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San Jose Symphonic Choir Performs Beethoven and Hummel


San Jose Symphonic Choir will present its first concert of 2019 on March 23, at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph in San Jose, at 7:30 p.m. 

Led by Music Director Leroy Kromm, the choir will perform Masses written by two important composers of the early 19th century: the Mass in C Major by Ludwig van Beethoven and the Mass in D Major by Johann Hummel. The choir will be accompanied by the Cal Arte Chamber Orchestra. Tickets are: general, $30 in advance, $35 at the door, seniors/students/military $25 in advance, $30 at the door, and are available through Brown Paper Tickets. Visit the Choir’s website, www.sanjosesymphonicchoir.org for a direct link to tickets and additional information. 

The onset of the 19th century saw revolutions that defined a new government in France and a new country in America. Social change began that would end slavery, and industrial change revolutionized travel and the work place. In the midst of these political and social transformations, musical tastes changed too, moving away from the elegantly defined forms of classicism towards the lush and turbulent music of the romantic era.

Two names closely associated with these musical transitions are Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Hummel. They knew each other well. Both studied with Joseph Haydn, both composed for Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II, a prominent musical patron, and both resided in Vienna, an important center of classical music. Despite these similarities, they played very different musical history roles, and enjoy very different recognition today. 

Beethoven, one of the best-known composers from past eras, is regarded as a musical bridge between the 18th and 19th centuries. Firmly rooted in the classical traditions of Haydn and Mozart, whom he ardently admired, he became increasingly innovative with musical form, in part due to his early deafness, and his style underwent significant changes. Using his compositions to reflect his passionate concern for the freedom and dignity of the individual, he developed the style of “musical painting” to describe scenes and emotions. His works became louder and longer, and his musical themes more intricately developed. Beethoven broke from the measured structure of classicism, introducing new dynamic, instrumental, and emotional extremes that would define the romantic era of music in the 19th century. He was highly sought as a pianist; by the time the Mass in C was written in 1807, heads of state would schedule their meetings around Beethoven performances so as to not miss them. 

SJSC’s performance will pair Hummel’s lovely Mass in D with Beethoven’s beautiful and stirring Mass in C Major, allowing comparison of the styles and gifts of these two important classical contemporaries. Incidentally, Beethoven’s Mass was not enjoyed by its sponsor, Prince Esterhazy, who found Beethoven’s modernity “unbearably ridiculous and detestable.” Luckily for us, it survived anyway.