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Beethoven

Although a small number sketches are to be found in Beethoven's so-called 'Eroica' sketchbook of 1803, serious work on the 6th Symphony did not begin until the 1808. The piece was composed, like the C minor Symphony, at Beethoven's summer retreat in the village of Heiligenstadt. Much later he showed Schindler the exact locations of great beauty that had stimulated many of the musical ideas we hear in the composition. Beethoven's great love of nature is well known, though for him it was not merely the appreciation of the beauty of the countryside. Rather, he shared the feeling that, by knowing nature, one could know God, a sentiment popular in art since the time of ancient Greece through to the French Enlightenment.

The idea of a pastoral composition was not a new one, we have from Haydn 'The Seasons', pastoral sinfonias are to be found in the oratarios of Bach and Handel. Then of course there is Vivaldi's 'The Four Seasons.' Justin Knecht (1752-1817) had written a symphony titled 'The musical portrait of nature' which has a five movement plan with a first movement describing a beautiful sunlit countryside, a storm in the 3rd movement and the finale titled 'Nature raises her voice towards heaven offering to the creator sweet and agreable songs.' Now it is certain that B knew of this work, even if he never heard it performed - Sir George Grove discovered that this symphony by Knecht was actually advertised on the cover of Beethoven's early 'Electoral' sonatas WoO47. However Beethoven was generally contemptuous of other composers' attempts at 'tone painting', and although he himself would not disdain on occasion from including 'imitation' into his work, the difference between Beethoven and the others was, as Thayer puts it, "they undertook to give musical imitations of things essentially unmusical - he never."

Although the original inspiration may have stemmed from his genuine love of nature, the businessman in Beethoven may have realised, after the success of Haydn's composition (which nevertheless, Beethoven scolded mercilessly), the financial benefits to be gained from a work of this genre. Commercial considerations may have also played a part in Beethoven's decision to give each movement a title. However in the published edition he puts the disclaimer "more an expression of feeling than painting" no doubt in an attempt to play down the effect of the imagery 'painted' by these titles.

The work was premiered at the same benefit concert in Vienna as the C minor on 22 December 1808, surely one of the greatest concerts of all time! Ironically, gained little profit from the concert in his honour. After paying the musicians in advance, Beethoven had no money left at all for luxuries such as heating, thus the whole audience were frozen. The receipts barely covered his outgoings.

Musical outline:

The first movement is Allegro ma non troppo and is entitled 'Cheerful feelings on arriving in the countryside.' It opens in a relaxed manner and the opening bars provide the material from which the rest of the movement is largely derived. When we arrive at the first theme proper the rustic world is immediately apparent in the droning bass and its joyous hunt-like fanfare, the emphasis of which is important for the point to be made in performance, on the French horns, together with the violins. The second second group is more relaxed and closes with again a droning bass cadence-theme. Repetition plays an important part in the movement, giving a sense of natural growth, this is especially the case in the development.

The following Andante molto mosso has a more specific title - 'Scene by the brook'. The apparent simplicity of this movement drew scorn from the early critics, who thought it childish. The sense of water flowing is maintained by the melodic pattern played on the lower strings. For some time there is an outpouring of great lyricism in the home key of B-flat yet the flow remains unbroken as an exploration through more distant keys is undertaken in the development. The movements famous bird-calls are heard in the coda. The species are even identified in the score - nightingale, quail and cuckoo - Beethoven honourably acknowledging the assistance his feathered friends have provided!

The last three movements are played without a break. The first of these is an Allegro entitled 'Peasants Merrymaking'. The movement equates to the scherzo with trio, which is played twice. This ABABA structure was a common practice for Beethoven at this time and which served as a gravity gaining mechanism that allowed the scherzo to command a similar stature as the other movements whose own structure Beethoven had expanded and developed during his 'middle period'. The 'scherzo' section is at one moment light and playful then at another the merrymaking is more boisterous. The 'trio' is a rustic dance of great vigour and exhilaration and was first sketched in the 'Eroica' sketchbook of 1803. After the second playing of the trio, the third statement of the opening is suddenly cut short by a rumbling on the basses suggesting the distant roll of thunder, and on the strings a staccato figure representing the onset of rain. A storm is approaching...

The 'Storm' (Allegro) serves as a link between the third and fifth movements, and could be seen as a more substantial equivalent of the transition link between the third and fourth movement of the C minor Symphony. Here the influence once again of French music is apparent and the piece has been compared to the storm in Cherubini's opera 'Eliza'. In addition to the thunder and rain, lightning is provided by sharp attacks on the timpani. Here a piccolo and two trombones are heard for the first time. Eventually the storm abates as the bass rumble dies away and the 'raindrop' minims are replaced by heavenly quavers that announce the return of tranquility and sunlight, a time for thanksgiving...

The finale (Allegretto) is entitled 'Shepherds song - joyful thanksgiving after the storm.' It is a radiant sonata-rondo whose theme is introduced by the French horn. The rondo eventually comes to a climax in the coda, though the true emotional climax occurs in the closing bars, with the hushed transformation of the rondo theme and the distant horns echo the opening theme once more before the movement ends simply, and humbly, with two short chords.

