Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Seventh Symphony Essay

Beethoven Symphony 7 Essay

During the 18th century, Beethoven's 7th was perhaps the most popular one among all the other symphonies that he had written. Although the symphony owes much of this popularity to its allegretto, it was real success right from the premiere. Beethoven composed his 7th between 1811-1813. After a very productive seven-year period, Beethoven's musical input diminished in quantity since 1809. This is when he accepted three Viennese princes offer of income for life provided that Beethoven stays in Vienna. One of the reason that he composed less is probably the deafness that he had had increased around that time.

Beethoven completed the 7th symphony on April 13th 1813. 8 months later, the piece is premiered under the composer's direction. The concert, which took place at the University of Vienna, was a benefit for Austrian and Bavarian soldiers. The event was so successful that it was repeated only couple of months later. However the highlight of the evening was not the 7th symphony but another orchestral piece composed after a victory of English, Spanish and Portuguese army against Napoleon. This was called Wellington's Victory, also known as The Battle Symphony. Audience reacted to the 7th symphony enthusiastically and the second movement encored in the first performance.


The first movement consists of two parts, the Poco Sostenuto and the Vivace. The first part is an introduction of considerable length. The harmonic shifts are prominent in this semi-slow introduction. It starts with A and tonal centers C major and F major are used before it returns to A in Vivace. At the end of the introduction, repeated E's become an obsessive rhythmic figure, which dominates the entire movement. This E is the bridge between the introduction and the first theme. The movement is in sonata form and stylistically is a joyful dance. One of the most interesting parts of the movement is the coda where Beethoven builds up the climax with an enormous crescendo. He abandons the dance rhythm; instead he uses a two-bar ostinato in the bass register and E pedal on the high.

The second movement is not a slow one but often played slower than what Beethoven intended. Allegretto was so popular that it was used on occasions of mourning and it's sometimes included in the 8th symphony as an extra movement. The form is binary but the theme is presented in variations. The movement opens with a 6 4 A minor chord on the winds. The same chord also ends the movement. In the beginning the A minor chord sets up the simple rhythm on the lower strings. This time the rhythm is walking rather than dance like. The theme appears in the lower strings first, and then it passes to second violins and finally to first violins. Beethoven uses a fugal design for the A section. Lower strings plays the walking rhythmic episode than when this passes to second violins, lower string plays the theme, and same thing happens with the first violins, and finally when first violins gets the theme, wind instruments play the rhythm. Beethoven had a similar theme in an earlier piece "slow movement of C major String quartet Op. 59 no. 3". This movement is also in A minor, and starts with the 6 4 chord just like the Allegretto. Beethoven clearly had this idea in mind and decided to use it in a symphonic movement too.

The third movement is a fast scherzo trio. Scherzo-trio-scherzo cycle goes around twice. This is also something that Beethoven started to do since the 5th symphony. It's in F major and the first section concludes in its third, A major. In trio violins hold the dominant almost always while the wind band sonorities dominate the passage.

The finale is also a fast movement. Wagner's famous comment "the apotheosis of the dance" most likely is suitable for this movement. It's a furiously triumphant dance, even more relentless than the vivace. The movement is in C#m and with a sudden transition It moves to D major. Coda is constructed over a bass ostinato, much like the first movement. This movement shows a particular advance in Beethoven's compositional prowess in its sheer power.

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