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Allegro vivace e con brio from the Eighth Symphony (movement 1).
Allegro vivace from the Eighth Symphony (movement 4).

When the delicate Eighth Symphony was first performed (about a year and a half after its completion), it met with a cooler reception than the Seventh, which bad been applauded tumultuously earlier in the concert. This evidently annoyed Beethoven, who confided to his pupil Czerny that he thought it the better work. The Eighth is a short symphony, about the same length as the First (and thus shorter than some of Mozart's and Haydn's last symphonies). But it is far from being a slender work: its harmonies and thematic development are extremely compressed, and so the symphony does not have to avail itself of the long timespans that characterize Beethoven's two preceding efforts in the genre. Thus its position in his symphonic oeuvre is comparable to that of op. 95 in F minor among the string quartets, or op. 78 in F sharp major among the piano sonatas.

But unlike these other two middle-period works, the Eighth Symphony gives the impression that the composer is parodying the Classical style of the late 18th century. In the lengths of its four movements and their relative tonalities, in the subservience of the wind instruments to the strings, and in the reduced size of the orchestra in the slow movement, the piece shows a clear preference for Mozartian and Haydnesque models rather than Beethovenian ones. Indeed the forms of the inner movements belong wholly to the 18th century. The Allegretto scherzando is a sonata form without development section whose persistent rhythms recapture much of the buoyant spirit of the Andante from Haydn's "Clock" Symphony. The third movement is a traditional minuet (the only one Beethoven ever wrote for a symphony) with the ordinary ABA da capo scheme; the prominent horn parts in the trio are strongly reminiscent of the analogous passages in Mozart's G minor Symphony (K. 550).

The outer movements, however, contain a number of surprises in both form and tonal argument. In the expositions of each, Beethoven modulates to remote keys for the initial statement of the second subject before "realizing his mistake" and quickly working his way towards the "right" key, i.e. the dominant. Perhaps the most typically Beethovenian feature of these movements is the length of the coda. In the first movement it is 72 bars long, or more than two thirds the length of the entire exposition. In the finale it runs to some 250 bars and is than about as long as the whole of the rest of the movement! And yet it is an extraordinarily compact section, with modulations to distant keys and recapitulations always proceeding logically from ideas in the earlier sections which it seems to dwarf.

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:

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