Recommended Recordings:

The Hanover Band/Goodman (Nimbus) and The London Classical Players/Norrington (EMI) both offer sensitive yet exhilarating performances

Symphony No.7 in A major, op.92.

Period of composition: 1811-1812 Date of Publication: 1816, by Steiner, dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries.

Background details:

Although Beethoven had considered the production of a seventh symphony as early as 1808, possibly intended for Count Oppersdorff, it was not until 1811 that Beethoven finally started sketching such a piece. By then he had in mind not one but a set of three symphonies. The sketches reveal that the 7th and 8th Symphonies were realised side by side, although the 7th was finished first with the main body of writing being undertaken and completed in the spring of 1812. The sketches of 1811 also reveal some preliminary attempts at what was to become the choral section of the 9th Symphony.

Beethoven had hoped that the 7th Symphony could be performed at the time of the Pentecost in 1812, but the project fell through and it was not until the 8th of December 1813, that the piece was first heard at a charity concert in aid of Austrian and Bavarian troops wounded in the battle with Napoleon's army at Hanau. The concert took place in the University Hall in Vienna and also included Beethoven's 'Battle of Vitoria' Op.91, better known as the 'Battle Symphony'. The timing of the concert was perfect, such jubilant and victorious music at a time of public relief when Napoleon's army was all but smashed. By all accounts it was a stupendous success and the whole concert was repeated four days later. A correspondent from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung attended both and wrote "the applause rose to the point of ecstasy." Beethoven had reached the zenith of his popularity.

Musical outline:

In one respect the 7th Symphony could be a summation of Beethoven's symphonic experience during his so-called middle period: it included the daring rhetorical style of the 3rd and 5th, yet also includes structural and lyrical aspects developed from the 4th and 6th. A strong sense of rhythmic motion pervades the whole work, though the description of the Symphony by Wagner as 'the apotheosis of the dance' is perhaps too narrow.

Like the 4th Symphony, the piece opens with a slow introductory section, though that of the present work is a more commanding 'Poco Sostenuto' compared to the 'Adagio' of the 4th. This rather vague marking has led to a great divergence in interpretation regarding the tempo of the opening. However if one pays attention to the motive strength of the semiquaver scales that appear alongside the opening minims, one should deduce that the 'sostenuto' should not be overdone. The opening is linked to the main sonata form 'Vivace' by a series of solitary exchanges between the wind and the strings that almost brings the music to a complete halt, until the dotted rhythm on the 'Vivace' is gently generated. This rhythm is then maintained vigorously throughout the remainder this barnstorming movement of energy on a cosmic scale. The keys of C major and F major play an important role in the development and indeed are a unifying factor in all four movements. In the coda the bizarre grinding bass (which led Weber to declare Beethoven 'ripe for the madhouse') serves to build up enormous tension before the release of the final climax.

Then follows the slow movement in the minor key (Allegretto). From the outset this movement was of great popularity with the audiences of the day, and to have it repeated at concerts was the norm. On occasion it was even substituted in place of the existing slow movements of his earlier symphonies during performances of these works! In reality, however, the movement is not 'Allegretto', but 'Andante'. This can be maintained on two levels - firstly, on the original printed musical parts the second movement were marked 'Andante', and early reviews indicated this also. Somehow, in later editions of the score, 'Allegretto' had been substituted. That Beethoven was aware of this error is reported by Schindler who stated that "in later years the master recommended that the first designation be restored." Secondly, one can deduce Andante from the music itself. The movement is quasi-variational in design, the theme being the haunting and melancholic march, with two intervening pastoral episodes in the major featuring the clarinet . It was typical of Beethoven to use a march-like Andante theme as the source for a variation movement, but not an Allegretto. By definition Andante (Italian for 'to go' or 'to walk') is the ideal tempo for such a march as this; Allegretto is altogether something more lively. The variants themselves are confined to accompanying figures, for the theme itself is always present. The theme eventually takes on a fugal form that develops to a climax before the coda scatters the theme quietly amongst the instruments.

The third movement is a scherzo (Presto) in F major. Here the sense of motion is accelerated with great energy. The structure of the movement takes the by now familiar ABABA with the trio (in D major) repeated twice. Apparently the theme for the trio has its origins as an Austrian Pilgrim's Hymn. Whether this is true or not, it has led to the common practise of playing the trio in a most drawn-out fashion most unlike Beethoven's slight reduction in tempo in the score to 'assai meno presto'. The fact that the trio is played twice in full and hinted at again in the coda does not favour a lengthy conception of the trio.

