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Hello everyone! Since last year, my parents and I had tickets to see the Philadelphia Orchestra perform all 9 of Beethoven symphonies this year. It was an event which I dreamed of for nearly a year! You can probably guess from my posts on this blockchain that I LOVE Beethoven! Sadly, the concerts were cancelled due to covid19; yet another reason for me to hate it. I was rather upset to learn this, but I suppose it is sensible considering the situation. Anyway, I decided I would make today's discussion post about the Beethoven symphonies. So the topic for discussion is Which Beethoven symphony is your favorite?
More about Beethoven, and each Symphony
Beethoven was indeed one of the most influential composers of all time. He is notable for composing whilst completely deaf in his later years, and his fiery personality is more than iconic. His portfolio includes a number of masterfully written pieces, but he is certainly known most for his symphonies.
In terms of the symphonic literature, very few composers have successfully composed even one piece that can stand in comparison to any of the Beethoven symphonies. Beethoven's influence on the symphonic literature is unmatched. To follow, I will include a recording of each Beethoven symphony as well as a review of the symphony and each movement. You can view the embeds through Steemit but not Steempeak. Here is a link to the Steemit post.
Symphony no. 1 in C Major
This symphony marks the beginning of a dynasty that still lives on stronger than ever. From the very first bar, Beethoven is pushing the boundaries (beginning seemingly in the wrong key). Though this piece obviously holds influences of its own, it foreshadows what is to come in the monumental works of Beethoven. You can hear the originality distinct to Beethoven beginning to form.
The first movement screams triumph, and it is interesting to listen to how Beethoven develops the ideas throughout the movement. Development of ideas - inherent in almost all of Beethoven's music - is one of Beethoven's strongest attributes as a composer, and something which will only grow as he continues to compose.
The second movement is playful in nature, but, at the same time, the sweetest and most sentimental aspect of Beethoven is captured within this delicate movement. Yet again, sentimentality lives within all of the symphonies, and will only grow as he continues to compose.
The third movement is a minuet and trio. The minuet is quite fast, and it foreshadows the scherzo aspect of the later symphonies' analogous movements. The trio is rather noble in character, and the woodwinds take a more prominent role as the strings take a role of accompaniment (inverse to what occurs in the minuet). This demonstrates Beethoven's skill and ingenuity as an orchestrator. Once again something which will only grow as he continues to compose.
The fourth movement certainly meets the criteria of excitement which a symphonic finale should meet. Beethoven will capitalize on this excitement more and more as he continues to grow, develop, and mature as a composer.
All of the elements are there, all that will change is how they are used and expanded upon. This recording is by Leonard Bernstein and the Wiener Philharmoniker:
Symphony no. 2 in D Major
Overall, this symphony expands on the same elements present in the first symphony. The harmony seems a little bit more daring, and the form is a little bit less rigid (while still adhering to the conventional forms). Overall, there is a certain amount of confidence which I did not notice as much in the first symphony. I would also say that this symphony is very much Beethoven's stylistically. I still notice nods to other composers, but it is definitely Beethoven nodding.
Movement 1 begins with a slow and regal introduction which demonstrates a complex harmonic vocabulary which will only be expanded upon throughout the movement. It builds suspense for the fast movement to follow. Overall, this movement is quite powerful and foreshadows many other powerful symphonic movements to follow.
Movement 2 this slow movement is quite beautiful (as is every other Beethoven slow movement). The same sentimentality inherent to Beethoven's music is noticeable. In just this movement, you can hear everything right in the world, and simultaneously hear everything tragically wrong. That is the beauty of Beethoven, nothing is truly distinguishable it all blends together in the great melting pot that is Beethoven's compositional style.
Movement 3 is now labeled Scherzo rather than Minuet. Beethoven did this because it was technically too fast to be considered a conventional Minuet, so instead he called it a Scherzo (meaning joke). This is an idea which remains present in his symphonies. This scherzo is quite playful, as is almost typical for a scherzo. The trio is again a little bit more regal, though there are still playful moments. You will also notice that the woodwinds serve a more prominent role in the trio than in the scherzo.
