#TheCompleteBeethoven #290

Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36 (1800-02)

1/ Beethoven's response to the despair caused by his incurable deafness? The longest, most audicious, most joyful (*) symphony the world had ever heard.

Not all heroes wear capes.
2/ "You shall receive Mozart's spirit from Haydn's hands." - Count Waldstein

Mozart, Beethoven's musical hero since childhood, is at the heart of his second symphony just as surely as Haydn, his teacher, was the wellspring for Symphony No. 1. https://twitter.com/deeplyclassical/status/1241989812875337728?s=20
3/ Beethoven began Symphony No. 2 in late 1800, eager to repeat the critical and commercial success of No. 1's premiere at his first benefit concert in April that year. However, any plans he had to finish No. 2 in time for a similar concert in 1801 were to be thwarted.
4/ At the end of 1800, with the first movement largely finished, Beethoven shelved the project for almost a year. The reason? An unexpected and prestigious commission to write a ballet for the empress Maria Theresia. Not the sort of gig you turn down. https://twitter.com/deeplyclassical/status/1244507518505803776?s=20
5/ The Beethoven who returned to the symphony in late 1801 was a different composer from the one who had put it aside. After a heroic ballet and three revolutionary piano sonatas, he was now studying Italian bel canto vocal style with Antonio Salieri. https://twitter.com/deeplyclassical/status/1249593464804777984?s=20
6/ Beethoven began the symphony as he was embarking on another more personal crusade: to find a cure for his deafness. Carl Czerny recalled his first visit to Beethoven, probably in 1800: “he had cotton, which seemed to have been steeped in a yellowish liquid, in his ears.”
7/ Beethoven first confessed his worries to his friend Franz Wegeler, an eminent physician, in June 1801, while work on the symphony was paused: “For almost two years I have ceased to attend any social functions, just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf."
8/ Beethoven returned to the symphony late in 1801 in hope of a benefit concert in Easter 1802. As he worked he took hot baths, cold baths, olive oil, pills, infusions and a host of other treatments prescribed by his "senseless physicans" in ever more desperate hope of a cure.
9/ In Easter 1802, one of the few times orchestral concerts could be staged in opera-mad Vienna, Beethoven was refused use of the Burgtheater for his concert. His almost-finished symphony was set aside again, and other music suffered a worse fate. https://twitter.com/deeplyclassical/status/1251802748733005831?s=20
10/ Beethoven's musical hopes were dashed but another doctor offered one last chance to cure his deafness. Johann Adam Schmidt advised peace and quiet in the country, so in April 1802 Beethoven abandoned the city to spend six months in the rural suburb of Heiligenstadt.
11/ It failed, as all else had failed. In his 'Heligenstadt Testament', he admitted that the "infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than in others" was incurable and permanent:

"I would have put an end to my life - only Art it was that withheld me."
12/ "It seemed impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt was within me."

With a heroic resolve that still astonishes, Beethoven rejected suicide. Instead, he created even greater masterpieces for the very sense he was losing. https://twitter.com/deeplyclassical/status/1255385759286206476?s=20
13/ Beethoven returned to Vienna with new music in his new heroic style ready to publish. His most joyful symphony, composed in despair, was finally performed in April 1803.

The Heiligenstadt Testament, addressed to his brothers, was never sent.
14/ Beethoven himself conducted the premieres of 'Christus am Ölberge', the 3rd Piano Concerto and Symphony No. 2 on 5th April, at Emanuel Schikaneder's Theater an der Wien, completed in 1801. He liked the new theatre so much that he lived there while composing Fidelio.
15/ Some reviewers found the symphony "very beautiful". The Viennese critic of 'Zeitung für die elegante Welt' was less impressed:

"a hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refuses to die, but writhing in its last agonies and, in the fourth movement, bleeding to death."
16/ Hector Berlioz later recalled that the symphony fared no better when first played in France: "It was described as bizarre, incoherent, diffuse, bristling with harsh modulations and wild harmonies, bereft of melody, over the top, too noisy, and horribly difficult to play."
17/ Berlioz's essay on the symphonies is a great read. Its historical accuracy should be taken with une grande pincée de sel, but he evokes brilliantly the controversy these revolutionary works caused among the musical establishment and the public. http://www.hberlioz.com/Predecessors/beethsym.htm
18/ “Both retrospective and prospective.” - Maynard Solomon

