Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Beethoven - Symphony No. 1 In C Major Opus 21

Beethoven approached the composition of his first symphony with caution, as the symphonies of Mozart and Haydn were still in the ears of music lovers, and he knew that much would be expected of his first effort in the form.  The earliest documented evidence of when Beethoven began to compose his 1st Symphony dates from 1795.  Beethoven completed its composition and it was first performed in April of 1800 in Vienna. 

Beethoven kept within the traditions of the two older masters, but also included his own style to the mix. The1st Symphony shows Beethoven's already strong penchant for the unusual. With extremes of dynamics, strong accents on and off the beat and harmonic peculiarities, Beethoven kept his contemporary audiences guessing. As the years progressed Beethoven continued to evolve and grow as a composer. In the 1st Symphony Beethoven pays homage to symphonic tradition while at the same time announcing to Vienna, the city of both Mozart and Haydn, that he had arrived.

I. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio –  Beethoven begins his debut symphony in tonal ambiguity. No doubt the experienced listener of his time expected something much different than what Beethoven gives them; an introduction that begins with a chord progression in the wrong key. The twelve-bar introduction leads to the first theme of the movement in the home key of C major. The second theme is in the expected key of G major, but Beethoven also throws in snippets of other themes in the exposition before he sticks with tradition and repeats the exposition. The development deals with the first theme. The recapitulation repeats the exposition with the obligatory key change of the second theme. The coda harks back to the first theme and rounds off the movement with repeated C major chords.

II. Andante cantabile con moto -  Written in F major, the second movement is also in sonata form. The first theme is played by the violins and repeated by the other strings contrapuntally. The second theme is a little lighter in feeling. After the development section deals with two themes, the recapitulation plays the music of the beginning of the movement with a few differences.  A coda develops the first theme slightly, after which the woodwinds have a short dialog with the strings and the movement ends.

III. Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace - Although Beethoven calls this movement a minuet, the material and the tempo show this to be a scherzo. Beethoven uses passages of scales, syncopations and sudden changes in dynamics in this movement that doesn't have much in the way of genuine thematic material. But he makes good use of short motives and accents to convey a sense of rapidity and wit.

IV. Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace - In another surprise, Beethoven begins with a loud G played across the instruments of the orchestra, which is followed by snippets of a scale climbing upward in a slow adagio. This all is by way of an introduction to this finale which is also in sonata form. The scale passages end on a fermata and the first theme of the movement bursts onto the scene. The second theme by contrast is a dancing theme.  The finale emulates many of Haydn's rapid and witty symphony finales but is underlined by Beethoven's style (what some of the time would call excesses) of dynamic, rhythmic and harmonic variety. 

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