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Allegretto (The funeral march) from the Sevent Symphony (movement 2).

After Beethoven's marathon concert of December 1808, which included the first performances of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, the city of Vienna was not to hear a new Beethoven symphony for some five years. The long-awaited Seventh was completed about May of 1812 and thus dates from the period during which the Austrian capital was recovering from French occupation. The delay of the work's first performances until the winter of 1813-14, by which time Napolean's armies had been all but crushed in western Europe, made the concerts an occasion for celebrating and helped to ensure the work's enormous popularity and the composer's lasting fame. That the Seventh can be at least partly appreciated as an expression of military and political victory can be seen in Beethoven's atypical use of the wind instruments as a self contained group in the orchestra, rather than as the amplifier of an essentially string-dominated texture (as in the Fifth) or as a collection of soloists dependent upon string accompaniment (to be found especially in the "Pastoral").

The special treatment of the wind plays as important role in the shaping of the work: for although Beethoven's orchestra here is the same size as that of his first two symphonies, he is able to expand his thematic material by setting large instrumental groups against each other. In the slow introduction to the first movement, the opposition of full orchestra and wind band is emphasized by each group's having its own theme - and in a different key - so that there is a strong hint of sonata structure even before the main part of the movement begins. But in the Vivace itself, which is in sonata form, the normal roles of string and wind are sometimes actually reversed, so that (for instance ) it is the wind - and led by the flute rather than, more conventionally, by the oboe - which gets to play the opening statement of the first subject.

The second movement, in A minor, has strong links between Beethoven's earlier "heroic" style. Its affinity with the Funeral March of the "Eroica" reaches perhaps deeper than its often-discussed, rather lively tempo marking - Allegretto - would seem to indicate. Its rhythm (with persistent dactyls in the main tune), its ABA form (modified, and with a coda recalling both elements) and its tonal organization (the B section is in the parallel key of A major and gives prominence to the wind) all underscore its relationship to the sombre processional march of the early 19th century.

Though the form of scherzo, ABABA', had by now become standard in the Beethoven symphony, its remote key relation between principal section and trio (F major - D major ) was something new; what is more, the composer emphasizes the tonal distance between them by basic differences in temp, phrase construction and the use of the orchestra. Then in order to bind together these two seemingly irreconcilable musical entitles, he hit upon a unique solution, that of using the timpani as a mediator, tuned to the interval of a sixth (A-F) instead of the conventional fifth. As a result Beethoven is able not only to reinforce the fortissimo repetitions of the principal section's main motif (F-A-F) but also to support the long dominant pedal point (on the note A) in the trio, thus imparting the same distinctive orchestral sound to both sections of the movement.

The finale is an sonata form, but Beethoven plays down the contrasts of tonality and the theme and gives the movement more the character of a coda to the entire symphony than an argumentative piece to be reckoned with in its own right. Seen in this light, it may be said to sum up the composer's middle-period approach to symphonic finales, which goes back as far as the "Prometheus" variations in the "Eroica"; and, indeed, it is the last such finale that Beethoven was to write.

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