Beethoven and Brusa take it slow

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Tuesday, November 6, 2018

For later Romantic composers like Richard Wagner, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was “the apotheosis of the dance,” and certainly sitting still during the Symphony’s dizzying finale is not always easy…

…But for those in the audience at its premiere in 1813, as part of a benefit concert for wounded Bavarian and Austrian soldiers, it was the somber slow movement that proved most attractive. Maybe audiences read more into it that Beethoven intended, given the occasion, but over time, the slow movements of many Romantic symphonies not only got longer, but also became the emotional “heart” of the composition.

By the time of Bruckner and Mahler, some of these slow movements alone lasted as long as an entire symphony by earlier composers like Haydn and Mozart. And many composers since then have written slow symphonic movements, which stand alone as complete works in themselves.

On today’s date in 1999, this “Adagio” by the Italian composer Elisabetta Brusa received its premiere performance by the Virtuosi of Toronto. Brusa was born in Milan in 1954, and studied music at the Milan Conservatory.

“My Adagio,” she writes, “is a freely structured composition in a single movement inspired by well-known masterpieces, such as those by Albinoni, Mahler, and Barber. Independent of a pre-established form, sonata, or suite, it originated as an autonomous composition in the expressive style which have distinguished the numerous Adagios of the past.”