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Beethoven & the Symphonic Genre

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Benjamin Scott March 28, 2004 Beethoven & the Symphonic Genre Beethoven had a great influence on the genre of the classical symphony. The form has changed dramatically since Haydn's first symphonies in the 1750s. Both Haydn and Mozart had influence on Beethoven's symphonies. Beethoven then developed his own style which transformed the genre. Before you can appreciate Beethoven's contributions to the genre, you must recognize his inspirations. First of all, Joseph Haydn is traditionally considered the 'father' of the symphony. While this is not exactly true, the symphony became a definitive form in the hands of Haydn. The form evolved from several genres, including the Baroque concerto grosso, the 'church sonata', and the Italian opera overture. Schools of symphonic writing developed in several European cities in the early 18th century, but Haydn's symphonies mainly follow in the tradition of his home city, Vienna (Grove online). Haydn wrote 106 symphonies, some of them three movements in length (fast-slow-fast), while many are four movements. His earlier symphonies have a style of "virtuoso brilliance" and "courtly splendor" as he composed them in the court of Esterh�zy. Later symphonies include remote keys, rhythmic and harmonic complexities, expansion of dimensions and harmonic range, rhythmic instability, dynamic extremes, greater technical difficulty, and increased use of counterpoint (Webster). The symphonies mainly follow the standard tonic-dominant relation form of the time. Beethoven briefly studied composition with Haydn in Vienna in 1792. Mozart had as much an impact on Beethoven as Haydn did. Although Beethoven only briefly met and played for Mozart in 1787, Beethoven greatly admired Mozart and considered him to be the best composer of the time. ...read more.


Finished in 1804, the Third Symphony in Eb Op. 55, Eroica, was very remarkable at the time. This piece was the first to set Beethoven apart from the traditional symphonic form. According to Rosen, this piece was "the first of Beethoven's immense expansions of classical form" (Rosen 392). The most obvious expansion is its length; no one had written a symphony as long as the Eroica. Apparently, critics complained about the length and the lack of unity. I agree with Rosen, who states that the "unity is so intense that a cello-oboe duet ... in the development is directly derived from the main theme" (Rosen 393). Other innovative features of the symphony include "evolving themes, transitions between widely separated passages, actual thematic recurrences from one movement to another, and ... the involvement of extra-musical ideas by means of ... a few tantalizing titles" (Kerman 107). In the first movement, Beethoven expands the form in several different ways. After the startling, powerful opening chords, the melody descends to a low C#, with syncopations in the violins (mm. 7 - 8). The mysterious C# is not fully understood until the beginning of the recapitulation, when Beethoven reinterprets it as a Db, which resolves to C and leads to a horn solo in F Major (mm. 402 - 408). Another of Beethoven's innovations is his expansion of the development and coda sections. In this movement, the development section is 245 bars, much longer than the 155 bars of the exposition, and the coda, at 140 bars, is almost the length of the recapitulation. ...read more.


According to William Kinderman, the overall form of this movement is a combination of the concerto and sonata form with variations and almost a four-movement design in a single movement. Concerto features include the double-exposition of the orchestra and then choral variations, as well as the cadenza for the vocal soloists. Kinderman explains that "the following overall sequence may be seen as outlining a 'multi-movement' plan: (I) the theme and initial variations in D major; (2) the 6/8 scherzo section with 'Turkish' orchestration; (3) the archaic Andante-Adagio passages featuring trombones and modal tendencies; (4) the final sections beginning with the choral double fugue" (279). This massive finale of Beethoven's ninth has proved to be very influential for many composers after him. Mahler, Bruckner, Wagner, Brahms, and many other composers all greatly admired Beethoven, and based their compositions on his innovations. Lastly, I want to mention that before Beethoven, the conductor was not a very important person as far as interpreting the music of a symphony. When Beethoven explained to individual orchestra members how he wanted certain passages played, and demanded slight expressive variations of tempo, it was an orchestral novelty, and even considered eccentric. Charles Rosen writes, "to play a symphony of Mozart or Haydn as if it were a sonata, interpreted and molded in an individual way by a conductor, is to betray its nature...the music of the 19th century...demands the services of the virtuoso conductor..." (144). As one can tell, Beethoven enormously changed the symphonic genre through his innovations and unconventional methods. He influenced generations of composers and musicians after him and will always be considered one of the greatest symphonic composers. ...read more.

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