Friday, October 11, 2013

Trans Siberian Orchestra - Mephistopheles Returns

The Trans Siberian Orchestra is best known for their rock and roll Christmas albums, but the truth of the matter is that The Trans Siberian Orchestra is primarily about the fusion of rock and roll and classical music.

Many of the best Christmas songs are deliberate reconstructions of, or heavily inspired by, classic symphonies. Obvious examples include “Christmas Canon Rock” or Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker,” less obvious examples include “What Child Is This?” which is basically a reconstruction of old “Greensleeves,” all of which are performed by The Trans Siberian Orchestra on their Christmas albums. No effort is made to hide their infinity for Mozart or Orf as their version of the “Mirage of Figaro” and “O Fortuna” are both present on “Night Castle,” also the works of Bach and others are present throughout. Combine this with the eccentric nature Savatage and Jon Oliva, the rock and roll stars who made rock and roll Christmas a real thing, and the overarching theme of rock and roll meets classical music becomes rather obvious. It should not surprise you to learn The Trans Siberian Orchestra’s third album was a concept album about Beethoven’s theoretical tenth symphony, what should surprise you is that you never heard of it until now; of if you have; good work.

The concept behind “Beethoven’s Last Night” is this; while composing his tenth symphony Ludwig Von Beethoven is visited by Mephistopheles and is tempted by him to sell his soul so that he may finish his final masterpiece. Basically “Beethoven’s Last Night” is “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” only set in Beethoven’s house. When I think about it “The Devil Came Down To Beethoven’s House” might also have worked as a title for this album, very descriptive anyway.

Beethoven creating his tenth symphony under great duress
“Beethoven’s Last Night” is in many ways an excuse for the Trans Siberian Orchestra to play rock opera versions of Beethoven’s classic symphonies, as if one needed an excuse. They use the “Moonlight Sonata” as the construction of two songs on the album, “Mephistopheles” and “What Is Eternal.” “Fur Elise” is used to construct “The Dark” and, well “Fur Elise.” Beethoven’s Ninth is of course present, especially the fan fare of the “Ode To Joy.” They even managed to slip in Mozart’s “Requiem,” “Marriage of Figaro” and “Sonata Facile” in there. Also Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebees” is present. In the live performance/story line the justification for having Mozat’s music present is that Ludwig and Wolfgang were friends in Vienna, and just as Ludwig is about to consider Mephistopheles’ offer the ghost of Wolfgang shows up to warn him of the obvious evils of the demon. In reality there is no hard evidence that Beethoven ever even met his elder Mozart, but it is entirely possible that Beethoven may have studied under Mozart for a short time during his time in Vienna, though to anyone with an ear for classical music it is pretty obvious Beethoven’s music is more inspired by Franz Joseph Haydn than anyone else. Then again any excuse to make a rock opera version of Mozart’s music is a good excuse.

All things considered my favorite song on the album is “Mephistopheles Returns” a song inspired by and structured around Beethoven’s eighth piano concerto, also known as “Sonata Pathetique.” “Mephistopheles Returns” is a bad ass song rock song/classical composition about the horror of seeing the demon once more after Ludwig has had time to contemplate his offer.

Beethoven getting right in the face of Mephistopheles
Speaking of the live performance of “Beethoven’s Last Night” the Trans Siberian Orchestra went on tour in 2012 performing the set from the album, twelve years after the albums initial release. I presume the Trans Siberian Orchestra wanted a break from playing their Christmas set and decided to dust off the old Beethoven routine, and I actually have some confidence in this explanation. In 2009 Trans Siberian Orchestra’s fifth studio album “Night Castle” was released and it was equal parts Christmas themed and classical compositions and Savatage rock and roll. I saw the Trans Siberian Orchestra on their Night Castle tour in my hometown of Calgary in November of the same year, the first half of the concert was the Christmas narrative and the second half was a rock opera of classical music and Savatage related rock and roll. So the theory that a few years later the Trans Siberian Orchestra wanted to focus on their non-Christmas music is a theory that fits the situation. I was very happy with this development at the time because I loved the Trans Siberian Orchestra version of Savatage’s “Believe,” as noted here in my December 2009 Music In Review:

For the longest time I was convinced I was the only person in Calgary who owned a copy of “Beethoven’s Last Night” and also quite possibly the only person who knew it existed, so in 2012 when the Trans Siberian Orchestra returned to Calgary to perform the Beethoven set I was pretty excited. I bought tickets I went to the show with a friend, they performed the set brilliantly, the narrator was very charismatic, everything was perfect, but I was disappointed... they didn’t play “Mephistopheles Returns.” That’s my only complaint. To me “Mephistopheles Returns” is the climax of the entire set and it was a foolish thing not to include it.

So the only question remains, what is cooler than “The Devil Came Down to Georgia” re-imagined as “The Devil Came Down To Beethoven’s House?” If anyone can think of anything I would like to know.

Until later this month keep on rocking in the free world.

- The King of Braves

There was really good artwork made for this album.

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