tweets from NSO

Here are the Tweets sent out during Beethoven 6th Symphony at the National Symphony Orchestra concert at Wolf Trap last night. (Washington Post introductory article here) This will give you an idea of one possible style for this kind of "live program notes". Though I wasn't at the concert, I followed the Tweets from my Palm Pre.

These Tweets were written by Emil de Cou, associate conductor of the NSO since 2003 and were sent during the live performance. I don't know yet how it was set up, but they were probably sent by someone in the tech. booth following the score. They begin a few minutes before the music begins.

Welcome to the @NSOatWolfTrap real time program note stream for Thursday July 30 Beethoven Pastoral Symphony!

Beethoven was known for his long walks in the country to look for inspiration. The 6th is a reflection of his emotions during his walks.

The Pastoral is a celebration of nature that’s just perfect to be heard on the lawn at Wolf Trap.

Growing more and more disjointed from city life, Beethoven used the 1st movement’s cheery nature to represent his return to the country.

Beethoven wrote at the top of this movement: “Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country”

The symphony begins in the middle of a journey. The music evokes singing birds, the sounds of a stream, and wheels on cobblestones.

We come to the crest of a hill and suddenly see a bright new vista.

We turn a corner and see a totally different, amazing landscape.

We have arrived! Beethoven’s joy of being in his countryside paradise is expressed in its most emotional version here.

A prayer of thanks at the end of this first part of our journey – and now we approach a calm stream in the distance.

We find ourselves next to a peaceful brook. Inspiration for this movement comes from a stream in Dornbach, near Beethoven’s country home.

A breeze through the branches of a nearby tree creates the sound of rustling leaves.

A folksong-like tune is heard played by the bassoon – a fittingly lazy song.

As the notes get quicker, the stream moves faster. Beethoven said that as the tones get lower the water becomes deeper.

The orchestral birds have a conversation. The color of the flute and oboe are important to Beethoven even tho he was deaf when he wrote this

As your eyes get used to the light in the forest you can finally see more detail in the scene as the music gets more complex.

In the score Beethoven has printed “Nightingale = flute Quail = oboe Cuckoo = clarinet – a mini concerto for woodwind/birds.”

This movement is for the local folks in the country – Beethoven would hang out with them on his country trips.

In the Austrian countryside wine is a big part of any celebration – the dance picks up here.

Beethoven writes the music off a beat on purpose so it sounds like the country band is not that good – or maybe a little drunk…

The orchestra evokes bagpipe-like instruments playing for a reel dance. Beethoven loved sneaking into village pubs to hear country dances.

The bad little country band is back – the poor bassoon player only knows how to play three notes.

The party is starting to get out of control…

Suddenly the sound of distant thunder is heard – the violins make the sound of raindrops.


Blinding bolts of lightning strike nearby.

Beethoven adds trombones for the first time in the piece to add to the sound of the sky opening up and the terrifying thunder.

A shepherd’s pipes are heard off in the distance – a horn call answers from another hilltop.

There is joy in the countryside once the storm has subsided.

This movement is one of Beethoven’s few symphonic hymns of thanksgiving – an inward version of the bombastic 5th Symphony.

Beethoven wrote, “When in the evening I contemplate the sky in wonder about the planets revolving in their orbits, suns or earths by name…”

“…my spirit rises into the cosmos.”

Rather than use a more complex musical language, Beethoven goes back to the simplest type of music to express his view of nature.

Here in Fantasia, Disney has a beautiful sunset begin. I see this in my imagination, and it’s something I think Beethoven had in mind, too.

It is twilight now, and the music becomes a meditation and a prayer.

Thank you for coming to NSO@Wolf Trap and for being a part of this first ever live “twittering” concert. - Emil de Cou

There you have it. I hope you enjoyed this vicarious Beethoven 6th performance through the thoughtful and fun Tweets of Emil de Cou. Another conductor or writer may have used another style, perhaps more serious and technical, or even lighter. That choice can also be influenced by feedback from concert goers.

Some musicians and die-hard concert goers my see this light-hearted verbal translation of the music as watered down and cheapened. I see it as a way to intrigue tech. lovers and to introduce inexperienced and young concert goers to the music. Those who bore easily may be able to stay focused on the music with the Tweet program notes. The next time they hear this piece, they may not want or need the Tweet, and will find their own way to enjoying it.

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