The finale (Allegro con brio) is in sonata form. The semiquaver swirl of the first subject has its origins in Beethoven's arrangement of the Irish round-dance 'Save me from the grave and wise' WoO 154 No.8, though the light gaiety of the dance is transformed into an irresistible whirlwind in its symphonic incarnation. The second group explores unexpected minor key territory with equal force . In the development the victorious move to C major occurs yet again. Further harmonic twists occur in the recapitulation before the coda fires up the whirlwind once more. Here an interesting passage occurs where the first theme is passed back and forth between the first and second violins. The true effect of this can only be appreciated if the first and second violins are separated and placed to the left and right of the conductor. This is evidence that Beethoven's wrote his music baring this layout in mind, and indeed all of his orchestral compositions benefit from the separation of the violins. In the closing phase we experience two monstrous climaxes using the full force of the orchestra before the book is closed in an appropriately tidy fashion.

Recommended Recordings:

The Hanover Band's (Nimbus) version is very exhilarating with good tempo. The best version on period instruments.

Symphony No.8 in F major, op.93.

The Scherzo leads without a break into the final Allegro via a mysterious transitionary passage with long held notes on the strings and military tappings on the timpani. Out of this a crescendo arises in the last moment bursting forth the most brilliant light of C major. What proceeds from here is the ultimate musical symbol of triumph and this music also has the flavour of the French revolution. Here the trombones and piccolo, which up until now had remained silent, have their say. Beethoven had discussed the inclusion of these instruments, novelties for a symphony at that time, with Count Oppersdorff, and it is not impossible that the Count had influenced Beethoven in this regard. The exposition repeat is rarely observed in performance but it is essential to balance the weight of the Scherzo of it is played with the full 'da capo'. The coda is a brilliant affair along the lines of the finale of the 3rd Symphony.

Recommended Recordings:

The Hanover Band/Huggett and The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/Gardiner offer excellent versions of this symphony, with the period instruments revealing the true revolutionary spirit of the work.

Symphony No.6 in F major, op.68 "Pastoral"

Period of composition: 1808 Date of Publication: 1809, by Breitkopf and Hartel, dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz and Count Andreas Razumovsky.

Background details:

Musical outline:

The four note motto of the opening Allegro con brio is so ingrained into the modern psyche that it is almost impossible to distance ourselves and assess it objectively! According to Schindler Beethoven said of the opening bars: "Thus Fate knocks at the door!" Whether this is true or not, there is certainly a sense of doom which permeates throughout the movement. The con brio must be fully observed for the true fearfulness of the piece to be realised. John Eliot Gardiner argues convincingly that the "Fate" theme has its origins in a song of the French Revolution. These opening bars are played on strings and clarinets alone and are actually ambiguous tonally (the key of C minor is confirmed only as the piece continues), with the full orchestra being reserved for the recapitulation and the coda. The horn heralds the second subject and briefly C major is allowed to triumph before ultimately being destroyed in the coda where "Fate " has the last word.

In the second movement, Andante con moto, we find an unusual mix of variation and free writing, with the galant theme being interrupted on three occasions by a martial fanfare in C major, and the variations themselves becoming more improvisatory in manner.

With the Scherzo and Trio we return to the world of C minor. The opening theme, looms questioningly out of the darkness on the cellos and bases. The question is answered starkly by the second martial theme, introduced by the horns, that is reminiscent of the "Fate" motif of the opening Allegro. The trio displays a virtuoso introduction from the bass that is increasingly taken up by the rest of the orchestra. The trio is played twice, in common with other works of the period such as the 4th, 6th and 7th Symphonies but there is some dispute as to whether it should be played only once as happened at the premiere. The ommision of the repeat is understandable considering the great length of this concert, but surely for normal purposes the movement should be played complete to hold its own in such a monumental and powerful work as this symphony.

Symphony No.5 in C minor, op.67

Period of composition: 1804 - 1808 Date of Publication: 1809, by Breitkopf and Hartel, dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz and Count Andreas Razumovsky.

Background details:

The hugely successful 4th Symphony obviously impressed Count Oppersdorff (who commissioned the piece) as much as it did the critics, for the Count swiftly offered Beethoven a new commission for another symphony. Beethoven took this opportunity to resurrect the sketches he had laid aside from 1804-1806 to satisfy the Count. The Count offered 500 florins for the work (as he did for the 4th Symphony) and paid 200 in advance. However the Count never received the symphony as Beethoven, forever on the look-out for a good deal, saw it fit to sell the piece to publishers Breitkopf and Hartel in 1808 as part of a package deal that included the 6th Symphony, the Cello Sonata Op.69 and the Piano Trios Op.70.

The piece was first performed at a mammoth benefit concert on 22 December 1808 which included the 6th Symphony, 4th Piano Concerto, the aria "Ah Perfido", excerpts from the Mass in C, an improvisation by Beethoven himself and the Choral Fantasy Op.80! The applause however was somewhat muted. The ability to comprehend such a volume of magnificent and extraordinary music was, perhaps, too much to expect. Also, as the concert lasted over four hours, the audience must have been absolutely frozen - Beethoven having no money left to pay for heating! A humble beginning for what is probably the most widely known piece of 'classical' music ever written.

