Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Beethoven: Symphony No.7

The Seventh Symphony, A major, Op.92, was written in the early months of 1812, and first performed late in 1813, in Vienna. During the four years that had passed since the composition of the Sixth, Beethoven's genius had matured still further, and the advance he had made in freedom and sureness of touch, particularly in his command of tonal architecture, in the structural formation of his Movements, is strikingly apparent. In his Seventh, Beethoven manifests complete control of the elemental forces of musical speech, and amazing originality, and an inexhaustible fund of resources, that are not met with in such luxuriance and assurance in his previous symphonies. The dictum: "The Seventh Symphony is the apotheosis of Rhythm," is attributed to Liszt; and as stated earlier in this thread, Wagner is said to have called it "the apotheosis of the Dance." The former simile befits the work with quite sufficient accuracy, since it is the element of Rhythm which seems chiefly answerable to the singular vivacity and irresistible urge of all but the Allegretto Movement; furthermore, each of its Movements has a distinctive and persistent rhythmic motive, or prosodic meter.

The Seventh starts with the traditional Introduction; and this Introduction is so lengthy, so impressive, and so independent in contents and character, that it may be regarded as a separate Movement, wherefore the Seventh Symphony, like the Sixth, actually comprises five Movements.

The structural design of this wonderfully beautiful Introduction is a very broad Two-Part form, the Second Part of which---a truly exquisite sentence---assumes the appearance and importance of a subordinate Theme, placed at first in C major. This whole "Exposition" is then recapitulated, with transpositions, and thus the whole Movement (Introduction) approximates the sonatine-allegro form. The "subordinate Theme" is placed, the second time, in F major, whose tonic f, is the lowered (or minor) sixth scale-step of A, the original key, and therefore tends naturally and urgently toward the tone e, the dominant, and portal, of the opening harmony of the Allegro. This discloses Beethoven's modulatory purpose, and it is faithfully carried out in an exceedingly striking manner, characteristic of Beethoven and no other master---thus: when the e is finally reached and rooted (ten measures before the Theme begins), it is reiterated alone, alternately in the wood-wind and violins no fewer than sixty times!

The Development is the most masterly, fascinating, logically and structurally perfect model of what a Development may and should be, that even Beethoven ever consummated. The Recapitulation is nearly exact, with the prescribed transpositions. There occurs, in the Coda, one of those daring episodes which confirm Beethoven's occasional unconventional methods, and which for a time caused some consternation even in the Beethoven ranks: some fifty measures before the end of the Movement, the basses softly intonate a figure of two measures (derived with quaint modifications from the first measures of the principal Theme), and repeat this drone, waxing into a growl, eleven times---as ground-motive or basso ostinato---against an almost absurdly primitive "yodel" in the violins.

The second (slow) Movement is the world-famous, apparently imperishable Allegretto, always sure of its profoundly moving appeal to every music-loving soul. Its design approximates the Second Rondo-form, akin to that chosen by Beethoven for the Finale of his Third Symphony, and the slow Movement of his Fifth; also, later, for the slow Movement of his Ninth---inasmuch as the numerous restatements of the principal Theme convey the impression of Variations. It begins with two introductory measures, on the 6-4 chord of the tonic---a chord without "support," hovering, as if wafted in from some ethereal region. The principal Theme is stated four times, at full length, with heavy crescendo, before the soothing, touching First subordinate Theme enters. As a mater of fact, there is no other (second) subordinate Theme, but the place reserved for it in the design is filled---exactly as in the Adagio of the Third Symphony---by a fugato in triple-counterpoint, the Subject marked A being drawn from one of the phrases of the principal Theme. The Coda begins with a portion of the First subordinate Theme, precisely as before, and this is followed by another complete Variation of the principal Theme.

For the vivacious third Movement, with its majestic Trio, Beethoven uses no other titles than the tempo-marks; but it tallies in every respect with his customary Scherzo and Trio. As in the Fourth Symphony, it is expanded to imposing dimensions by an additional complete statement of the Trio, and subsequent da capo. We should note the singular choice of keys---F major and D major, in an A major Symphony. The Trio is remarkably simple in its harmonic material---nothing but the tonic and dominant chords of the chosen key. The violins hold the tone a, in octaves, with very brief digressions, throughout Parts I and II of the Trio. There is a striking use of the horn in the second Part; this horn figure (derived from the first two measures of the chief melody) is reiterated nine times, then quickened into a 2/4 meter, crescendo, culminating in a magnificent recurrence of Part I (as Part III).

The last Movement is a riot of tone and rhythm. In its vivacity, audacity, splendid vitality and rollicking humor, it transcends any and every Finale elsewhere recorded in classic symphonic literature. The form is sonata-allegro. The most serious, almost sinister, episode occurs in the third Section of the Coda: the basses ramble through a tragico-comical, chromatically wavering, descending spiral sequence of considerable length, against sustained chords in the wood-wind and the first measure of the principal Theme in the violins, until they (the basses) have groped their way to the low dominant-note (e), where they sway in alteration with d# for twenty one measures, while the rest of the orchestra asserts the home-key. Beethoven evidently took this very seriously; and it is one of the finest, most ingenious and original passages to be found anywhere in his Symphonies.


Measure 110 of the first movement:

Anticipation in the wind choir of the D major chord to be reached in m.111 blatantly against A major outlined in the strings...not exactly Stravinsky but bitonality all the same!
gS8zTU The best blog you have!
SSvejy write more, thanks.
So strange! I came across your wonderful blog while searching for my song of the moment (Beethoven 7)... my professor went to Berklee, I'm into the Beatles and Debussy (though not enough to edit a book... yet!), and will be playing Chavez' Antigonia next week! Serendipity! Keep up the great blogs!
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