Ludwig Van Beethoven - Symphony No. 7, in A major, Opus 92
( Originally Published 1935 )
I. Poco sostenuto; Vivace
III. Presto; Presto meno assai
IV. Finale: Allegro con brio
In contradistinction to the Sixth or "Pastoral" symphony, Beethoven's Seventh has no "program" or dramatic idea back of it. It is purest beauty, and in its impersonality is a. hasty retreat from the program matic indications of the former work. Unfortunately for the effect on lesser minds, Richard Wagner, in writing of the Seventh symphony, called it "the apotheosis of the dance," and his remark, wholly justified in spirit and never intended literally, had dire consequences. The day came when Isidora Duncan "danced" the Seventh symphony. But the work has survived this bourgeoiserie and even the gratuitous explanations of commentators who have sought to pro-vide clues to its meaning.
There are none. The Seventh symphony is beyond explanation. The listener is thrilled by the beauty and glory of the music. As he gains familiarity with the work, its details become always more distinct and impressive. But see ever so far, the mystery of the music is farther than that. The product of the genius of a man, it becomes mirror of the genius of the universe.
It happens that four of Beethoven's nine symphonies have introductions: the First, Second, Fourth and Seventh. Of these the • introduction to the Seventh symphony is the freest in its fantasy, the noblest and most imposing: a majestic chord of the orchestra, a broad, swinging phrase, heard first from the oboe, then strengthened by other instruments as stronger sonorities are needed to chant it against: an upward dancing procession of the strings. Other contributory ideas and surprising modulations lead with inevitability to the rhythm of the main body of the movement, established by an oft-repeated E that rings through the air.
On the basis of this rhythm, and the theme that it generates, Beethoven creates virtually his entire main movement. Phrases which are actually parts of the principal idea could be detached and called "second theme" and "sub-theme" to satisfy the analysts; actually there is one theme, one intoxicating idea which Beethoven refuses to leave, and with which he makes marvelous diversion. Certain novelists have told us that when they created a real character, that character seemed to get out of hand, to act of its own initiative, and do things that its creator had not intended. Beethoven's motive appears to have a like individuality and dynamism. Actually it is never beyond control. The composer remains the unquestioned master of his inspiration. The exuberance and abundance of the music show that he could have continued his movement for many more pages than he does, but his sense of proportion is inexorable. There is not a superfluous note in all this plenty. Near the. end of the movement comes a celebrated passage which caused another composer—the youthful Weber, whose years had not bestowed enough insight to save him from ridicule for the statement by posterity—to remark that Beethoven was now "quite ripe for the madhouse." It is the great place toward the end where the violoncellos and double-basses, deep down in the orchestra, concern themselves with a powerful, chained bass of five notes which they keep repeating, while overhead a tremendous climax accumulates. ,
The second movement is the famous "Allegretto." Beethoven originally marked this movement "andante"—slow. He later, and properly, designated more accurately the tempo he wanted as "allegretto" —somewhat fast, or less than fast. The Seventh symphony is without a slow movement. Its mood is too exuberant. It is too free of our planet! Shall this symphony only walk? The main motive of the allegretto is a hymn-like melody—less a melody, perhaps, than a pulse which beats joyfully and persistently in one or another part of the orchestra. The motive is hymned by lower - strings. Then it is heard combined with a yearning phrase of violas and 'celli. These two figures interweave. Later there is a change from minor to major, and a new melody, in a different rhythm, for clarinets and bassoons. (But even here can be felt in the depths of the orchestra, as if at the base of creation, the unchanging pulse.) When the first subject returns it is treated in a new way, in the fugal manner. A counter-subject in short notes is set against the initial motive. What the composer is driving at is not at first clear, until the hymning theme, with brilliant counterpoint twining about it, is proclaimed by the full orchestra. For a conclusion, fragments of the motive are tossed from instrument to instrument, and the orchestra sounds the same chord which opened the movement, and a rapturous sigh of the violins brings an end.
The third movement, the scherzo, is. energized Haydn. This, at least, is true of the first part, a peas-ant strain. The contrasting passage is one of the supreme moments in Beethoven. The melody here given 'the strings is said to be that of a pilgrim hymn heard by the master at Teplitz. What gives the passage its singular and haunting beauty is the A, preceded by its auxiliary G-sharp, and sustained by horns and later by trumpets and other instruments. Sometimes the magical tone sounds from afar, sometimes it is flung out a mighty paean of praise, with all the instruments' power and glory.
For the finale, Beethoven makes Homeric horseplay with a melody in the character of an Irish folk-tune. The finale takes on the character of a cosmic reel. Jocose ditties stagger through the orchestra and cavort into space—the cat and the fiddle, the cow that jumped over the moon! Toward the end Beethoven resorts again to the device of a persistent bass such as he used so magnificently in the first movement.
"The Grand Symphony in A, one of my very best," said Beethoven.
At the first performance of this symphony, December 18, 1813, at a concert for the benefit of Austrian and Bavarian soldiers disabled at the battle of Hanau, a piece by Beethoven, "Wellington's Victory, or the Battle of Vittoria," arranged for Malzel's machine, the panharmonican, was also played. Many celebrated musicians were in Vienna, and they were called upon to give their services in the orchestra. Salieri and Hummel played the "cannon" in "Wellington's Victory." The composer Spohr, the violinist Schuppanzigh, and the celebrated Dragonetti, the double-bass player, were among those who took part. Meyerbeer, then a young man, played the bassdrum. He was nervous. Beethoven, who conducted, said afterwards, "Ha! ha! ha! I was not at all satisfied with him; he never struck on the beat; he was always too late, and I was obliged to speak to him rudely. Ha! ha! ha! I could do nothing with him; he did not have the courage to strike on the beat!"