Theme and Variations

Thoughts and experiences of exploring classical, jazz, and other art music.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Beethoven Symphony No. 1

Along with using Robert Greenberg's course Symphonies of Beethoven, I will be using a boxed set of Beethoven's symphonies conducted by Leonard Bernstein (unless other wise noted).

In Beethoven's first symphony, No. 1 in C major Op. 21, you have to look under the surface elements of the work to detect original, new-to-the-classical-style motives and construction of themes. If you didn't have a guide to show you these hidden elements (as Greenberg does) you would think of the symphony as imitative of Haydn and Mozart. Certainly these two great symphonists cast a long shadow, under which Beethoven had to work in 1800, when he wrote his first.

Greenberg points this out in his two lectures on the first symphony. He makes comparisons between the introduction of Beethoven's First with Haydn's 88th, pointing out that these are example of French Overture, a style from the Baroque. The second movements of the First and of Mozart's 40th in G minor, K.550 are also compared.

On the other hand, Beethoven shows his talents for making big thematic statements with little motives of just a few notes. While this is heard blatantly in Beethoven's Fifth, it is an aspect of Beethoven's compositional style that it returns in other works, as well. In addition, he will also bring back, to some extent, motives and themes from earlier movements and transform them to new material in later movements. An example would be the way the second theme of movement one is built from motives heard in theme one.

I confess that I've paid little attention to Beethoven's First and Second symphonies, as from the Third onward his symphonies have more of a Romantic flavor, which is more to my own tastes. But I have enjoyed spending time listening to the First, as well as the Second, which I have just begun and will blog on next time.

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