Saturday, November 26, 2005


Beethoven: Symphony No. 2

One has but to read the "Heilgenstadt Will" of 1802, in which Beethoven bemoans his deafness, hints of suicide, and discloses himself as the unhappiest of men, to realize how great a gap exists between his personal life and his music. In the midst of the first anguished realization that his deafness was incurable , Beethoven composed his second symphony in D major, published in 1804 as Opus 36. Powerful, limpid, boisterous, and probably the largest symphony written up to that time, it gives no hint of the morbidity and melancholy which encompassed him.

The Second Symphony, in D major, Op.36, was written in 1802. It is of greater breadth than the First one, and though still exhibiting the influence of Haydn and Mozart to some extent, it contains far more originality, and a sort of "democratic" fearlessness, sharply differentiated from the courtly restraint of the foregoing masters. The score (instrumentation) corresponds to that of the First Symphony.

It opens with a rather long, stately Introduction of great beauty and power, but suggestive of Mozart. The first Movement is in sonata-allegro form. The Exposition is regular; the development lengthy, but finely proportioned, and ingenious. Of special moment, as attesting the independence that was already asserting itself strongly in Beethoven's methods, is the manner in which he plans the return of the beginning---at the end of the Development: the last sixteen measures hold firmly the remote key of F-sharp, the dominant note of which (c-sharp) is the leading-tone of the original key (D major). The quiet transmutation of the chord through this c-sharp, in the bass, to the dominant chord of D, two measures before the opening of the Recapitulation, is extremely impressive. What is more, almost precisely the same modulatory device is employed again in the Trio of the third Movement, and again in the Finale. The first Movement is extended by a fairly lengthy Coda.

In the second Movement Beethoven creates a lyric Larghetto of singular beauty, and of a more distinctive character, that plainly foreshadows the later Beethoven. The design is sonata-allegro, considerably spun out.

The third Movement is confessedly a Scherzo with Trio. The principal Division is ingeniously extended, in its Third Part. A unique feature of the Trio, of genuine Beethoven complexion, is that its Second Part (fourteen measures long) is built entirely upon a single chord, intoned by the strings in unison; this chord is the tonic of F-sharp major, and its Fifth (c-sharp) is made to serve---as in the first Movement---as leading-tone of the original key (D).

The Finale, a sonata-allegro of an extremely vigorous, animated, jovial character, as full of pranks as the wonderful Finale of Haydn's last Symphony, betrays hereditary traces of Haydn, though none the less stoutly original at the core. Observe the two staccato quarter-notes in measures two and six; and compare this dramatic gesture as described in Mozart's Haffner Symphony (in the last paragraph of that message). The Exposition has no defined cadence; its final Codetta is so "dissolved" as to lose itself in a returning passage that leads into the Development. Further, the Development begins so exactly like the Exposition that the design is rendered obscure. This was not an infrequent occurrence with Beethoven and also with Brahms. (See Beethoven, piano Sonata, Op.31, No.1, first Movement; the first seven measures of the Development correspond literally to the first seven measures of the Exposition. Also Beethoven's Symphony No.8, Finale. Also Brahms, Second Symphony, Op.73, last Movement; Fourth Symphony, Op.98, first Movement, and third Movement.)

The tendency of this pseudo-return to the principal Theme is so to modify the sonata-allegro design that it approaches the effect of the Rondo forms.

As previously stated, the Recapitulation in this Finale is also entered in a novel and very striking manner: the last Section of the Development (twenty-six measures) is held without wavering in F-sharp minor, whose dominant note, the c-sharp, is here again the prospective leading-tone of the original key, and finally very gently turns the harmony over into the opening tones of the principal Theme-almost exactly as in the first Movement. The entrance of the Coda (which is unusually long and elaborate) is likewise novel and effective.

The second symphony bridges the gap which separates all previous symphonies from the enormous works of subsequent years. The second symphony, compared to the first, shows exactly the normal development one would expect of a composer who works earnestly at his job. If the distance between these two symphonies is fixed at a mile, that between the second and third must be fixed at a light-year.


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