Movement 4 sees Beethoven dive right into the finale. There is no build up or introduction. Right away, he establishes the exciting nature of the movement. Overall, the movement is strong. It has exciting flares, playful sections, dramatic weight, as well as tender moments; all within one movement. It is quite enjoyable to listen to.
Overall, this symphony is a step forward. Here is a recording of Daniel Barenboim with the West--Eastern Divan Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall on July 20th, 2012.
Symphony no. 3 in E-flat Major
Well, this symphony certainly was a step up from the last. I definitely think that Beethoven demonstrates a even more confidence in himself in this symphony. It feels like he has finally found his voice in entirety. If you are unfamiliar with this symphony, or the story behind it, you might be a musical muggle. I was truly looking forward to seeing this one (in particular) live. The story behind it is that Beethoven wrote it for Napoleon, but ripped up the cover page and renamed it "Eroica" when Napoleon crowned himself emperor.
Movement 1 starts out in a unique way (at least compared to the other symphonies so far). There is no slow and dramatic build up to the main moment. He just fires the cannon and dives into the symphony. I hear this, and I think of a certain blind faith which Beethoven had in Napoleon. I guess this shows (if nothing else) that fully trusting a political leader is a mistake. It is in this movement that I hear the blind trust which Beethoven felt towards Napoleon.
Movement 2 is a funeral march for a true leader who has fallen in battle. The first thing which comes to my mind when listening to this movement is when JFK was assassinated and the Boston symphony orchestra played it after hearing the news. It is such a haunting recording, and performance. Overall, the passion in this movement is just unreal, and it is one of Beethoven's greatest and most surreal displays of such a passion. It sounds almost cinematic at times.
Movement 3 is definitely a lot less intense than movement 2. It has its playful, almost comedic moments, as well as its big and powerful moments (as all of Beethoven's music has). Overall, it is quite charming, and I definitely think it adds to the overall picture painted by the entire symphony.
Movement 4 is a masterpiece within a masterpiece. In building this movement, Beethoven used every single item in his compositional tool box. If I were to describe the character of this movement with one phrase, it would be "masterful development of material." If you wish to see more about this movement, here is an analysis by Richard Atkins. This movement is special for me amongst all of the Beethoven symphonies because it feels like it is a step up from even his normal.
One thing which I will say about this symphony is that it definitely takes a step up in terms of orchestral coloring. I've noticed French Horn soli which work incredibly well, as well as a much wider overall variety in how the instruments interact with one another. Here is a recording by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela in 2007 of Beethoven's 3rd Symphony "Eroica":
Symphony no. 4 in Bb Major
When I first listened to this, I was curious about why it sounds so different in comparison to its neighboring symphonies (the 3rd and 5th). Reading on Wikipedia, I found out that there are several theories: one of which states that the comissioners enjoyed "Haydnesque" works. This really goes to show the power of the market as well as money in deciding what gets done, as well as what is "trendy." While this symphony does sound very much "Haydnesque" it is still very much Beethoven.
Movement 1 has another slow introduction that builds suspense. It is incredible how much of a tangent Beethoven seems to go on through incredibly ingenuitive harmony, and then he pulls it all back together for a rather exciting and eventful allegro movement. Overall, my impressions of this movement is that half of it sounds like a romantic era piece, and the other half sounds like a classical era piece (specifically the second theme). It is rather exciting to listen to!
Movement 2 is incredibly beautiful (as is typical of the Beethoven slow movements). I remember how impressed I was when I saw the Nutcracker at the fact that Tchaikovsky made such an impressive theme out of a descending scale. Yet again, I am impressed. This movements also uses a theme which consists of a descending scale. It only goes to show that a true master can develop anything so that it sounds new and exciting; even a scale which we have all heard a thousand times.
