1802: Beethoven: Symphony No. 2

FRIDAY, November 6, 2020 – 10:25 AM

(Estrada is one of the great bright lights of modern conducting, and he is known as a miracle in Vienna. The horn players are playing on valveless horns, and they are much more difficult to play, but they make it seem like the most natural thing in the world. Note that the strings almost play without vibrato, which is a “period instrument” habit, but they also use a bit of vibrato too, so the whole thing is perfect. I’m scrambling to update post to bring instrumentation close to the top, because little is more important than who is playing. I’m also finding countless typos because I’ve been editing too fast and frankly need help.)

Symphony No. 2 in D major, age 31

Instrumentation:

  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in A, 2 bassoons
  • 2 horns in D, E and A, 2 trumpets in D (first, third and fourth movements only),
  • timpani (first, third and fourth movements only)
  • strings.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

1st movement

Adagio molto means very slow, and allegro con brio means fast and with brilliance. It starts in D major. Starting with a slow introduction was a very new idea in the time of Haydn, and something he made the norm. Next Mozart followed suit, and Beethoven adopted the same idea. It’s not in every symphony, but he did it often.

2nd movement

This movement is about ten and a half minutes long when played quickly and a good deal longer when it is played more thoughtfully. It moves to what is called the dominant key of A major.

3rd movement

The 3rd movement moves back to D major and is about four and a half minutes long.

4th movement

There is sort of a “hiccup” at the start of the movement that we hear several times more, and it has been suggested that this is supposed be a humorous musical reference to gas – in other words, a “fart”. And that’s the exact same thing as in Haydn’s 93rd symphony.

Again clarinets and timpani…

They are now both standard instruments in symphonies, and we can thank both Haydn and Mozart for that trend.

The rest of the story…

Dedication…

This symphony is in four movements and was dedicated to Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky. Beethoven wrote the Second Symphony without a standard minuet; instead, a scherzo took its place The scherzo and the finale are filled with musical jokes, which shocked many critics of his time.

Let’s not forget the stupid critics, so here is just one…

One Viennese critic for the Zeitung fuer die elegante Welt (Newspaper for the Elegant World) famously wrote of the Symphony that it was:

“a hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refuses to die, but writhing in its last agonies and, in the fourth movement, bleeding to death.”

I will never lose an opportunity to point out what idiots critics are, nor to point out that such critics are just as common now as then. This is, of course, a great symphony, and it may be the most pure fun of all of them. It is full of jokes and pranks that even a child would get, and the best musicians on the planet love them all. So of course this Viennese critic thought it was awful. How typical! I have much more respect for buzzards and vultures than for most critics.

Hector Berlioz got it right, but he came much later…

Here is just a bit of what Hector Berlioz (11 December 1803 – 8 March 1869) wrote, although it is fair to point out that he was not born at the time this symphony was first heard.

In this Symphony everything is noble, energetic, proud. The Introduction [Adagio molto] is a masterpiece. The most beautiful effects follow one another without confusion and always in an unexpected manner.er you can see that he was right. And this was only about the first movement.

If you read his whole review, you will see that Berlioz nailed it.

Going deaf, and he knew it…

Beethoven’s mostly wrote this symphony in 1802, but he started it as much as two years earlier, and it was then that he realized he was in serious trouble. There have been countless guesses about why he started to lose his hearing, but for the greatest composer of his time – and some think the greatest composer who ever lived – this was just devastating.

Here is what he wrote about this time:

“…that jealous demon, my wretched health, has put a nasty spoke in my wheel; and it amounts to this, that for the past three years my hearing has become weaker and weaker.”

This is about his social life:

“I have ceased to attend any social functions just because I find it impossible to say to people: I am deaf.”

Then his professional worries:

“… if my enemies, of whom I have a fair number, were to hear about it, what would they say?”

He wrote to his brother, contemplating suicide:

“I would have ended my life. Only my art held me back. It seemed to me impossible to leave the world until I had produced all that I felt was within me.”

I don’t know about you, but reading that is like a hard punch to the gut. If he had killed himself then, he would have died at the same age as Schubert and four years younger than Mozart.

Berlioz also wrote:

“This Symphony is smiling throughout…”

Incredible despair…

Yet at the same time Beethoven was writing it, he wrestled with incredible depression and almost gave up his life. Out of total despair came this amazing symphony that just explodes with energy and has so much humor you can’t help but smiling with him as you listen.

3 thoughts on “1802: Beethoven: Symphony No. 2

  1. At a time that he was dealing with losing his hearing and contemplating taking his own life I did not expect to hear such energetic and playful music.

  2. I absolutely loved the last movement especially. I’d rather not think of flatulence and prefer to think he was having a great deal of fun with this. His courage, in the situation he was in with his hearing, is something to think about.

  3. This is what I did (Pianowise) today: Played E7 Chord, labeled the intervals
    Played all Eb Scales (Major, Minor, 6ths (both fingering) and 10ths)
    Played Major-Minor morphs all keys first 2 inversions, all augmented
    Reverse pyramid M by M page 3 (Prelude 3)
    This sounds… odd. The gradual shifts in tone and the rapid shifts in tone don’t feel right together. The slow parts and the fast parts also seem to not mix. This clash makes it (for me) ok (not good) to listen to.

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