John Eliot Gardiner on Beethoven, period instruments, and revolutionary fervor

Posted on: February 19, 2020

John Eliot Gardiner leads the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique. Photo by Chris Christodoulou

Starting on February 19, John Eliot Gardiner will lead the period-instrument Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in Beethoven’s nine symphonies over five concerts at Carnegie Hall, with subsequent performances in Chicago and London. He spoke with Zachary Woolfe in Friday’s (2/14) New York Times. Gardiner: “From the outset, Beethoven decides to use the symphony as a vehicle for expressing his very strong convictions, urgently and publicly…. He set out to encompass philosophical themes and even political themes, however unpalatable these might have been to the authorities in the repressive Vienna of his day…. When I was in my 30s and first conducted the symphonies, I did my best to de-Wagnerize the music. Most orchestras in the 1970s tended to play Beethoven in a style that was pretty much identical to that in which they played Wagner or Strauss…. When we started the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique 30 years ago, our aim was to see if we could actually reconstitute or reconfigure [the] imaginary orchestra that Beethoven had singing in his inner ear, but never truly heard…. A listener attending our performances will, I hope, hear greater clarity, greater transparency, greater rhetoric, a greater sense of excitement, freshness and ebullience.”