The Boston Symphony Orchestra at Tanglewood on Saturday, July 23.
The alchemy by which an old piece of music becomes inextricably linked to a new movie has always fascinated me. I’ve never even seen Platoon, but I can’t hear Barber’s Adagio for Strings without thinking of it. Strauss might as well have composed Also spach Zarathustra for 2001: A Space Odyssey, and The Shawshank Redemption turned a simple, plot-advancing duet from Mozart’s Nozze di Figaro into the very embodiment of transcendent art.
So will the second movement of Beethoven’s seventh symphony, the Allegretto, be forever identified with The King’s Speech? At Tanglewood, when the piece began and afterward as people left, I must have overheard half a dozen questions and confirmations that, yes, that’s what plays at the movie’s climax, when the king delivers the titular speech—the association is definitely there. I suspect it will fade, mainly because I don’t expect any kind of immortality from the movie itself, but if I’m wrong on the latter count, who knows? That climactic scene is perfectly choreographed, using Beethoven’s grand dramatic arc to give tremendous dignity and resonance to what otherwise would have been a perfunctory (if beautifully shot) montage. The music makes the scene, and it’s impossible to think about that scene without recalling the music.
It also helps that Symphony No. 7 is a stunning musical work, period. (It’s a tribute to just how brilliant Beethoven was that even his relatively lesser-known symphonies—those that aren’t the instantly recognizable fifth, or the ninth with the “Ode to Joy,” or the Eroica or the Pastoral—are still masterworks.) The rhythmic motives give everything a driving momentum, from the stately Allegretto to the spritely Presto. The symphony fairly brims over with life, and that’s how the Boston Symphony Orchestra performed it, vivacious and energetic and thrilling.