Symphony No. 7 (Beethoven)

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Portrait of Beethoven in 1815, by Joseph Willibrord Mähler, two years after the premiere of his 7th Symphony

The Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, is a symphony in four movements composed by Ludwig van Beethoven between 1811 and 1812, while improving his health in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice. The work is dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries (de).

At its première, Beethoven was noted as remarking that it was one of his best works. The second movement, Allegretto, was the most popular movement and had to be encored. The instant popularity of the Allegretto resulted in its frequent performance separate from the complete symphony.[1]

Premiere[edit]

The work was premiered with Beethoven himself conducting in Vienna on 8 December 1813 at a charity concert for soldiers wounded in the Battle of Hanau; the program also included the patriotic work Wellington's Victory. The orchestra was led by Beethoven's friend, Ignaz Schuppanzigh, and included some of the finest musicians of the day: violinist Louis Spohr,[2] Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Antonio Salieri, bassoonist Anton Romberg, and the Italian double bass virtuoso, Domenico Dragonetti, whom Beethoven himself described as playing "with great fire and expressive power". It is also said that the Italian guitar virtuoso Mauro Giuliani played cello at the premiere. The piece was very well received, and the second movement, the Allegretto, had to be encored immediately.[2] Spohr made particular mention of Beethoven's antics on the rostrum ("as a sforzando occurred, he tore his arms with a great vehemence asunder ... at the entrance of a forte he jumped in the air"), and the concert was repeated due to its immense success.

Instrumentation[edit]

The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in A (E and D in the inner movements), 2 trumpets in D, timpani, and strings.

Form[edit]

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The Seventh Symphony is in four movements:

  1. Poco sostenutoVivace
  2. Allegretto
  3. Presto – Assai meno presto (trio)
  4. Allegro con brio

Performance time lasts approximately 40 minutes. The work as a whole is known for its use of rhythmic devices suggestive of a dance, such as dotted rhythm and repeated rhythmic figures. It is also tonally subtle, making use of the tensions between the key centres of A, C and F. For instance, the first movement is in A major but has repeated episodes in C major and F major. In addition, the second movement is in A minor with episodes in A major, and the third movement, a scherzo, is in F major.

First movement[edit]

The first movement starts with a long, expanded introduction marked Poco sostenuto that is noted for its long ascending scales and a cascading series of applied dominants that facilitates modulations to C major and F major. From the last episode in F major, the movement transitions to Vivace through a series of no fewer than sixty-one repetitions of the note E. The Vivace is in sonata form, and is dominated by lively dance-like rhythms (such as dotted rhythms), sudden dynamic changes, and abrupt modulations. In particular, the development section opens in C major and contains extensive episodes in F major. The movement finishes with a long coda, which starts similarly as the development section. The coda contains a famous twenty-bar passage consisting of a two-bar motif repeated ten times to the background a four octave deep Pedal point of an E. The critic and composer Carl Maria von Weber is said to have pronounced Beethoven "fit for a madhouse" after hearing this passage.

Second movement[edit]

The second movement in A minor has a tempo marking of Allegretto (a little lively), making it slow only in comparison to the other three movements. This movement was encored at the premiere and has remained popular since. The ostinato (repeated rhythmic figure) of a quarter note, two eighth notes and two quarter notes is heard repeatedly. This movement is structured in a double variation form. The movement begins with the main melody played by the violas and cellos. This melody is then played by the second violins while the violas and cellos play a second, but equally important melody, a melody described by George Grove as "a string of beauties hand-in-hand".[3] Then, the first violins take the first melody while the second violins take the second. This progression culminates with the wind section playing the first melody while the first violin plays the second. After this climax, the music changes from A minor to A major as the clarinets take a calmer melody to the background of light triplets played by the violins. This section ends thirty-seven bars later with a quick descent of the strings on an A minor scale, and the first melody is resumed and elaborated upon in a strict fugato.

Third movement[edit]

The third movement is a scherzo in F major and trio in D major. Here, the trio (based on an Austrian pilgrims' hymn[4]) is played twice rather than once. This expansion of the usual A–B–A structure of ternary form into A–B–A–B–A was quite common in other works of Beethoven of this period, such as his Fourth Symphony and String Quartet Op. 59 No. 2.

Fourth movement[edit]

The last movement is in sonata form, the coda of which contains an example, rare in Beethoven's music, of the dynamic marking ƒƒƒ (called forte fortissimo or fortississimo). Donald Tovey, writing in his Essays in Musical Analysis, commented on this movement's "Bacchic fury" and many other writers have commented on its whirling dance-energy: the main theme vaguely resembles Beethoven's arrangement of the Irish folk-song "Save me from the grave and wise", No. 8 of his Twelve Irish Folk Songs, WoO 154.

Reception[edit]

Critics and listeners have often felt stirred or inspired by the Seventh Symphony. For instance, one program-note author writes:[5]

... the final movement zips along at an irrepressible pace that threatens to sweep the entire orchestra off its feet and around the theater, caught up in the sheer joy of performing one of the most perfect symphonies ever written.

Composer and music author Antony Hopkins says of the symphony:[6]

The Seventh Symphony perhaps more than any of the others gives us a feeling of true spontaneity; the notes seem to fly off the page as we are borne along on a floodtide of inspired invention. Beethoven himself spoke of it fondly as "one of my best works". Who are we to dispute his judgment?

Another admirer, Richard Wagner, referring to the lively rhythms which permeate the work, called it the "apotheosis of the dance".[3]

On the other hand, admiration for the work has not been universal. Friedrich Wieck, who was present during rehearsals, said that the consensus, among musicians and laymen alike, was that Beethoven must have composed the symphony in a drunken state.[7] Carl Maria von Weber considered the chromatic bass line in the coda of the first movement evidence that Beethoven was "ripe for the madhouse",[8] and the conductor Thomas Beecham commented on the third movement: "What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about."[9]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ "Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92" at NPR (13 June 2006)
  2. ^ a b Steinberg, Michael. The Symphony: A Listeners Guide. pp. 38–43. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  3. ^ a b Grove, Sir George (1962). Beethoven and His Nine Symphonies (3rd ed.). New York: Dover Publications. p. 252. OCLC 705665. 
  4. ^ Grove, 228–271
  5. ^ Geoff Kuenning. "Beethoven: Symphony No. 7". (personal web page). 
  6. ^ Hopkins 1981, 219
  7. ^ Meltzer, Ken (February 17, 2011). "Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Program Notes". 
  8. ^ Hopkins 1981, 196
  9. ^ Bicknell, David (EMI executive). "Sir Thomas Beecham". 

Sources

External links[edit]