The opening Adagio of the first movement, with the disconcerting E-flat repeated along its course immediately reveals Beethoven's middle period style despite its comparisons with Haydn. The mystery is put aside in favour of a brash and joyfull vigor as the main Allegro Vivace gets underway. In performance it is important that this vivacity is observed literally for the point to be made.

The second movement is Adagio with a light delicate texture that is continuously interrupted by a repeating figure prominent on the timpani and trumpets that wishes to spoil this idyll. The seriousness of these interruptions is revealed in the development, although the status quo is soon restored and the piece ends with the repeating figure ethereally subdued. Beethoven's metronome marking for this movement indicate a considerably quicker tempo than is traditionally performed today, however, if if observed fairly literally, the use of Beethoven's figure reveals a completely new nature to the piece, more dynamic while maintaining its delicacy and the development certainly benefits from the quicker tempo.

The silence is shattered with the boisterous scherzo - Allegro vivace. The minuet-like trio is repeated twice for the first time in the symphonies. Beethoven's use of this A-B-A-B-A structure for a scherzo was the result of his quest to expand his writing musically and structurally at this time.

The final Allegro ma non troppo is also lively and demonstrates that, for Beethoven at least, the proviso "ma non troppo" does not necessarily mean that the piece be played more moderately as a whole, rather the piece has more contrasting elements, that is the full-bodied allegro 'texture' is not so constant.

Recommended Recordings:

The Hanover band offer an excellent and exciting version on the Nimbus label. Here the vivacity is maintained throughout and this slow movement is given a far swifter treatment than is the norm, to great benefit.

After composing the 'Eroica', Beethoven next started work on what is now the 5th Symphony, but this work was laid aside when Beethoven received a symphonic commission from the Silesian Count Oppersdorff. Why the 5th was laid aside in not known, it may have been that Beethoven thought a work of the nature of the 5th would not have been to the Counts taste, but Beethoven may have realised that the 'Sturm und Drang' of the 5th would have made less impact after the grandeur of the 3rd and that a more contrasting piece was required. The Count was a most keen music lover and insisted that all who were in his service played a musical instrument. The resulting orchestra performed the 2nd Symphony for Beethoven at the Count's castle in 1806. The Count had possession of the piece for six months before Beethoven was free to publish it. Little else is known regarding the 4th's composition.

The piece was first performed at a Benefit concert for its composer in March 1807 and according to Schindler received a favourable reaction from the general public, "its impact was stronger than any of the others...even that of the first symphony in C major." The Viennese critics for once hailed the new symphony "without reserve or qualification, an honour that had granted to almost no other instrumental composition by Beethoven," as Schindler put it.

Musical outline:

The more Haydnesque approach shown in the 4th Symphony has been given as the reason for its early acceptance. Certainly its key was a favourite of Haydn's later orchestral music, and there are fewer elements within it that, to the critics, would appear 'bizzare' compared to the others. The positioning of the Symphony between the 3rd and 5th has certainly led to the neglect, and the piece as a whole is by no means lightweight. Schumann's well known description of the piece as a "slender Greek maiden between two Nordic giants" has done the 4th no favours, nor is it a particularly accurate statement.

For the finale (Allegro molto) we have a theme and variations. This theme had become something of a obsession with Beethoven, it first saw light in a set of Contredances (WoO14), then was used in the finale of his ballet 'Die Gestopfe des Prometheus' and then still further as the text for the piano variations Op35, before appearing in the Third Symphony. Such recycling of material was untypical of Beethoven, but he shows us his amazing way with 'old bottles and new wine!' The coda is a tour de force of the utmost brilliance.

Recommended Recordings:

Good versions exist on period instrument. These include The London Classical Players/Norrington (EMI), although the sound is rather 'dry'; The Hanover Band/Goodman (Nimbus) is excellent. The Orchestra Revolutionnaire et Romantique/Gardiner (Archiv) has been well received, although the tempos of the last two movements are rather too lax for this writer, and the sound is somewhat compressed compared to the others.

Symphony No.4 in B-flat major, op.60

Period of composition: Summer 1806 Date of Publication: 1808, by Kunst und Industrie Comptoir, dedicated to Count Franz von Oppersdorff.

Background details:

The third Symphony was a demonstration of Beethoven's desire to develop a new, more expanded form of composition at this time. The first movement in sonata form (Allegro con brio) opens simply with two arresting E-flat chords. From the sketches it is clear that the familiar first subject idea was fixed from the start, with a E-flat arpeggio turning to a mysterious C sharp. What follows is a wealth of subsidiary and transitional ideas that culminates in the overwhelming climax of the development. The coda brings us the first subject in its most 'ideal' form. This technique of 'keeping the best until last' was a development of Beethoven's that assisted the forward progression of the music from beginning to end. Important to the correct portrayal of this movements character is a true observance of the 'con brio' marking. The modern tendency to play this piece 'moderato' undermines its fundamental drive and 'electricity'.

