Written between 1800 and 1802, Beethoven’s second symphony was finished while the composer was in Heiligenstadt, where he wrote his famous testament .
It is all the more surprising then that such work so full of life could come from the pen of the same person who had thought of committing suicide because of his increasing deafness.
But as Beethoven himself points out in the testament, he was bound to remain alive until he had composed everything that he was compelled to compose.
Beethoven was fully aware that he had started a new path in the symphonic world even before his groundbreaking third symphony. Up to Haydn and Mozart composers had mostly written symphonies in groups of 3 or 6. Beethoven begins his symphonic journey with a single one, performed in 1800, with the idea of having a second one the year after. The idea did not become a reality until three years after, in 1803.
In the slow introduction of his first symphony, Beethoven had already started to deviate from the usual path: from the famous dominant seventh chord as an opening to the way he presented the different sections of the orchestra to the audience.
Ludwig van Beethoven in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman
Collection: Beethovenhaus Bonn
Beethoven keeps the idea of moving away from the traditional canons in his second symphony as well: the introduction is much longer than any of the Haydn symphonies, or Mozart’s for that matter (except perhaps the Prague symphony K504, coincidentally also in D major).
Beethoven’s Symphony n.2: an analysis of the 1st movement
According to Berlioz, in this introduction
“the best effects come one after the other without any confusion and always in an unexpected way“.
I think was probably referring to the contrasts that characterize this work.
The piece begins on a fortissimo, full orchestra, then the woodwinds in piano, a small crescendo and then piano again before another fortissimo. These sudden changes of dynamics, occurring continuously throughout the symphony will become more and more part of Beethoven’s musical language.
This Adagio can be divided into 3 blocks: the first block consists of the first 12 bars where Beethoven introduces the woodwinds first, after the first full orchestra chord, and then the strings
The second section consists of another 12 bars, between bar 12-24, and modulates to Bb, with a constant dialogue between strings and woodwinds
The third and last section, between bar 24 and bar 34, is introduced by a dominant pedal in horns and ends on a rapid descending scale of the first violins landing into the Allegro
But before moving to the Allegro, I want to show you one very interesting thing
This very same bar will take on a much more important role in one of Beethoven’s most famous and immortal works: what he’s giving us here is a sneak peak into his 9th symphony.
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