Analysis of the Exposition of the First Movement of Beethoven's First Symphony

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Beethoven Symphony no.1 Exposition Essay

By Daniel Goode 5th November

Symphony no.1, op.21 in C major was written by Ludwig van Beethoven at approximately the age of 25 and was published in 1801. It is best known for its characteristic 3 note rising motif played in the exposition and it’s harmonically unusual introduction. It is clearly influenced by the works of Haydn and Mozart, however it shows certain musical characteristics unique to the style of Beethoven, including generous use of sforzandi as well as more prominent usage of wind instruments.

The symphony consists of four movements; this essay will focus on the first movement: adagio molto (introduction) and later allegro con brio in 4/4. It will cover primarily the structure, thematic details and harmony used in the exposition (bars 13-109)

The symphony is scored for 2 , 2 , 2  in C, 2 , 2  in C and F, 2  in C,  and .

The first subject begins with a tempo change (moves to allegro con brio, meaning fast “in a lively spirit) and lasts from bar 13 to bar 33. After the tonally ambiguous introduction (sometimes described as a “musical joke”) Beethoven eventually confirms the tonic key of C major in an understated manner. The first bar of the exposition, and indeed the dynamics all the way until bar 31 are quiet (piano), and the texture is very thin; the melody is played by the 1st violins accompanied by punctuated crotchet chords in the rest of the string section. The woodwind and horn sections only play the chord transitions and a crotchet on the first beat of the bar when each new chord is played.

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Musical tension is created as Beethoven slowly builds up the anticipation with several crescendos and sforzandi used to emphasize transitions to new chords, and new chords themselves- which are played on the first beat of bars 13 (C), 19 (Dm), 25 (G7)- respectively. This G7b dominant chord is then emphasized on the first beat of bars 27 and 29 as it moves from G7c to G7d.

Here the 3 note melodic motif (which moves upwards from the fifth to the major seventh to the tonic note) is a key element of the first subject from bars ...

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