Then follows the Marcia Funebre (Adagio assai). This piece caused much confusion for the early critics, and was not well liked, which may seem surprising considering its influence on later generations of composers. Many have pondered why B 'killed off' the hero by the second movement, but a symphony is not a biography depicting feelings rather than events. However there is a good logic to having a funeral march in a symphony dedicated to heroism: what greater hero is there than one who is a martyr to his cause? It proceeds in rondo form with the rumbling bass strings enhanced by the tragic wailing of the oboe. A more tender episode follows in C major which is developed into a triumphant fanfare. After the return of the march the second episode, the tragic heart of the piece begins - a double fugue. In the coda the march theme disintegrates and ends with a final agonising wail from the oboe.

The third movement is a scherzo (Allegro vivace). Its opening pianissimo on the strings follows logically after the grief of the March, and makes up half of the movement as a whole. With the melody carried by the flute or oboe in B flat or F major, the home E-flat is not achieved until the sudden but long-delayed double -forte passage. The main feature of the trio is the fanfare an the French horns (where Beethoven scores for three rather than the more usual pair of instruments).

Background details:

Schindler states in his biography "Beethoven As I Knew Him" that it was the ambassador of the French Republic to the Austrian Court, General Bernadotte, who suggested that Beethoven should "honour the greatest hero of the age in a musical composition." The hero being, of course, Napoleon Bonaparte, whom the republican Beethoven had admired for bringing political order out of the chaos of the bloody French revolution. However when Napoleon proceeded to crown himself Emperor, the enraged Beethoven, cursing the "new tyrant", ripped the title page (enscribed simply with the words 'Bonapart' at the top and 'Beethoven' at the bottom) of his score in two and tossed it to the floor. The title page of a later score still exists with Naploeon's name violently scribbled out by Beethoven himself. As a result of this, Beethoven eventually settled with the title 'Heroic Symphony composed to celebrate the memory of a great man'. It is interesting that, in his later life, Beethoven's attitude towards Napoleon became more sympathetic.

The Symphony received its first semi-public performance in April 1805 at the Theater an der Wien, with Beethoven as the conductor. The music was awaited with much anticipation for the story regarding its dedication were already well known. A critic present from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung had the following to say: "This long, most difficult composition is an extremely drawn out, bold, and wild fantasy. Very often, though, the work seems to lose itself in musical anarchy" with "too many garish and bizarre elements." No sign yet of Beethoven pandering to popular taste! When in 1817 the poet Christoph Kuffner asked Beethoven which was his favorite amongst the symphonies, his reply was 'the Eroica', though the Ninth was yet to come.

Musical outline:

The vigorous independence that Beethoven had shown in his chamber works had now surfaced in the world of the symphony, though it bears features reminicant of Mozart's 'Prague' symphony. Thayer, who purposefully kept musical criticism to an absolute minimum in his 'Life of Beethoven' could not contain himself when discussing this composition - "a work whose grand and imposing introduction - brilliant Allegro, a Larghetto so lovely, so pure and amiably conceived...a Scherzo as merry, wayward, skipping and charming as anything possible...and a Finale, the very intoxication of a spirit 'intoxicated with fire'- made it...an era both in the life of its author and in the history of instrumental music." Passionate words from the usually reserved Thayer! After the opening call-to-attention, the slow introduction is rather more imposing than that of the first symphony with a powerful D minor climax that is reminicant of the opening of the first movement of the Ninth Symphony. The main Allegro has great drive with and ends with splendid coda. The lyrical Larghetto casts a backward glance at the previous century, with phrases that suggest Haydn or Mozart. It is however, a substantial and serious affair in sonata form and, like the First Symphony, withholds timpani and trumpets (the instruments of war!). With the third movement Beethoven acknowledges it as 'Scherzo' rather than labour it with the more traditional 'Menuetto' as he did with the First. This is pure Beethovenian humour, with a three note figure that is passed around the orchestra.The vitality of the finale (Allegro molto) is apparent from the explosive opening gesture. It is in sonata-form without repeats (the impression of a repeat occurs but this merely forms to opening of the development). The coda is massive, taking up more than a third of the whole movement. A reviewer in 1804 described this finale as "an uncivilized monster, a wounded dragon, refusing to die while bleeding to death, raging, striking in vain around itself with its agitated tail." - fanciful, but perhaps appropriate!

Recommended Recordings:

I can recommend three excellent period instrument versions by The Hanover Band/Huggett (Nimbus), The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/Gardiner (Archiv) and The London Classical Players/Norrington (EMI).

Symphony No.3 in E-flat major, op.55 ("Eroica")

Period of composition: 1803 (earliest sketches 1802, final touches beginning 1804). Date of Publication: 1806, by Kunst und Industrie Comptoir, dedicated to Prince Franz Joseph von Lobkowitz.

Period of composition: 1801-1802 Date of Publication: 1804, by Kunst und Industrie Comptior, dedicated to Prince Karl von Lichnowsky.

