Adagio molto from the Second Symphony (movement 1).
As their dates of composition suggest, Beethoven's first 2 symphonies look back on one century and ahead to another. Some of their features presage
the development of the genre in the Romantic era, through in most respects these works adhere to the Classical symphonic style as it had developed by
the 1790s. The orchestra is no bigger than that which Beethoven's teacher Haydn used in the second set of "London" symphonies (1793-95); nor is
there any appreciable change in the length of the symphony or the relation of its four movements to one another.
At a deeper level - and especially in the first movements - one senses the particular influence of the late symphonies of Mozart. The similarity of the
opening Allegro themes in the first movement of "Jupiter" (K.551 in C, 1788) and Beethoven's First has often been commented on, and the unusually
long slow introduction to the Second Symphony is strongly reminiscent of Mozart's "Prague" (K.504 in D, 1786). The remaining movements are on the
whole conservative in design. Both slow movements are in sonata form, though they emphasize the lyrical rather than the dramatic qualities of the form.
The third movements reveal the influence of the stylistically transitional minuets from Haydn's later string quartets, but they cling to Mozart's principle
of dualistic scoring: the main sections are led by the strings, whereas the trios feature the woodwind. In the finales, Beethoven models his themes on the
playful tunes of Haydn's symphonic rondo and sonata-rondo structures.
The influence of Haydn and Mozart does not, however, account for everything in these early Beethoven symphonies. Despite the modest orchestral
forces, the composer relies heavily on the wind instruments throughout, making them particularly prominent in the second subject of a sonata-form
exposition and - in dialogue with the strings - in the development section. He also makes an important innovation in string writing which was to
influence virtually every Romantic symphonist: the use of the cellos as a cantabile tenor voice, reinforced by the violas or the second violins instead of
being doubled from below by the basses.
If Beethoven was, on the whole, a more daring harmonist in his early piano sonatas, it is nevertheless in the First Symphony that he learnt to follow the
implications of a single bold idea through an entire work. The famous dominant seventh chord which begins the symphony leads the harmony into the
"wrong" key, namely the subdominant (F major). This initial harmonic gesture, towards the flat side of the home key, is taken up by the slow
movement, which is in the key of F major. The scherzo is back in the home key, but its opening theme is based on the ascending scale of the dominant
(G major) and is thus another "wrong beginning" - this time on the sharp side of the tonic. For the principal theme of the finale, Beethoven again uses an
ascending scale based on G, but now he lowers the seventh note to F natural so that the scale can correctly define the home key of C. And to celebrate
this important change the builds up to the scale one note at a time in a slow introduction, withholding a resolution as long as possible. Once the crucial F
natural is reached, the harmonic tension is released in an exhilarating Allegro.
Multimedia Beethoven Online Encyclopaedia provides completely explanation of Ludwig van Beethoven's
greatest works - his nine symphonies. Please choose the number of the symphony below: