Sunday, November 27, 2005


Beethoven: Symphony No.4

In his Fourth Symphony, B-flat major, Op.60, written in 1806, Beethoven returns to a more cheerful mood, as if enjoying a period of recreation after the storm and stress of his elaborate, intensely reflective Third Symphony. In its playful, joyous spirit it harks back to Mozart again, but evinces greater maturity, and is musically more significant in many respects than the creations of the latter. It pursues its happy, sunlit course without a shade of melancholy or dramatic inclination, and although distinctly "Beethoven," in conception and construction, it exhibits comparatively few outstanding features.

Beethoven reverts in this Symphony to the tradition of the Introduction, and nothing could be finer than the simple earnestness and serene loveliness that here prevail. Of note is the droll character of the subordinate Theme, emphasized by the bassoon and oboe. The first Codetta is an octave-cannon (eight measures, repeated). The final Sections of the Development execute the necessary return to the beginning (into the Recapitulation) in an astonishing and effective manner---far more so than in the Second Symphony: the harmony is led into the chord of F-sharp, as dominant-seventh of B major, and held there, pianissimo, for twenty-eight measures; the a-sharp, equivalent to b-flat, is murmured intermittently by the kettledrum; then the harmony shifts suddenly into the tonic of B-flat major (the original key)---the drum continuing its roll upon the same tone, and increasing its volume with the rest of the orchestra until the Recapitulation opens, with a glorious volume of sound. It is an example of "pivotal" modulation---through a stationary tone---and the pivotal tone is here entrusted to the drum.

The second Movement, adagio, is of a pronounced lyric quality and appealing beauty. The design is Third Rondo, in unusually concise form. The principal Theme is preceded, at every announcement, by a measure in marked rhythm, which though introductory in effect, is nevertheless and integral part of the Theme. The other Theme (subordinate) and the Codetta are easily recognizable. Beethoven's valuation of the kettledrums, as an essential part of the orchestral apparatus, and his effective employment of them, are demonstrated throughout his Symphonies. So here: the rhythmic introductory measure is given repeatedly to the drums; once with the horns (just before the Recapitulation), and once as solo, two measures before the end.

For the third Movement Beethoven uses no other title than the tempo mark, Allegro vivace; but it of course is a Scherzo, with Trio, as usual. Of note is the manner in which the phrasing creates the impression of 2/4 meter in the first Phrase, and also through a large portion of the Second Part of the principal Division. The form is enlarged by a second statement of the Trio, solely for the sake of broader dimensions. This recurrence of the Trio is literal, but the final da capo (the inevitable return of the principal Division) is reduced to its Third Part only.

The bubbling Finale---a Humoresque with delightfully contrasted Themes---is another instance of Beethoven's return to the earlier manner of Haydn and Mozart, the rollicking style that they adjudged most appropriate for the final Movement. It is cast in the sonata-allegro form. The structure is perfectly regular, simple, and easy to follow. Of note is the humorous elongation (augmentation) of the principal phrase, eleven measures before the end: after a boisterous climax in the full orchestra, the violin (three measures), the bassoon (one measure), and the viola and 'cello (one measure), very softly and apologetically intonate the thematic melody in slower rhythm, pausing most comically upon the last eighth-note, in each of the last three measures.


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