1802: Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D major, age 32

Andrés Orozco-Estrada

I. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio – D major

II. Larghetto – A major

III. Scherzo Allegro – Trio – D major

IV. Allegro molto – D major

Total time: 31:42


  • 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

Again there are clarinets and timpani, now standard instruments in symphonies, and we can thank both Haydn for that trend.

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. It has a bit of a “tic toc” feeling, almost like a clock, but at times it also has the wonderful sound of the 6th symphony (Pastoral)

.3rd movement

The 3rd movement moves back to D major and is about four and a half minutes long. This is the first time Beethoven wrote the word “scherzo” for a symphony. In hist 1st symphony he wrote “minuet”, but the tempo and style was already a scherzo.

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.


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.”

Berlioz also wrote:

“This Symphony is smiling throughout…”

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.

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.

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