Movement 3 is different than the other 3rd movements which I have heard from Beethoven in the previous symphonies. It still is obviously a minuet/scherzo and trio, but it is not as playful in character. Overall, I would say that it takes a much more serious tone than the previous analogous movements.
Movement 4 is certainly a journey with suspenseful twists, and exciting adventures! Once again, I think Beethoven is incredibly good at capitalizing on the excitement a finale needs to be built upon. Overall, I would say that this is my favorite movement in the symphony!
Every Beethoven symphony is such a gem! It truly is incredible how much quality lives in them all (including this one). It is just astonishing to think that one man can be so innovative, and be successful in building AT LEAST 9 master pieces. Here is a recording of Christian Thielemann and the Wiener Philharmoniker performing Beethoven's 4th symphony:
Symphony no. 5 in c minor
This whole symphony is amongst Beethoven's most popular works. Overall, it once again demonstrates Beethoven's skill at development. In this case, development of a specific motif.
Movement 1 is built upon a 4 note motif which reappears throughout the entire symphony. Much like the 3rd symphony's first movement, this movement opens with a bang. It is unique in the way it uses Sonata form. Rather than have the second theme in the tonic key in the recapitulation, it remains in the relative major, and there is a coda leading back to c minor. Overall, this movement is very fun to listen to!
Movement 2 once again demonstrates the sentiment that Beethoven is capable of expressing within his music. If I had to draw a comparison, I would compare this movement to the sweetest chocolate which you can imagine. It is warm, and it melts in your mouth giving a taste so satisfying that it is hard to replicate (even by taking another bite). It is also quite difficult to play due to its key.
Movement 3 once again makes direct use of the 4 note motif. It is very expressive, and goes from loud outbursts to soft and subtle statements of ideas. A fun fact about this movement is that it contains one of the hardest symphonic passages to play on double bass. Something incredible about this movement is its transition into the 4th movement. This transition was so incredible that Beethoven decided to do it again within the 4th movement.
Movement 4 is nothing aside from victorious. It is such a satisfying finale. I remember when we actually saw this symphony performed by the Philadelphia orchestra this movement was by far my favorite part of that performance.
Here is a recording of Daniel Barenboim with the West--Eastern Divan Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall on July 23rd, 2012:
Symphony no. 6 "Pastorale" in F Major
The 6th symphony was actually premiered at the same concert as the 5th symphony. I remember once hearing the two compared (forgive me for not remembering where), and it was pointed out that the two symphonies express opposite ideas. Where the 5th represents confinement; the 6th represents freedom and openness. This symphony was written as a depiction of nature. The wikipedia page states:
Beethoven was a lover of nature who spent a great deal of his time on walks in the country. He frequently left Vienna to work in rural locations. The composer said that the Sixth Symphony is "more the expression of feeling than painting" a point underlined by the title of the first movement.
One thing which is interesting about this symphony is that it has 5 movements, and it is Beethoven's only symphony with descriptive titles for each movement:
Movement 1 bears the title: "Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside". While this movement is in conventional sonata form, I would say that this is the first time where the form does not seem to be solely driving the movement. I would say that this movement almost foreshadows the romantic era due to the imagery and feelings which steer it. I will say that this is one of my favorite movements from the Beethoven symphony. It is so sweet and beautiful, and it does express exactly what Beethoven wants it to express. While I listen to this movement, I love to just imagine walking in a rural field in the 1800s.
Movement 2 bears the title "Scene by the brook". One thing which is interesting about this movement is thinking about it in comparison to other pieces by other composers which occur at brooks. For some reason, German composers love a good brook for the subject of a piece of music. Overall, this movement flows like a brook, and is incredibly relaxing to listen to. Its melodies are incredibly lyrical, and it has everything which one could hope for in a slow movement. The beauty which lives in Beethoven's slow movements is unmatched.
Movement 3 bears the title "Merry gathering of country folk". This movement follows the trend of the whole symphony with lyrical melodies, and spacious accompaniments. I also notice many solis, and efforts to feature the different instruments available in the orchestra. I wonder if this choice in orchestration helps to depict the diverse array of people gathering, as well as the range of activities which would be occurring. Overall, this movement has a very special flavor to it, and it does seem to represent its subject very well.
