Beethoven – Symphony No. 8 in F Op. 93

Symphony No. 8 in F Op. 93 (1812)

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

  1. Allegro vivace e con brio
  2. Allegretto scherzando
  3. Tempo di Menuetto
  4. Allegro vivace

Born in Bonn, Beethoven 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. During the summers Beethoven relocated to the country to escape Vienna’s unsanitary conditions. In 1812 he visited Bohemian spa towns, where, as well as meeting Goethe, he wrote his famous letter to the “Immortal Beloved”. Full of pathos, it was probably never sent to its mysterious subject, but provides a glimpse of Beethoven’s tortured mental state at the time.

His last call was at Linz, where he stayed in the house of his younger brother, Johann, of whose relationship with his housekeeper Beethoven strongly disapproved. In the midst of all the turmoil he stirred up, Beethoven completed his 8th symphony, the most humorous, joyous and compact of all the nine. Sandwiched between the intense seventh and towering ninth, the eighth appears at fist sight to be lightweight. However, this belies its revolutionary nature, and that perhaps it best represents Beethoven’s underlying personality. As one commentator wrote: “It is the laughter of a man who has lived and suffered and, scaling the heights, achieved the summit” and “Beethoven is trying to make a symphony in which textural, rhythmic, orchestral and harmonic invention take the place of expressive intensity”. At its 1814 premiere alongside the “deeper” seventh symphony and Wellington’s Victory, the audience were somewhat bemused and gave it a half-hearted reception.

The first movement opens with the same phrase that concludes it, the first of many witty touches. Built on a somewhat heavy-footed dance theme, the music’s dynamics ebb and flow, culminating in the longest fortissimo (i.e. loud!) passage in the classical symphony.  There is no slow movement. Instead, a brief Allegretto scherzando pokes fun at Johann Mälzel’s recent invention, the metronome, the wind “ticking” underneath a jovial melody on the strings. Unique to Beethoven’s symphonies, the third movement returns to the outdated Menuett and Trio form in place of a Scherzo. However, try to dance to this minuet, with its strange offbeats and lilting horn and clarinet solos in the trio! The Finale is almost as long as the rest of the symphony and scurries along with unbridled zest. Revolutionary for its era, it is full of sudden key changes, dramatic pauses and changing orchestral colour, the prolonged coda suggesting a question still to be answered.

 

Performed: 24 March 2019

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