1806, the year the 4th symphony was born, was a particularly intense one for Beethoven. The rising popularity of his music put the composer in a state of feverish composing: these are the years of the Appassionata piano sonata, the violin concerto, the 4th piano concerto, the Razumovskij quartets.
It can’t be excluded that his inspiration was fueled also by his immortal beloved, aka, perhaps, countess Therese von Brunswick.
Regardless, Beethoven finished his fourth symphony in the fall of 1806. Its premiere took place on March 7, 1807, conducted by Beethoven himself at the Lobkowitz Palace in Vienna.
Compared to his 3rd symphony, the Eroica, the fourth goes back to a late 1800s form: it’s much less emphatic and heroic in spirit, and its dimensions are much more contained. What it does keep is the melodic invention and the process of development of the various motives. Plus, naturally, one of Beethoven’s most common fingerprints: the rhythm.
Beethoven around 1804 painted by Willibrord Joseph Mähler
Beethoven Symphony n.4: an analysis of the 1st movement
From a structural point of view, we are in a typical sonata form: an exposition with 2 contrasting themes, a development, and a recapitulation. Everything is framed by a slow introduction and a coda.
Beethoven 4th is pervaded by a joie de vivre, and by a plethora of luminous and dynamic themes. However, that’s not immediately clear: the introductory Adagio opens in a static and suspended atmosphere.
This introduction begins on a double articulation: the woodwinds plus the horns with a pedal affirm the tonic (B flat) while the strings develop a creepy descending line on intervals of thirds: Gb-Eb, F-Db, Eb-C and finally Db-Bb.
It’s all very unsettling: the symphony is in Bb major but here we are clearly in a minor key.
On measure 5 the Gb returns moving towards the F (the dominant) with which the second part of this first section of the introduction opens: this tentative line anticipates what will happen in the Allegro.
The second entry of the introduction on the tonic comes with an imperative fp
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