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Symphony No. 1, in C Major. Op. 21.

Ludwig Van Beethoven
(1770-1827)




1. Adagio molto. Allegro con brio.
2. Andante cantabile con moto.
3. Menuetto e Trio.
4. Adagio. Allegro molto e vivace.

The date of Beethoven's First Symphony has not been definitely ascertained. Sketches of its finale are found as early as 1795, though the work was not performend until April 2, 1800, at concert in Vienna, conducted by the composer. The symphony, in the key of C major, does not begin with the common chord of C, but with the seventh chord in C, resolving into F major, at that time an unheard-of proceeding.

The short introduction leads us in twelve measures to be first movement, with this principal theme --

[Music excerpt]

The flutes take up the cadence and lead through C and C sharp into a repitition of the theme one step higher in D minor, bringing it the third time in a slightly altered form on the dominant chord of G and leading back into the principal key of C. The session theme --

[Music excerpt]

includes in its melody another of Beethoven's idiosyncrasies, namely, the syncopations at a, while the broken chords in the staccato accompanied foreshadow his preference for decided figures in his basses.

The second part opens with the principal theme in A major, which after some modulations is reiterated fortissimo and in unison by the whole orchestra. The chromatic step C, C sharp, for the winds, which we found in the beginning, leading into a repetition in D minor, is now extended to a quasichromatic scale, running through an octave and a half, and leading in a steady crescendo into the dominant and thus back to the second theme, which appears now in the original key of C. Near the close of the movement, Beethoven very ingenously gives us reminder of his opening chords and their resolution by using the principal theme in part, overlaying it in the winds with a seventh chord. The treatment throughout is a simple and clear.





The andante cantabile con moto opens with the following melody:

[Music excerpt]

answered in canon by the violas and 'cellos. The opening step C to F, enlarged to a sixth, G to E, makes the second phrase of the movement a natural sequence of the first. In the last eight measures of the first part, Beethoven again steps out of the beaten track using the kettle-drum only as a kind of metronome, by giving it a rhythmic phrase acompanying a triplet figure in the violins. The step C to F, in connection with the pulsating beat of the drum, furnishes the composer the material of the opening of the second part of the Andante, which is worked out with the most delicacy and closes with one of those dynamic contrasts which Beethoven was so fond.

The Minuet was the composer's most serious attempt to impress his individuality upon a form which had been so strongly defined by his predeccessors, and which, as the representative of the dance Minuet, seemed to have been almost exhausted by Haydn and Mozart. Beethoven, recognizing the fitness of a bright and sprightly movement between the Andante and the last movement of the sonata form, aimed at once to break through the form of the Minuet proper and create the Scherzo and Trio, which he afterward developed so successfully. The movement under consideration, although entitled "Minuet," is really a Scherzo. Its beginning reveals those characteristics of the composer which further study of his works forces us to admire the most in him -- simplicity and strength. Look at the opening:

[Music excerpt]

Its tonal design appears to be nothing but the scale of G major, but what does it became under the hands of the young master?

[Music excerpt]

The second part of the Minuet is remarkable for its modulation, and there is something infinitely humorous in the measures which follow this tour de force:

[Music excerpt]

until their pianissimo comments are cut short by the statement of the opening scale fortissimo. The Trio is very simple and chiefly based on the interchange of the wind and string choirs, and the Minuet, da capo, closes the movement.





The Finale opens with a few bars of Adagio. After a hold on G, the first violins rush off in their mad dance:

[Music excerpt]

The opening phrase of the Allegro is a violin figure, pure and simple, and the scale runs of the second part are but threads compared with the scale runs of the second part are but threads compared with the scale which we found ovelaying the harmonic structure of the opening of the Minuet. The second theme of the Finale is the following:

[Music excerpt]

coquettishly set off against the steady basses and entirely in keeping with the spirit of the whole.

In the first Symphony Beethoven still clings to be accepted musical forms; hence the occasional phrases which remind us of Haydn and Mozart.

And yet the symphony shows us in embryo all those qualities which made Beethoven the greatest symphonic writer the world has thus far produced.




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