How does Beethoven make Effective and Imaginative use of the Orchestra in the First Movement of his Symphony no. 1?

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How does Beethoven make Effective and Imaginative use of the Orchestra in the First Movement of his Symphony no. 1?

By Daniel Goode

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 how the various instruments are used effectively and imaginatively throughout the movement, and how the various groups of instruments (woodwind, horns, percussion (timpani), and strings) are used as a whole.

The symphony is scored for 2 , 2 , 2  in C, 2 , 2  in C and F, 2  in C,  and : four violin 1’s, three violin 2’s, cello/bass and viola.

In many symphonies (including this one), the strings are the ‘nucleus’ of the composition. Violins 1 and 2 often play in harmony. Very occasionally, the first violins play the melody whilst the second violins play chordal accompaniment along with the rest of the orchestra, such as between bars 279-289. Sometimes the first and second violins do more individual playing, for example in bar 100, in which the first strings have more playing and the second strings back them with a repeated quaver ostinato. However, even here, the second violins are still essentially providing harmonic as opposed to melodic material.

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The second strings are very limited in the amount of new melodic material that they provide the movement. An example of where they do play when the first violins are not adding new material is in bar 39, in which a short four-quaver pattern is played emphasizing the third and fifth of the chord G (the dominant) as the cello and bass play a tonic pedal note. Here the first violins have as much melodic importance as the rest of the string section and are simply limited to playing the chordal and harmonic backing.

In general, the ...

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