Iain Farrington

Pianist, organist, composer, arranger

Beethoveniana for Symphony Orchestra

Beethoveniana was commissioned for the First Night of the BBC Proms 2020, when all live concert performances were prevented by the coronavirus outbreak. It was written to be recorded by all five BBC orchestras and BBC Singers in lockdown. As it was the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth, I was asked to write a piece based on his nine symphonies. Essentially I took Beethoven's music and put it in a musical washing machine to see which colours would run. What's come out is a collage of fragments tied together that sum up his music: heroic, witty, defiant, turbulent, tragic and reflective. It also shows the influence his music has had on different genres, as well as the stylistic diversity of the Proms itself. Inevitably the turmoil and sadness of the situation found its way into the piece as well, something which was unavoidable. The work ends with the Ode to Joy sung to a new text by Sarah Gabriel that reflects on the trauma of the work's background, while offering hope for the future.

Beethoveniana also exists in a version for a standard size orchestra, to match Beethoven's 5th and 9th symphonies: piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, percussion, strings.

Duration: 6 mins

Listen to a performance here:

Iain Farrington - Beethoveniana (5’57)

Watch the specially made film of the piece here:

Some reviews of the work:

The Times

“Happily, however, this First Night wasn't all about second helpings. It opened with something new and irresistible: 323 musicians from the BBC's five orchestras and the BBC Singers, each recorded in lockdown isolation, performing Iain Farrington's specially commissioned six-minute Beethoveniana, honouring Ludwig van B's 250th birthday. Farrington has taken Beethoven's nine symphonies, shredded their most famous tunes into DJ-style samples, then weaved them inside, outside and above each other with panache, ingenious craftsmanship, bravado bitonality and an audacious eclecticism that takes in jazz and bluegrass as well as the full gamut of classical styles. Beethoven would have loved it, or at least loved picking up the royalties for somebody else's hard work -- though Farrington's mashed-up Beethoven did make the real thing, the Third Piano Concerto, sound a little old-hat afterwards, even in Igor Levit's gleefully characterised interpretation.”

The Daily Telegraph

“The 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth has brought forth a number of musical homages, mostly of an earnest and strenuous kind. Iain Farrington, the composer of the six-minute Beethoveniana that opened last night’s Prom, perhaps wisely took the view that moral uplift is not what a pandemic-wearied public needs. Instead he offered a jolly romp through all nine symphonies, assembled from little fragments recorded individually by 323 musicians from the five BBC Orchestras and the BBC Singers, and then painstakingly assembled into a musical roller-coaster ride. The style was essentially filmic, somewhere between an Ealing comedy and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Watch out—here comes the finale of the 1st Symphony! And look there’s the Pastoral Symphony—no wait, it’s a cowboy hoedown! Right at the end, the Ode to Joy from the 9th Symphony appeared in a reflective, minor-key mode, clothing a newly written text by Sarah Gabriel which meditated on the darkness of our present lives, before turning to quiet hopefulness at the very end.”

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