Music with Ease > Classical Music > Concert Guide: Classical Era > Symphony No. 7, in A Major. Op. 92. (Beethoven)
Symphony No. 7, in A Major. Op. 92.
Ludwig Van Beethoven
1. Poco sostenuto. Vivace.
3. Presto. Presto meno assai.
4. Finale. Allegro con brio.
The Seventh Symphony, which vies in popularity with the Fifth, was finished in the year 1812, and was first performed December 8, 1813, at a concert in Vienna. Of all the Beethoven symphonies, it is the most romantic, as well as the most happy. The composer left no clue to its meaning, though we know from his letters that he esteemed is as one of his best works. Richard Wagner, with his keen insight into the subjectivity of music, declares that it is the apotheosis of the dance, the ideal embodiment in tones of the bodily movement -- a definition which admirably applies to the symphony, as nearly all its motives are ideally perfect dance rhytms.
The introduction is almost a movement in itself, and contains one of the happiest and most delicate phrases to be found anywhere in Beethoven's music, as follows:
This episode occurs twice, preceeded and followed by ascending scales running through two octaves, which are significant for the very staccato manner in which they are given. The last part of the above quotation is reiterated during a short crescendo, and suddenly resolves into the note E, given out by the all instruments fortisimo and repeated during the remaining ten measures of the introduction and the first four bars of the following Vivace, in various rhythms. At the entrance of the new movement it has the dotted rhythm of the quail-call, which is the predominating feature of the whole movement:
The opening suggests the dancing along of a bevy of happy girls followed by a reckless plunge into hilarity. Sudden pianissimos followed by fortissimos, harmonic changes for which there is no time to prepare in the general rush -- these are the characteristics of the first part. The ill-tempered outbreak at the end of this part is repeated at the beginning of the second, only the flutes scream a third higher than before; then a pause, and violins move off again pianissimo, while the basses come in with a long scale in the same rhythm. The Coda contains one of those phrases which by their monotonous repeats partake somewhat of the nature of a pedal point; and on the other hand remind us of the peculiarity of Slavonic music, in which this monotonous repeat of one figure plays so characteristic a part. The basses support a steady crescendo from pianissmo to fortissimo during twenty-two measures with this figure:
The Allegretto, which takes the place of the slow movement, is built up on the following rhythmic figure:
The melody of the first part moves within the interval of a third, and is of the simplest construction. The movement itself is constructed on a long crescendo as a gradual as it is persistent, and irressistible in its natural strength. The second part opens with this lovely melody:
accompanied in triplets by the violins. A short interlude of staccato scales brings us back to the first theme, which is now worked up in the acompaniment in the style of a variation. Then the A major episode is repeated. The Coda, after a few sudden dynamic transitions, falls back on the original theme and dies away in a pianissimo.
The scherzo, marked "Presto," opens with a simple device of moving through the intervals of the chord of F, but stamped by the master's hand with the form at a:
followed by the descending scale motive, b. The third motive, growing out of c, furnishes by the repetition of the half-steps the prinicipal material for the middle section of the second part. The last four measures of the presto dwell on a prolonged A held by all the instruments, bringing in some part of the orchestra throught the whole trio, which changes into the key of D major. This A, suspended in mid-air as it were, with only an occasional pulsation with the G sharp below, sheds an air of serenity over the whole which greatly enhances the restfulness of the melodic theme:
The second part contains a most peculiar effect for the second horn, which on a low A and G sharp in different rhythms for twenty-six measures leads to a fortissimo repeat of the main theme, the trumpets ringing out the sustained A, supported by the kettle-drum. An interlude leads back to the Presto. The trio is then played again, followed by another repeat of the Presto and a short Coda, reminding one of the Scherzo in the Fourth Symphony.
The last movement, Allegro con brio, takes up the joyous strain of the first movement and opens with a whirling figure in the violins, supplemented by a figure accompanied by full, short strokes of the string instruments. It is in the dance rhythm throughout, justifying Wagner's characterization already quoted. Berlioz and Ambros call the symphony a rustic wedding; Marx, Moorish knighthood; Oulibishev, a masked ball; and Bischoff, a sequel to the Pastoral Symphony.
The following two motives complete the material for this movement:
The lightness and grace of the theme at a and the dance-like rhythm at b, with the mazurka accentuation of the second quarter, the use of dotted groups in the connecting phrases, the almost martial tread produced by the frequent employment of full chords, abruptly and forcibly marking the beats, the frequent changes of key, etc. -- all these factors impart to the movement an exuberant spirit which stamps it and the whole symphony as one of the most complete expressions of wholesouled enjoyment of life our musical literrature contains.