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Music Review: Ludwig Van Beethoven's 1st Movement of the Eighth Symphony

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By Edited Aug 6, 2016 0 0

An Analysis of "Allegro Vivace E Con Brio":

Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93

Ludwig van Beethoven's life (1770-1827) and work existed during the evolution, or maybe revolution, of the years ending the Classical Period and the beginning of the Romantic Period. Beethoven was known for his intense emotions and sense of humor. Ludwig, not unlike many composers, allowed his music to express his mood, attitude towards society, politics and individuals that had affected him in some way. The Romantic Period came along at the right time -- for if it had not, he may have created it himself.

Beethoven 8 Sym 1 mvt theme

His Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93 was completed in October 1812, and first performed on February 27, 1814 was originally scored for two each: flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, and trumpets, timpani and strings. The first movement, Allegro vivace e con brio provides elements of both periods and the basis for this analysis of Beethoven's evolution from Classicism to Romanticism in music.

Performance of the 1st Movement of the 8th Symphony

Romanticism in classical music.


This symphony by Beethoven can be used as an example for many of Lewis Rowell's values of Romanticism. Yet, there are still some classical traits evident in this work: primarily structure. There is an Apollonian quality to Allegro vivace e con brio. This movement is broken into segments some of which are repeated. Beethoven consistently moves the listener from a calm state of mind to a dramatic tense state of mind and back again to a momentary calmness. This conflict between two distinct themes is a common trait of Classicism (Rowell 113-114). Where Beethoven pushes the boundaries of conflict in Romanticism, is in the color, tone, dynamics, the inner-anticlimactic and intensity of this movement.

 First movement begins

Beethoven's first movement to Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Opus 93, begins with an abrupt and strong statement by string instruments announcing the commencement of the piece. Woodwinds respond to this bold announcement with a light flowing statement only to be pushed back by another bold statement from the strings. Strings continue carrying their message forward with strength of purpose; brass instruments adding their voice of support in short burst of color. Then a brief silence steps in momentarily, followed by the orchestra lightly stepping back into the work, calmly and un-intrusively.

Mood shifts

The mood shifts to a waltz like dance that, for two separate moments during this segment, hesitates as if to hold time for a second then continues the dance. The mood continues to change building the tension and building up expectations with strings (notably violins) cautiously playing rising scales, stepping back and then climbing again. In the background brass instruments sustain the emotional tension by extending held notes. Strings and brass instruments work the tension even more by playing notes that step-up as if climbing a flight of stairs to a place of mystery. This musical climb continues to a triumphant point as if to present an image of a hero undaunted without fear. The mood shifts slightly back momentarily when violins play a slight melody calmly with a curious feeling. Then the triumphant sounds burst again with the same expression and feeling that had preceded the calmness.

Wooden Metronome
Restart the clock

Violins return with their calmness, not with a curious feeling but a resolute feeling. This builds up with more instruments joining into the creation of a powerful feeling that heightens to a point that there is an expectation of a sudden ending. Then, as if to restart the clock, the movement repeats the previously mentioned sequence. As this second sequence concludes, quietly the oboes, then clarinets, then flutes, play five note responses to each other. This creates a new tension that is eventually, and quickly, interrupted by a somewhat dramatic burst of sound. Afterwards, it returns to the sequence of oboes, clarinets, and flutes with their five note responses; then again, we hear a somewhat dramatic burst of sound.

Tension in the movement

The movement changes from this point to a very dramatic emotionally tense feeling as if a major event was taking place; maybe a battle, a chase, or a moment of turmoil somewhere in time. The music moves to a point of a triumphant announcement and suddenly drops the intensity down to a playful and contented melody that occasionally re-announces its triumph. The tension then rebuilds momentarily then falls off to the dance-like moment of the earlier portion of this movement. The first portion again is repeated, whereby calm pleasant feelings are momentarily interrupted by burst of sound. Calmly everything drops down to a peaceful serene point only to be rebuilt to a dramatic stage. This calmness building into a controlled frenzy is repeated; then as if disconnected from the movement, the finale is extremely anticlimactic. Beethoven's ending is sudden and seemingly incomplete. Then it leaves you hanging on, waiting for the next response that never arrives until the beginning of the second movement, Allegretto sherzando.


There are some notable Romanticism themes that are not conclusively apparent. This selection obviously does not comply with the trait of reality, as in formless and without substance, as defined by Rowell and Goeth (119). This first movement is still a sonata form even though it's compact. Whether the themes or traits of exotic, primitive, ambiguous, organic, or primeval are recognized in this piece relies on the listener's interpretation or the images invoked by this selection.

Rowell defines Romanticism as, ". . . representing the reaction of emotion against reason, of nature against artificiality, of simplicity against the complex, and of faith against skepticism . . . “(117).

I don't find Beethoven's first movement to Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93, abiding by this description as it stands. However, I do find this movement meeting several of the individual elements of Romanticism. He creates a loosening of the sonata form, and using Rowell's words, "a deliberate unhooking of the various musical dimensions of melody, harmony, rhythm, and meter” (117).

The Final Word

Beethoven's first movement of this Symphony does provide the opportunity to see elements of both Classicism and Romanticism coinciding within the same piece of music. He created moments of melodies, mystery, and explosive sounds, invoking emotions and expectations in the listener's mind.

Beethoven Letronne
It's a piece that is dynamic and restless in motion with a feeling of developing themes. He created anticlimactic endings to individual phrases within this movement that help create tension. The music swells and is played fortissimo for a few measures, then suddenly, drops off softly as if the music has changed its meaning and feeling. Then he rebuilds the tone, color, and intensity, swelling the emotions of the movement, only to drop off again to a soft moment and then rebuild this cycle again.

It is a movement full of color and emotion, emphasizing the value of the individual instruments, their pitch and quality, and their ability to evoke feelings in the listener. The orchestra's size and composition is used to create four levels of sound: calm or soft, soft to moderate, loud with intensity, and loud, bursting with emotion. The movement shows Beethoven's tendency towards expressionism outside the traditions of Classicism, while maintaining Classicism's structure, though loosely maintained. Additionally in this, Beethoven's Eight Symphony, we can find both Apollonian and Dionysian elements of structure and emotion co-existing within one place.



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