Beethoven's 7th Symphony: Moving Forwards, Celebrating the Now
Beethoven's 7th Symphony is a genius mix of quintessential Beethoven and a look towards the future. Beethoven's subtle use of more complex dynamics and melody lines as well as instrumental communication allows him to celebrate his style in this symphony whilst also developing it in new and exciting ways. The second movement, especially, is very well known - and rightly so. It has been used in popular culture (such as the film 'The King's Speech') and has inspired other composers. There is nothing quite like it in music, let alone at the time it was written.
LUUMS Chamber orchestra, the orchestra I'm involved in managing this year, are playing this piece in a few weeks, and writing the programme notes for it showed me that Beethoven has a real skill for celebrating what is so human about music - allowing the listener and performer alike to revel in their life now, whilst also creating excitement for things to come. Below are my programme notes, and do have a listen. I hope you'll get an idea of what makes this piece so excitingly human...
The first movement begins with a poco sostenuto introduction section consisting of grand chords and ascending scales, almost as if the musical potential for the rest of the symphony is bubbling under the surface, waiting to escape. Indeed, this is exactly what happens as a marking of vivace then brings a new level of excitement to the music, introducing fiery dotted rhythms, melodic flourishes, and music which is bursting with life – all within the traditional confines of a sonata form.
The second, and arguably most famous, movement, marked allegretto, brings a new type of gravitas. With no prior knowledge, one might assume that this movement was composed by somebody much later in time. Yet, this is simply a demonstration of Beethoven’s intense emotional capabilities. It is remarkable that this entire movement is based simply on the idea of two quavers followed by a crotchet – yet Beethoven develops this to such an extent that he coaxes out of it something very human indeed.
By almost direct contrast, the third movement in the form of a scherzo is far more elaborate from the off, combining the ideas of bustling life from the first movement as well as turning its introductory ascending scales on their head, creating an almost cheeky yet civilised feel. The woodwind here get a real chance to shine, with incredibly playful parts interacting wonderfully to create a sense of unity and, at times, beauty.
The finale, allegro con brio, in 2, injects a vicious quality through its emphasis of not the first, but the second beat of the bar. The music moves forward with incredible vitality and power, culminating in an explosion of music originating from the depths of the basses and cellos, expanding through the orchestra, demonstrating the incredible power of the brass and completing the symphony with a series of self-assured, proud yet joyous A major chords.