Background details:

If proof were needed that 'the true artist creates out of his total experience', as Denis Matthews put it, then one need only look at the circumstances surrounding the composition of op.36. For this brilliant and original piece was completed during Beethoven's summer break in Heiligenstadt in 1802, the time of his greatest despair on realization that his increasing deafness could be a permanent affliction. The symphony was first performed on 5 April 1803 at a concert at the Theater an Der Wien which also included the premieres of Beethoven's C minor piano concerto and oratario 'Christus am Oelberge'. The critic present from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung describe the new symphony typically, as "a work full of new, original ideas, of great strength, sensitive in orchestration and intellectual in concept, but one that would surely benefit from the abbreviation of some passages and the deletion [!] of others, for the modulations are entirely too eccentric."

Musical outline:

Stylistically, the symphony is rather reserved work when compared to the emotion and raw passion of some of his other compositions of this period such as the 'Sonata Pathetique' Op.13, or the slow movements of Op.7 or Op.10 no.3. Clearly, Beethoven had decided to introduce himself to the symphonic world by staying on safe ground before venturing off to horizons new. The first movement opens with a slow introductory 'Adagio molto' before moving to a vigorous 'Allegro con brio' who's first theme has been compared to that of Mozart's 'Jupiter' symphony. The following slow movement isn't particularly slow, being 'Andante cantabile con moto', and is almost the minuet that the third movement isn't. It is in sonata form and is lightweight, although modern performances tend to add more breadth and gravity than is strictly required here. The third movement is titled 'Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace', though it has the character more of a scherzo than a minuet. The final movement has great wit, with its famous 'joke' introduction (Adagio) that had its origins in the abandoned 1795 sketches, before the Haydnish 'Allegro molto e vivace'. The piece ends in a thoroughly Beethovenish manner however, with the march-like coda.

Recommended Recordings:

I haven't any exeptional recommendations, John Eliot Gardiner and the Orch. Rev. et Rom. (Archiv) offer good quick tempi but the sound lacks any ambience. The Hanover Band's (Nimbus) pace in the first movement more relaxed but the sound is very ambient and colourful, although the brass could have more prominence. These are both period instrument versions.

Symphony No.2 in D major op.36

Symphony No.1 in C major Op.21

Period of composition: 1799-early 1800. Date of Publication: December 1801, by Hoffmeister & Kuhnel, dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten.

Background details:

After leaving Bonn in November 1792 to begin life as a pupil of Haydn in Vienna, we had to wait a further eight years for Beethoven to produce his first symphony. This reason for this delay has traditionally been put down to Beethoven's respect for Mozart and Haydn, and his ambition to produce a work on equal terms with these symphonic masters. However Beethoven had considered symphonic composition earlier in his life, producing extensive sketches for a symphony in C in 1795/96 while he was studying with Albrechtsburger. Earlier still there is a sketch in C minor labeled 'sinfonia'. Op. 21 was first performed on April 2nd 1800 at the Burgtheater in Vienna. Beethoven's Septet, and one of his piano concertos (Op.15 or Op.19) were also performed. A correspondent from the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung was at the concert and described the symphony as having 'considerable art, novelty and a wealth of ideas', the only flaw being 'the wind instruments were used too much, so that there was more harmony than orchestral music as a whole.'

Musical outline:

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Reviewed by Rodney Corkin

Period of composition: 1811 - 1812 Date of Publication: 1817, by Steiner.

Background details:

Work on the 8th Symphony began alongside that of the 7th in 1811. However the lions share of the work was done in 1812 at Linz, with the final touches completed in the summer. At this time it seems that the 8th was to be the second of a prospective trio of symphonies, the third to be in D minor, but the 8th was completed on the threshold of a barren period for Beethoven and it was not until 1824 that the third symphony (Op.125) was completed.

The 8th Symphony was premiered on 24th February 1814, at a concert in the Redoutensaal, Vienna. Also on the programme were the 7th Symphony Op.92, the terzetto 'Tremate, empi, tremate' Op.116 and it closed with the 'Battle Symphony' Op. 91. A report in the Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung states that while the 7th and Battle Symphonies brought the house down, the applause for the 8th, from which great things were expected, "was not accompanied by that enthusiasm which distinguishes a work which gives universal delight; in short - as the Italians say - it did not create a furore." The reviewer from the AMZ went on to suggest that this luke warm reception was due to the fact that it had followed the 7th, which had enjoyed immediate success from its first performance, and that if the 8th was performed alone, then its success too would be guaranteed.

Musical outline:

The reason for this relative 'failure' to satisfy the audiences anticipation after the glorious 7th? "Because it (the 8th) is so much better" is Beethoven's own explanation according to Carl Czerny. Yet much has been made of its apparent shortcomings - the work is the shortest of the symphonies in length, and is in many ways a retrospective piece like that other F major work, the quartet Op.135; a less serious effort than its grand brother Op.92 - but how much of this criticism bears scrutiny?

It was typical of the highly original Beethoven to compose a new work in a contrasting style to its predecessor in the genre, especially when the compositions were published in groups of three as had been Beethoven's original concept. Thus it would be natural for him to contrast a vast work with of high gravity like the 7th with a shorter piece of somewhat lighter gravity, though not lighter quality, for in reality the 8th Symphony is an absolute masterpiece, no less 'new', no less serious, no less masterly than what has gone before.