Movement 4 bears the title "Thunder, Storm". It arises right from movement 3 with no pause between the two. It seems the gathering has been interrupted and prematurely ended by a storm (the American economy is the gathering, and the coronavirus is the storm). This movement is incredibly interesting. It provides a certain conflict which was incredibly new at the time. The whole symphony seems to tell a story, and this movement is the climax. In it, you hear the roar and rumble of thunder, and the agitation of an oncoming storm.
Movement 5 bears the title "Shepherd's song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm". It emerges from the storm, and once again is lyrical and open. I know that in many of the other finales I have written that they fit a certain expected level of excitement. In this case, the excitement is different. It emerges from resolution of the conflict rather than simply relying on exhilaration. This finale draws from something which very few other finales draw from. This symphony ends in a majestic way, as it should!
I can only imagine what audiences would have thought as they experienced this symphony for the first time. It is incredible how innovative this symphony is in terms of what it is built upon. This symphony really foreshadows the symphonic poems which come in the romantic era. It must have been incredible for those early audiences (as it still is for us). Here is a video of Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting with the Philadelphia orchestra in 1996:
Symphony no. 7 in A Major
I've had a bit of an obsession with this symphony recently. It is one of the ones which I did not listen to very frequently until very recently, and as a result, I find myself listening to it nonstop.
Movement 1 is quite charming! So often, people act like Beethoven is this angry composer who went deaf and composed music to show the world how angry he was. This movement certainly busts that myth. I would not exactly describe it as euphoric, or jolly, or celebratory. I would simply say that it is bright and warm (especially that second theme in 6/8).
Movement 2 is not as major as the first movement. In fact, it is quite dramatic. It was used in the movie Immortal Beloved for the background of the scene when Karl van Beethoven attempts suicide. This is definitely one of my favorite symphonic movements!
Movement 3 is bold and exciting. It matches the intensity of the second movement, yet conveys different ideas ranging from playful and crisp to dramtic and lyrical. It is incredible how vast the range of expression is even within one movement of a Beethoven symphony. Especially this particular movement.
Movement 4 is great. Right off the bat, it is exciting and powerful. It always has direction, and it really does make a meaningful ending for such an incredible symphony!
Overall, I really do love this symphony! It is full of pathos, and yet overall is a bright depiction of what matters most in life. It is always such a fun listen for me! Here is a recording of the 7th symphony by Leonard Bernstein and the Wiener Philharmoniker:
Symphony no. 8 in F Major
I have heard that Beethoven called this symphony his "little symphony in F major." Since it is in the same key as the 6th symphony, but much shorter. I will admit that I have not listened to this one very much.
Movement 1 is quite good. It is very exciting to listen to, and Beethoven once again demonstrates masterful skills within it. It is interesting to think about this in comparison to the 9th symphony's first movement. The two are remarkably different, and this symphony comes over a decade before the 9th. This movement demonstrates skill and maturity, but does not even come close to matching the first movement of the 9th. It is interesting to think that Beethoven was still improving, even this late in his life. This movement is unique in that it is in 3/4: a triple time; whereas most of his other 1st movements are in duple or quadruple times.
Movement 2 is meant to mimic a metrenome (which Beethoven's friend had invented/improved) according to wikipedia. It is also speculated that he draws influence from Haydn's clock symphony. Whatever the case, this movement certainly does tick. It is interesting in that it does not have the same sentimental quality that a lot of his other slow movements generally possess. Instead, this movement seems mostly playful.
