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Symphony No. 7 (Beethoven)

Ludwig van Beethoven began substantial work on his Symphony No. 7 in A major in 1811 while in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice, where he had gone in the hope of improving his health. It was completed in 1812.

The work is written for two each of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, French horns and trumpets; timpani, violins, violas, cellos and double basses. It is in four movements:

  1. Poco sostenuto - Vivace
  2. Allegretto
  3. Presto
  4. Allegro con brio

After a slow introduction (as in the Symphony No. 4[?]) the first movement is dominated by lively dance-like rhythms. As was usual for symphonies at this time, it is in sonata form. The second movement, in they key of A minor, is ostensibly the slow movement of the work, although the marking of allegretto (translatable as "a little quickly") suggests Beethoven did not envisage it being played as slowly as comparable movements in his other symphonies - it has been suggested that Beethoven actually intended the movement to be played andante (at a walking pace), but this is still a little quicker than the usual slow movement marking of adagio (slowly). This movement proved to be very popular, often being encored in Beethoven's day. As in the first movement, rhythm is as important as melody, with a repeated figure of a minim, two crotchets, and two minims to the fore.

The third movement is a scherzo and trio, but with the trio (which is apparently based on an Austrian Pilgrims' hymn) appearing twice rather than once, so expanding the usual ABA structure of ternary form into ABABA (Beethoven did a similar thing in other works, such as the String Quartet No. 8[?]). The last movement is another sonata form - Donald Francis Tovey, writing in his Essays in Musical Analysis, commented on this movement's "Bacchic fury".

The work was premiered in Vienna on December 8, 1813 with Beethoven himself conducting and Louis Spohr among the violinists. The piece was very well received, and the allegretto had to be encored. The same concert saw the premiere of Beethoven's Wellington's Victory[?], a great popular success in its day, now almost forgotten.

The piece, like many of Beethoven's compositions, is generally seen as a great work. Richard Wagner, drawing attention to the lively rhythms which permeate the work, called it the "apotheosis of the dance". Carl Maria von Weber, on the other hand, thought that one passage in the coda of the first movement was evidence that Beethoven was "ripe for the madhouse" and the 20th century conductor Thomas Beecham was similarly uncharitable, saying "What can you do with it? It's like a lot of yaks jumping about."

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