I. Adagio molto; Allegro con brio
II. Andante cantabile con moto
III. Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace; Trio
IV. Finale: Adagio; Allegro molto e vivace
On the second of April, 1800, Ludwig van Beethoven, then thirty years old, and eight years in Vienna, where he had come to study composition with Haydn, announced a benefit concert, with a program which would include “A new grand symphony for full orchestra by Beethoven.” On the same program was also a symphony “by the late chapel-master Mozart; an aria and duet from Haydn’s `Creation’ “; also “a grand concerto for pianoforte, played and composed by Beethoven,” and “a septet for four strings and three wind instruments, composed’ by Beethoven.” Tickets and stalls were to be had of “Herr van Beethoven at his lodgings im tiefen Graben, No. 241, third story, and of the boxkeeper.”
There is no record of speculators selling tickets on the streets, or of disappointed throngs being turned away by the “boxkeeper.” The men in the orchestra thought the music difficult. The critic of the “Allgemeine Musikalisches Zeitung” was favorably impressed by the ideas, but thought the wind instruments “used far too much, so that the music is more like a band than an orchestra.” When the symphony was performed at Leipzig in November of the following year it was referred to as “the confused explosions of the outrageous effrontery of a young man.
In Paris, as late as 181o, it was written that the “astonishing success” of Beethoven’s music was “a danger to the musical art… It is believed that a prodigal use of the most barbaric dissonances and a noisy use of all the orchestral instruments will make an effect. Alas, the ear is only stabbed; there is no appeal to the heart.”
This of Beethoven’s First symphony! Listen to it, this work cited in the 1800’s to prove Beethoven “a danger to the musical art.”
Beethoven is trying, in this first symphony of his, to respect the forms and standards of earlier masters than himself, particularly Haydn and Mozart. He is a little constrained in their mold, and occasionally cannot help revealing the cloven hoof of the revolutionist beneath the gown of the respectful disciple. But it is a delightful symphony, and a model of inspiration balanced by control and self-sacrifice. Beethoven was willing to bide his time and learn his business. The melodic clarity of this work is enhanced by its conciseness, concentration and complete absence of superfluities. The themes themselves are reduced to the shortest number of notes consistent with the meat of the idea. The energy of the first movement is well balanced by the gracefulness of the slow movement that follows. The dignified minuet of the Mozart period has become quickened and energized. There is a charming conceit in the introduction of the finalein the hesitation with which the violins unfold the introductory phrase, like a at approaching cream, and this finale has much of Haydn’s humor and bustle. But it is Beethoven who speaks.