Movement 3 is very much conventionally a minuet and trio in terms of tempo and form. It is very interesting that he decided to go with a conventional tempo in this case, when these movements are usually much faster in his other symphonies. This movement is actually quite sentimental at times, and also noble. I am especially fond of the French horn soli in the trio. In similar fashion, there is a clarinet solo which wikipedia states is the first instance where a clarinet soloist is required to play a G6. Stravinsky is said to have praised the trio section's orchestration as:
"incomparable instrumental thought"
Movement 4 is incredibly fast. It is tastefully sporadic in terms of dynamics and ideas. Once again, Beethoven does not disappoint in terms of excitement for the finale, though it does seem like a different approach than some of the other finales. It is not always as direct, but it is just as exciting!
Overall, this symphony does seem a little novel in comparison to some of the others, but it is very much Beethoven's in terms of grandiose as well as interesting dynamic choices. Overall, it is a rather enjoyable (and short) listen. Here is a recording of Christian Thielemann with the Wiener Philharmoniker performing Beethoven's 8th symphony in F Major:
Symphony no. 9 in d minor
I am going to have to partially quote Neil Armstrong here: One small step for Beethoven; one gynormous, gargantuan, huge, big - just fricken big - step for everyone else.
Movement 1 This movement is so incredibly powerful, it is unbelievable. It follows the conventional sonata form, but is very different from anything which has come before. One thing which I notice is that it is not as clear cut as some of his prior sonata movements. First of all, the second theme is not in the typical relative Major, but rather in the key of scale degree six, Bb major. The size of the orchestra is notably larger than the previous symphonies, and overall, the movement is incredibly complex in its use of harmony, and its development of ideas. It is especially incredible when you consider that its composer is deaf.
Movement 2 defies Beethoven's structure for the other symphonies in that it is a scherzo and trio rather than a slow movement. This movement is very different than many of its analogous counterparts in that it seems to be on a much larger scale in terms of instrumentation. One orchestration decision which has always impressed me is the use of different instruments to accent the important notes of the melody (such as the oboe at the beginning).
Movement 3 is once again in defiance of Beethoven's structure for previous symphonies' in that it is a slow movement. It is among Beethoven's most beautiful movements in my opinion. I have often wondered if he meant for the theme to be similar to the slow movement's main theme in the Pathetique sonata because I cannot help but hear a similarity between the two.
Movement 4 is the crowning movement of all of Beethoven's symphonies. It defies convention completely with its inclusion of a choir (becoming the first symphony by a major composer to use a choir), and it is in fact almost a symphony within a symphony. There are 4 distinct sections, and overall, this movement's form is most describable as a theme and variations. Obviously, it is not strict, but, overall, the movement focuses on developing the Ode to Joy theme. This movement sees Beethoven writing what he is best at writing: the development of material. The best word to describe this movement is in fact "Joy."
Overall, this symphony is huge and powerful. It surpassed everything which came before, and helped Beethoven to cast a shadow which composers still fight to get out of to this day. Here is a recording of Daniel Barenboim with soloists: Anna Samuil (soprano), Waltraud Meier (mezzo-soprano), Michael König (tenor), René Pape (bass), the National Youth Choir of Great Britain, and the West--Eastern Divan Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall on July 27th, 2012:
What is Your Favorite Beethoven Symphony?
I once asked @haihin1 which of the Beethoven symphonies is his favorite, and he responded:
That is like asking someone if they love their father or their mother more.
I asked @remlaps the same question, and he responded:
Whichever one I am listening to when you ask.
Now I am making it a discussion post. Which Beethoven symphony do you like most, and why?
If the account (@penny4thoughts) is set as a beneficiary, it will evenly distribute the liquid portion of the post's rewards to the authors of comments that the post author upvotes with 100 percent voting power. For this post, and all future [Discussion Posts] in the category 'penny4thoughts', I will be setting @penny4thoughts as a beneficiary for 100 percent of the posts' rewards, and I will monitor the discussion and upvote valuable contributions.
This is likely the longest post I have ever written, but it gave me a good excuse to listen to all 9 Beethoven symphonies again, and to try to promote discussion on this platform. Please feel free to comment whatever your opinion is. If you can't decide, feel free to comment why! Hopefully I will see you in the next post!