Our April 9-10 Season Finale includes Beethoven’s popular Symphony No. 7. Read on to learn about this piece…
Although Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in A Major may not be quite as famous as his Fifth or Ninth, it recently starred in this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, The King’s Speech. Those who saw the film will remember the climactic scene: the king addresses millions of citizens over the radio, hesitantly, but passionately and firmly. The music that underscores the scene is the second movement (Allegretto) of this symphony. Although contextually it seems out of place (the ultimate Austro-Germanic composer to underscore a speech about Britain going to war with Germany?), musically it was appropriate: profound and somber. With its ostinato (repeated rhythmic phrase) – long-short-short-long-long – it was a good musical fit for the gravity of the scene and the king’s halting conviction.
This symphony was premiered in December 1813, at a benefit concert for soldiers wounded in the fight against Napoleon’s army. Unlike some of Beethoven’s works, it was immediately popular, and was repeated several times in the weeks following its premiere. The second movement especially appealed to audiences, and it was not unusual for it to be performed as a separate work during the 19th century. Written in the standard four-movement form, Symphony No. 7 begins with a slow expanded introduction, which is followed by a Vivace in sonata form, in a dance-like triple meter. The second movement is in A minor, which – unlike a more distant key like F# minor or E, keeps the Allegretto closely bound to the more exuberant movements around it. The third movement, Presto, is almost like a rondo, with the A-B juxtaposition recurring several times (instead of the more usual A-B-A). The finale, Allegro con brio, is in an furiously energetic 2/4 meter, with a recurring emphasis on the second beat of the measure (it’s hard to miss at the beginning of the movement).
Beethoven’s famous rhythmic ingenuity is a pillar of this symphony. Many critics emphasized its wild energy in their writings; Richard Wagner wrote of this piece that “the Symphony is the Apotheosis of the Dance itself: it is Dance in its highest aspect, the loftiest deed of bodily motion, incorporated into an ideal mold of tone.” This piece is scored for a typically “classical” orchestra, with pairs of woodwinds and brass; Beethoven’s writing for the horns is especially dramatic and dynamic. Overall, the rhythm of this symphony, its dance-like and sophisticated rhythms, and the famous second movement make it one of Beethoven’s most interesting and powerful symphonic works.
- The second movement was used in the soundtrack to The King’s Speech
- The second movement was often performed separately in the years following the symphony’s premiere
- Beethoven allegedly considered this one of his best pieces, and it was one of his most popular