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.
The other two pieces on the program didn’t seem to connect with them to quite such an extent. Steven Stucky’s Rhapsodies, which premiered in 2008, was nice enough but not particularly memorable. The Brahms’s violin concerto isn’t any more my favorite Brahms work than, seemingly, the orchestra’s—for whatever reason, the piece simply didn’t sing Saturday night—but soloist Arabella Steinbacher played with great passion, and I do enjoy the concerto’s final movement, with its gypsy-like inflections and all the exuberance that goes along with that.
But it was the Beethoven that really clicked, that felt like an electric current running throughout the crowd under the night sky. And, of course, the Allegretto provoked cinematic connections, for good measure. It’s funny to think that for as long as people watch The King’s Speech—whether it’s another five years or another fifty—that Allegretto will provoke squeals of surprise and happy recognition from classical music novices, which in turn will trigger sighs and grumbles from more seasoned concert-goers pointing out that Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is more than a middle-brow film soundtrack. Because, you know, it really, really is. The King’s Speech is just a better-than-expected movie; Symphony No. 7 is a masterpiece.