Started soon after No. 1, Beethoven finished Symphony No. 2 after stepping out on his "new way". It is at once the culmination of the genre as Mozart and Haydn knew it, and the harbinger of its next phase of evolution.
19/ No. 2 is much longer than its predecessor. Its expansiveness, lyricism and emotional depth proclaim the influence of Beethoven's idol Mozart, whose last 4 symphonies are the only previous symphonies to aspire to anything resembling this scale.
20/ The kinship with the slow introduction of Mozart's last D major symphony is clear. Earlier, I called Beethoven's 2nd symphony the longest yet composed but, if every marked repeat is observed, Mozart's "Prague" and "Jupiter" both take longer to play.
21/ Baroque sinfonias were often operatic overtures. The symphony became an independent genre as the classical style flourished, a style whose essential qualities were drawn from comic opera. Repeat the exposition, and this is a symphonic first movement.
22/ Salieri helped Beethoven master operatic style, and his 2nd is an operatic symphony par excellence. The Larghetto's melodies and phrasing are worthy of a Mozart aria, and the finale's rhythmic energy and comic timing are straight out of opera buffa.
23/ The Larghetto was immediately praised. Mendelssohn learned much from it; Schubert quoted it in his Grand Duo, D. 812. The other movements divided critics down the middle:

"full of new, original ideas"
"modulations that are far too strange"
"bizarre, wild and shrill"
24/ How did a symphony so rooted in the language of Mozart and Haydn manage to confound contemporary critics? What makes Op. 36 "a decisive departure from tradition" (Lewis Lockwood)?

Time for an analysis. I'll be using this video as a reference.
25/ Now I must pause to work on something more lucrative, much as Beethoven did at the end of 1800. Tomorrow I'll discuss the symphony with timings from the video. There may even be the occasional bar number from my @Baerenreiter #ScoreOfTheDay. Till then, toodle pip!
26/ The Adagio (0:32-3:04) strides boldly through strange modulations including B-flat (1:24). Solo flute and rasping horns squeeze brand new colours from Haydn's orchestra. The D-minor climax (2:14) resembles Mozart's Prague and, shockingly the opening of Beethoven's own 9th.
27/ Wild contrast is Beethoven's new normal. In the Allegro, D minor rears its head again as sforzandi rain down like hailstones (3:34). Austria and France were at war through much of Beethoven's life, and Mahler would recognize the jaunty woodwind-led military march at 3:55.
28/ The 2nd constantly expands classical symphonic form from the inside. Mozart and Haydn would have wrapped up the exposition in a few bars at 4:15. Beethoven's massive minute-long codetta (4:15-5:15) adds a new theme, then develops material from exposition *and* introduction.
29/ Beethoven recalls (4:49) the opening's D-minor climax. In one of many masterstrokes he fuses its downward arpeggio (2:14) with the first subject's third bar. Minor-key inflections are almost a motive of their own, like clouds bubbling up to obscure the major-key sunshine.
30/ The development opens in D minor (7:28). Among its maelstrom of dramatic orchestral interplay check out the arresting chromatic bass-line (7:54) and repeated rhythmic chords hammered out by woodwinds and brass (8:10), anchoring the ship amid a swirling storm of strings.
31/ The storm subsides with Beethoven becalmed in remote harmonic waters. How did a D-major symphony end up on the dominant of F#-minor? In another masterstroke (9:04) horns recast C# as the third of A-major and the opening's final bar (see 3:02) sweeps in the recapitulation.
32/ Beethoven's unprecedented orchestral palette brings many instruments out of the shadows into the light. Horns bray like savages (8:04), underpin key transitions (9:04), and brood from the depths (11:21) like the Kraken set to burst from the ocean floor to devour the unwary.
33/ Beethoven channels all his musical character into the grand, climactic coda (11:00). The first symphony was a genteel farewell to the music of Haydn and Mozart. The second's forcefulness, energy and dynamism often leaves their world trailing in its rear-view mirror.
34/ The Larghetto's flawless cantabile (12:52) shows Beethoven's studies with Salieri bearing fruit. The luminous opening exploits the string section's middle register: violins in low register against violas and high cellos, with basses silent until the closing cadence (13:07).
35/ Beethoven chooses A major instead of the conventional G. Like the first movement, the development opens in the minor (15:35). The finale does the same (29:15). Magical orchestration includes distant pastoral horns and solo flute glinting like moonlight on a lake (29:41).
36/ The scherzo (23:47) completes the process (begun by Haydn) of transforming the courtly minuet into a fast, furious folk dance. Most 19th-century symphonies leave behind the ballroom to dance out-of-doors among the peasant folk.
37/ There's probably no truth to musicologist Robert Greenberg's assertion that the finale's opening motif (27:42) is a belch followed by a groan of pain, the sound of Beethoven's legendary gastric problems. Bet you can't get that idea out of your head now, though.
38/ The finale recaptures and amplifies the first movement's fizzing energy. Its gigantic coda (31:37) is the most dramatic finish anywhere in early Beethoven. Szforzandi like fireworks, fermatas that pull up like a coach crash and then whisper like a lover. What an ending!
39/ Its strangeness, "its relentless sense of directed motion" (Lewis Lockwood) made it incomprehensible to Beethoven's critics.

No symphony has risen more in my estimation than No. 2. It's not just a stop on the way to the Eroica; it's a rule-breaking, fun-loving thrill ride.
You can follow @deeplyclassical.
Tip: mention @twtextapp on a Twitter thread with the keyword “unroll” to get a link to it.

Latest Threads Unrolled: