The concert beginning with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture (1810) ended with Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony (1881). The end of one fin de siècle  transits to the beginning of another. Now we are at the end of the third.

So the concert hall was half empty and the audience were frustrated with impatience. The angular heroics that distinguish both Beethoven and Bruckner are simply too bold if not too ugly for a modern audience.

Especially Bruckner, who is the embodiment of constant battles between neurosis and transcendence – who as a person from the country didn’t always know his place in the city (he is described by some as a nincompoop): at times he looks like a loner inclining towards sudden bursts of openness and extravaganza. At times he seems to be adverse to anything excessive, indulging in yearnings and joys only in the most measured classical formality. Is this ambivalence the symptom or the cause of his neurosis? Or is it how he contains his moral crises?

Beethoven’s music is angular but progressive, as Bruckner’s music is not. Beethoven is self-consciously in the eyes of the storm. Bruckner stood in a field, desperately counting the leaves on a tree. Beethoven heralds Romanticism. Bruckner – and his pupil Gustav Mahler – bid farewell.

Between the Egmont Overture and the Bruckner symphony, Marc-André Hamelin gave a delicate yet rapturous performance of Haydn’s Keyboard Concerto No. 11. For inattentive ears, this piece merely sounds pleasant – probably that’s why the audience only gave a muted response to the exhilarating performance, as they did last season to a transcendental performance of a Mozart concerto. Music from the Classical and early Romantic periods, in fact, is far more difficult for modern audience to “get” than any 20th-century or contemporary piece that may sound revolting.  An effective but impractical solution is to program Haydn after Bruckner.

I came back for a second performance the next evening. I was physically exhausted in a pleasant way from ealier physical activities. My mind was quiet. And Bruckner’s music, this time round, merely remote and strange. And Haydn merely delightful.

Lofty Bruckner:

Little Haydn:

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