The first movement is the extreme of pace and vitality - 'Allegro vivace e con brio'. From the outset we realise that here the relative shortness of the work is the result of a fundamental concept that unites the whole composition - that of extreme compression. There is no room here for the 'indulgence' of a slow introduction, we are thrown straight into the action with a self contained theme. The initial motif plays no further part in the following exposition but is used to great effect in the development. The compression and consiseness is maintained in the novel second group which has I wide range of contrasting textures and cross-rhythms. At the development an immense force of energy is released on an almost frightening scale before the reassurance of the recapitulation. The coda closes on a humorous note, as the opening motif is casual thrown aside. In performance it is fundamental that the 'vivace e con brio' is fully observed for the true energy of the movement to be realised.

The two 'internal' movements of the Symphony are unique in Beethoven's symphonic ouvre, but similarities exist elsewhere, as in the Piano Sonata Op.31/3. The first of these is the 'Allegretto scherzando' whose staccato repeated wind chords are humorously accompanied by fleeting melodies on the strings. One could say that the movement is a throwback in style to a more Haydnesque form of wit, but the nature of the movement is unique in the symphonic world and wholly appropriate within the context of the composition.

The third movement also bears a consciously retrospective air with its explicit title 'Tempo di Menuetto'. It is pastoral in nature. A two note 'hunting call' playing an important role in the 'minuet', while the trio is more relaxed, with a beautifully flowing melody in the upper strings contrasted with the 'hunting' French horn and a more vigorous bass figure. Another retrospective feature is Beethoven abandonment the now typical five part structure where the trio is played twice, but one could say an expansive five-part format is redundant within the context of this work of high compression.

The delicate opening of the finale(Allegro vivace) belies what is in fact a rather weighty piece of extreme pace which matches that of the opening movement. It posesses an unusual structure of an extended sonata-rondo with two developments and two recapitulations. An important feature is the out-of-key fortissimo C sharp which bizzarely intrudes on the vigorous main theme. The second subject provides a contrast of joyful relaxation. Beethoven provides interesting colour effects by having the timpani tuned to octave Fs, an effect he was to repeat in the scherzo of the 9th Symphony. In the closing bars the intrusive C sharp is eventually put out of the picture by a continuous repetition of the F major chord which closes the work. As with the first movement, the vivace tempo should be observed to its fullest extent in performance for the point of the movement to be realised.

Recommended Recordings:

The Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique/ Gardiner (Archiv) offers an account of especially blistering pace. The London Classical Players/Norrington (EMI) and The Hanover Band/Goodman (Nimbus) are also first rate.

Symphony No.9 in D minor, op.125 - 'Choral'

Background details:

Few compositions have had such a long and chaotic gestation period as that of Beethoven's 9th Symphony! As early as 1811 Beethoven made notes in his sketchbook regarding a Symphony in D minor, which would along with the 7th and 8th, have completed his planned trio of symphonies. Also at this time he penned ideas regarding sections of Schiller's Enlightenment poem 'An die Freude' (Ode to Joy) for use in an orchestral setting, although Beethoven had in fact considered putting the 'Ode' to music throughout his career as a composer. Further sketches for the scherzo (fugato) appeared in 1815 and 1817. Then in 1818 Beethoven developed a plan for another symphony with chorus based on religious texts which, typically, came to nothing. During 1822 considerable progress was made on the first movement, with the earlier scherzo ideas being carried through virtually unchanged. At this time there was nothing of the slow movement, but we do find sketches of the 'Ode' theme noted as being 'for the finale.' However a choral finale at this time was be no means a foregone conclusion, for Beethoven later made a memorandum regarding a possible fugal fourth movement.

Period of composition: 1817, 1822-24. Date of Publication: 1826, by Schott, dedicated to King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia.

The main body of composition was undertaken in 1823, with the first half of the year devoted to completion the first movement, followed by the second in August and the third in October. Considerable progress was also made on the setting of Schiller's 'Ode' although even at this stage Beethoven was still considering an purely instrumental finale. A melody in D minor was sketched that was eventually to see the light of day, slightly modified and transposed into a different key, in the finale of the quartet op.132. Beethoven eventually made a firm decision on the choral version and was completed in sketch form by the end of 1823, and written out in score during February 1824.

The premiere of the 9th Symphony was made at yet another monumental concert, at the Royal Imperial Court Theatre on May 7th, 1824. The other pieces performed were the grand overture 'Weihe des Hauses' op.124, and the Kyrie, Credo and Agnus Dei from the Missa Solemnis op.123. Although the performance was far from perfect (the performers having only two rehearsals), and as strange as the music must have sounded to the audience, the effect of the symphony was overwhelming on the audience and the applause was tumultuous. Beethoven, in his deafness oblivious to this reception, had to have his attention drawn by the alto singer Karoline Unger who pulled his sleeve and directed his gaze towards the clapping hands and waving hats. Financially the concert made a poor return for Beethoven due to the very large overheads for the performance. The gross receipts for the concert were 2,220 florins, yet once management costs, parts copying etc. were catered for, Beethoven was left with only 420 florins, with some debts still to be paid! Schindler reports that when the master received the box-office report he collapsed and had to be lifted onto a sofa.

