About this Recording
8.553477 - BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphonies Nos. 4 and 7 (Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, Drahos)
English 

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770- 1827)

Symphony No.4 in B flat major, Opus 60

Symphony No.7 in A major, Opus 92

 

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn in 1770, the son of a singer in the employment of the Elector of Cologne and, rather more important, the grandson of the former Kapellmeister of the Electoral chapel, a man of some distinction. Beethoven's childhood was overshadowed, however, by the inadequacy and drunkenness of his father, which made it necessary for him finally to take charge of the family. He was to continue attempts to control the affairs of his younger brothers in later life, to their obvious resentment.

 

Beethoven showed early ability as a musician and was employed as a musician by the Archbishop-Elector, who was responsible for encouraging him to go to Vienna, where he settled in 1792, taking lessons from Haydn, and, more profitably, from the new Kapellmeister of St. Stephen's Cathedral, Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, and from the Imperial Kapellmeister, Antonio Salieri. In Vienna he was able to establish himself, through the introductions he brought with him, as a virtuoso pianist and as a startlingly original composer.

 

In spite of increasing deafness, which put an end to his career as a performer and made conducting a hazardous process, Beethoven succeeded in developing his genius as a composer in a completely original way, relying on the support of a patient series of friends and patrons, who provided moral and financial assistance, in spite of Beethoven's touchy ingratitude and growing eccentricity.

With Beethoven, in fact, there is the beginning of a possibility of heroic independence for the composer, who is no longer considered a court craftsman. His music, uneven as it can be, expands the dimensions of those classical forms that had become established by the end of the eighteenth century, attempting, sometimes, the impossible, and seeming to some of his successors to have achieved a summit beyond which no further development was possible. To Wagner, for example, the Ninth Symphony seemed a height from which only he, the self-appointed successor of Beethoven, could climb further, by means of music-drama. To Schumann, on the other hand, it seemed that Brahms represented a second coming of Beethoven, a prophecy that was at the root of much of that composer's later diffidence.

 

In Bonn, among fifty or so compositions, Beethoven had already attempted two symphonies, a C minor work and another in C major, but these had never been completed. In Vienna most of his first compositions were related to his own needs as a performer, and apart from the two first piano concertos, his writing for orchestra was limited to less substantial forms. It was not until 1800 that his first symphony was completed. It was to be published the following year with a dedication to Baron van Swieten, a man whose taste had had considerable influence, in one way or another, on both Haydn and Mozart.

 

Beethoven may have completed his fourth symphony by September, 1806, when he offered the work to the publishers Breitkopf and Hartel in Leipzig, although such an offer, in his case, was not necessarily proof of the work's existence in entirety .The arrangements with Breitkopf came to nothing, after a number of delays, but the symphony was apparently performed in March 1807 at the house of Prince Lobkowitz. Here there were two concerts devoted to the music of Beethoven, including his first four symphonies, the overture Coriolan, a piano concerto and some excerpts from the opera Fidelio. With the fifth symphony, it was presumably commissioned by Graf Franz von Oppersdorff, to whom the earlier symphony was dedicated on its publication in 1808. The fifth was re-sold to another patron, a fact for which Beethoven apologized in a letter to von Oppersdorff.

 

The Symphony No.4 in B flat major, Opus 60, is scored for flute and pairs of oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and drums, with the usual strings.

The first movement starts with an ominously chromatic slow introduction, moving forward to a spirited Allegro that suddenly bursts into life. The gentler second subject is introduced by the bassoon, joined by oboe and flute, leading to a later dialogue between clarinet and bassoon. The central development section ends as tension is built up over a prolonged drum roll, leading to the recapitulation. The slow movement, in the key of E flat, allows the second violins to establish the rhythmic pattern of accompaniment, above which the first violins weave their slow melody, followed by the flute. A second theme is entrusted to the clarinet, and both are to re-appear, the principal theme elaborately ornamented, as the movement progresses. The Minuet, a true scherzo, explores unexpected keys, its Trio presented at first by the woodwind, with interjections from the first violins. There follows a vigorous final movement, on which the strings immediately embark, the woodwind providing a less busy second subject and going on to an ending that brings its own elements of surprise.

 

Symphony No.7 in A major, Opus 92, was completed in the spring of 1812, but sketches for some of the material used occur as early as 1809, the year of Haydn's death. In spite of his deafness Beethoven, in his forties, was at the height of his powers, but the new symphony was greeted by some contemporary critics as the work of a drunkard. Weber summed up this opinion of the work: The extravagances of Beethoven's genius hove reached the ne plus ultra in the Seventh Symphony, and he is quite ripe for the mad-house. At the first performance, however, in December 1813, the work was received with considerable enthusiasm. The occasion was a patriotic one, a concert organized by Maelzel, inventor of the new metronome, in aid of the wounded at the battle of Hanau, and the programme included Beethoven's new Battle Symphony, Wellington's Victory, a programme piece in which some of the most distinguished musicians of the day took part. Repetitions of the same programme proved much less successful, although the Seventh Symphony was popular enough in Vienna. It is scored for pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and drums, with strings.

 

The first movement of the symphony opens with a massive introduction, recalling the beginning of Mozart’s Symphony No. 39. A Vivace follows that has all the exuberance of a peasant dance. The slow movement, marked Allegretto, suggests in its dominant dactylic rhythmic figure, the rhythm so often favoured by Beethoven’s younger contemporary, Franz Schubert. Here, however, the suggestions of a somber march suites well the patriotic mood of 1812. The F major Scherzo is again dominated by a particular rhythmic figure, modified in the contrasting Trio, which is repeated a second time and seems about to emerge once more, to be interrupted by the brusque final chords of the movement. There follows the final Allegro con brio, in the original key of A major, but with harmonic surprises. The whole movement moves to a great climax, a mighty conclusion to a symphony that had made astonishingly powerful use to relatively limited and conventional resources.

 


Close the window