Ludwig Van Beethoven - Symphony No 2 D Major
( Originally Published 1935 )
I. Adagio molto; Allegro con brio
III. Scherzo: Allegro
IV. Finale: Allegro molto
Beethoven's Second symphony was composed in the years 1802 and 1802, those years when nature pronounced upon the composer the sentence of complete deafness; when he knew the terror of the silence inexorably closing upon him; when his love for the youthful Countess Giulietta Guicciardi, though returned, was pronounced hopeless so far as marriage. was concerned, and when, in the summer of 1802, hiding from men, Beethoven flung on paper that cry of loneliness and agony, found after his death, which is known as "Heiligenstadt Will."
Camille Bellaigne called the work "a heroic lie," for the mood of the symphony is one of strength and joy—Beethoven confronting life and proudly aware of the power of his genius. Between his First and Sec, and symphonies, while there is no such gap as that which separates the Second and Third, there is a distance eloquent of interior growth. The Second symphony is intensified and expanded Mozart, but Mozart on ampler lines, and impregnated with a new force. The introduction alone would be notice of a new figure in music. It is Beethoven's salute to the life and beauty of the world. The unison opening has a force and simplicity that he never lost. Little by little, rhythm and melody accumulate. The orchestra gradually brightens, glowing with new colors, as a valley between mountains takes upon itself splendor upon splendor with the sunrise.
The main movement, bold and gay, begins with a waggish theme that creeps along in the lower strings until suddenly it explodes with the full force of the orchestra. Beethoven takes a bit of this théme and from it makes much of the movement. The singing second theme is played by wind instruments over the accompaniment of the strings and answered jubilantly by the tutti. Between these themes are flashing episodes, but most of the movement rests upon the jester's quip of five notes— a nugget so small that-few composers but Beethoven would have seen anything in it.
The slow movement is devoted principally to a lovely melody, relieved by some lighter byplay, which also is a lineal descendant of Mozart. There is little more graceful and felicitous in music of the classic period than this movement, yet it is a fact that Beethoven revised it many times. A smaller man might , have gone stale through such polishing, but the longer Beethoven labored on a composition, the more concise, natural and eloquent it became.
The scherzo, with its "spirit and vigor ... almost seems to fly at your throat"—the words are Sir George Grove's. Here are abrupt alternations of soft and loud, sudden changes of key and contrasts of instrumentation—guffaws and disturbances which must have given in the early i 800's the impression of a particularly lively and impish bull in a china shop! And in these two last movements appears a device destined to come later into more general use, of repeating thematic ideas in different movements. If one listens attentively to the first part of the scherzo as it flashes by, he will notice that the five-note figure of the first movement returns, to be inserted with a surprising neatness and deftness in the tonal design.
The finale, full of pranks and harlequinade, begins with a clown's somersault from the high to the low register of the first violins. A transplantation of material from the first movement comes with the repetition of an episode of that movement, played by certain of the lower instruments in unison, and disappearing almost as quickly as it raised its head in the orchestra. The diverting effect of the transplantations here and in the scherzo is increased by their air of byplay and innocence—as if Beethoven just chanced to think of the business as the music whizzed by.
And here, with this work, we have the complete foundation of the symphonic orchestra, with its three complete choirs and the kettledrums, the principal element in the "battery" of percussion instruments that developed later. The string choir consists of the first and second violins, the violas, violoncellos—'cellos for short—and double-basses. The woodwind division comprises flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons. The horns and trumpets of the brass choir have yet to be augmented by the trombones that came with Beethoven's Fifth symphony, and by the tubas and other wind instruments that Berlioz and Wagner added. But here is the symphonic nucleus—and note Beethoven's orchestration. Already he has found a way of his own of using the instrumems :s. 'They have in his hands a special vibrancy and power. These clear, flashing colors and explosions of force will from now on be characteristic of his orchestral style.
"But why," says Grove, "talk of `parts and movements'? Who has time to think of them while his ears are full of such delicious sound? Even now [Grove writes in the Eighteen Eighties] what can be newer or pleasanter to hear than the whole symphony? To this very 'day, eighty years after its first appearance, the whole work is as fresh as ever in its indomitable fiery flash and its irresistible strength. Were ever fiddles more brilliant, more rampant in their freaks and vagaries, bursting out like flames in the pauses of the wind, exulting in their strength and beauty, than they are here? , . . Had ever the bassoon ' and oboe such parts before?—and so on throughout. No one has beaten it, not even Beethoven himself. Listen to it and see if we are not right."
Grove's words hold true. Beethoven was to write greater symphonies than the Second. But this early work has a place of its own, which cannot be usurped, among the Nine.