Musical outline:

Despite its relatively late date of composition, the 9th Symphony still is a product of the Classical tradition and of the age of Enlightenment and revolution - all of which were imbued in Beethoven from an early age. The freedom and dignity of the individual, the pain, the suffering and the hopes of all mankind (and indeed Beethoven himself) are all ultimately manifested here. The emotions of the 5th Symphony and Fidelio are profoundly intensified into a form which stretches the media of voice and instrument to their very limits.

Then follows a scherzo with trio - Molto vivace - also in D minor. The scherzo itself is in sonata form with all parts repeated. The startling originality of the opening bars sent the audience at the premiere into a frenzy, with the octave tuned drums immediately announcing the important role they play in the tonality of the movement as a whole. Then follows a hushed fugato, which has first been sketched so many years ago. However the fugue serves an introductory purpose as the full force of the orchestra then follows a more harmonic path with the utmost vigour. The second subject in C major adds an unusual harmonic flavour. The trio has a quasi-pastoral flavour, yet this does not mean the piece should be played at too leisurely a pace, as often occurs in performance. The trio is played only once, although Beethoven fools us into believing we will here it once more at the end, only to have it abruptly cut short and the door slammed in our face!

The first movement, in sonata form - Allegro ma non troppo, on pocco maestoso - opens with the utmost mystery. The tremulando strings and bare fifth horns appear from the distance, as if they had been already playing out of earshot A repeating two-note motif gradually intensifies in volume until the final explosion into the first subject occurs. Who but Beethoven would then dare to repeat the whole process again, shifting the key from D minor to B flat major! In typical Beethoven minor-mode style the second group offers a pathetic hint at some form of consolation for doubt soon sets in once more as if to intensify the 'despair,' as Beethoven wrote in his sketches of the movement. Uniquely in Beethoven's symphonies there is no exposition repeat, instead, as he did in the first 'Razumovsky' quartet op.59/1, we are led into expecting the repeat before we are led into a development of unparalleled energy. Here the 'despair' loses all control to a terrifying explosion in which the two-note fragment of the opening plays an important role. The contrast of emotion returns in the recapitulation before the moving firmly into the minor in the coda, with the movement ending with an emphatic statement based on the first subject.

The third movement - Adagio molto e cantabile - is quasi-variational similar and involves two themes: Adagio molto and Andante moderato. The structure bares similarity to the slow movement of the 7th Symphony in that a principle theme and variations (Adagio molto, B flat) is twice interrupted by a contrasting episode (Andante moderato, D major). Both themes are of unsurpassed beauty. There is no link musically between the themes. Indeed it seems that contrast serves an important function in the movement as also seen in the two dramatic fanfares hear towards the end. In performance the movement suffers from to broad a conception of 'Adagio molto' at the expense of the 'cantabile' to that the theme is often lost altogether and the emphasis instead placed on the long-held notes. Also it is important that the variations have an element of dynamism within them, as they become more elaborate, this is only fully realised at a quicker tempo and more assertive playing.

Once Beethoven satisfied himself that the 'Ode to Joy' was to be included as the finale Beethoven immediately faced two problems: the first being how to credibly incorporate voices into what had been, up until then, a purely instrumental piece and make it relevant to the other movements; the second how to introduce the 'Ode' itself. After a dramatic call to attention, Beethoven solves the first problem by creating a middle ground between voice and instrument - he lets the cellos and basses 'talk' in a gruff recitative that passes judgement on the themes of the first three movements and finds them all wanting. The recitative then halts and slowly, out of this darkness, the 'joy' theme is first heard. The theme itself is very similar to that used by Beethoven in his Choral Fantasy op.50 (which itself originated from a still earlier source - the song Gegenliebe WoO118 of 1795) and was the product of a continuous process of rewriting. As the theme commences, the other instruments of the orchestra become involved and the theme is evolved into its ideal instrumental form. But what does Beethoven do here? He stops the whole show, the instrumental form has had its say. Now, with the aid of Schiller, the true musical revelation is finally to be made.

Recommended Recordings:

Once again the The Hanover Band is this writer's ultimate preference. The ambient acoustic, that is a feature of the whole series by this ensemble, really brings out the true beauty of the period instruments and should sound good on even a low-grade hi-fi system. There is almost a Baroque flavour to the sound. The Adagio is realised with more feeling than the other period style versions available. There is only one reservation - the recording level of the first movement is greater than the remainder, but an adjustment of your volume control will cater for this. Importantly, the set as whole is normally offered at a bargain price, with excellent versions of the overtures and the Missa Solemnis thrown in for good measure. Those without preconceptions will enjoy this music.

Beethoven Reference Site  © 2010

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