Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 | Symphony Study No. 18 of 118

by Glenn on November 7, 2015

Beethoven: Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92
first performance: 8 December 1813

Beethoven’s Seventh is on my list of favorite symphonies. It may be my favorite of his symphonies, although his symphonies are like children, you can’t really say you have favorites. (“Each of them are special in their own way.”) It was a pleasure to come back to it.

With the Seventh, we now arrive at music written by a hearing impaired man. I can listen to what he couldn’t hear.

The opening is fun. Is this a slow work or a fast one? At one it seems like it’s both with long lines juxtaposed with scale passages. Then, finally, 3 ½ minutes into it comes that delightful opening melody. The horns are in extremis and sound amazing. I love how Beethoven uses a 6/8 pulse to give the music a lilt. He never introduces the melody outright. He offers the rhythmic feel and then the melody comes comes out of it. Michael Steinberg points out that this movement is dominated by this single rhythm.

The second movement was used famously in the King’s Speech, although the version I am listening to never would have been used in the film—it’s much too fast, in the manner that Beethoven probably wished it. Steinberg offers that this symphony really doesn’t have a slow movement. This movement just feels slow because it’s slower than the movements on either side. The version used in the King’s Speech is performed by The London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Terry Davies, at a much slower pace. This is the old tradition of making Beethoven’s slow movements really slow.

Aside: There was some controversy about the use of this music in the film. See this article.) After all, it was German music underscoring a speech by the British sovereign as his nation was entering a second world war. In my mind the music works really well but I can understand someone getting stuck on the irony of it all.

The third movement has some wonderful moods. It begins high energy then goes to this deeper place before coming back to the higher energy scherzo.

The last movement contrasts a wickedly fast tune with something a little more rustic. A B A Pure joy. 4’ minutes in what is that? It’s a figure that Shostakovich will take and use in one of his symphonies. Then back to high energy again.