Symphony No. 7 in A major Op. 92 (1812)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
- Poco sostenuto – Vivace
- Allegro con brio
Beethoven’s name derives from that of an island near the mouth of the River Rhine, and can be traced back over 2000 years. Born in Bonn, he later moved to Vienna, and the period there from 1800 to 1812 was his most financially stable and also his most productive, resulting in all his symphonies but the last.
The first sketch of what was to become his seventh symphony was started in 1809, based on motifs developed as a teenager 15 years before. Unlike the Pastoral symphony, which preceded it, the seventh does not represent a particular program or story, despite the attempts of many of his contemporaries to provide one. By the time it was completed in 1812, the Napoleonic wars were in full flight. Napoleon’s troops had occupied Vienna and, despite his deafness, Beethoven was forced to shelter in a cellar to escape the noise and pain.
The seventh symphony was premiered on 8 Dec 1813 at Vienna University as part of a benefit concert for Austrian and Bavarian soldiers injured in battle at Hanau against Napoleon two months previously. Also on the program was his recently completed Wellington’s Victory battle symphony celebrating Wellington’s victory over Napoleon at the Battle of Vittoria. (This was in marked contrast to the Eroica symphony which was originally dedicated to Napoleon.) The orchestra for the benefit concert included a number of famous composers including Meyerbeer, Moscheles, Spohr and Salieri.
Richard Wagner referred to the Seventh Symphony as the “apotheosis of the dance”, although this is an oversimplification. Regarded by many as the “perfect symphony”, the Seventh captures the essence of dance rhythms and combines them dramatically. After a stately introduction, the first movement is dominated by a driving peasant-like rhythm. The famous lyrical second movement, marked faster than usual, is a masterpiece of graceful and imaginative repetition, and was used to great dramatic effect in the movie The King’s Speech. After a joyful and vaguely waltz-like scherzo, the exuberant final movement leads inexorably to a suspenseful but lively climax.