Review Summary: “Beethoven himself spoke of it fondly as ‘one of my best works’. Who are we to dispute his judgment?”
I couldn’t tell you when I first heard II. Allegretto
of Beethoven’s 7th symphony, but I remember when it became one of my favorite pieces of music like it was yesterday. Music appreciation class, sophomore year in college; we were watching Immortal Beloved
and about two-thirds into the movie there’s a montage of a bunch of stuff going down – a funeral procession, some guy shooting off his ear – and II. Allegretto
began welling up in the background and it just hit me. I was floored. It truly is the aural equivalent to a group of pallbearers carrying a coffin through a dreary, rainy cemetery. The progressions, the preciseness, and the way it swells and builds, teetering on the edge of beauty and sorrow while avoiding pigeonholing into one or the other – a hauntingly gorgeous composition and a timeless piece of music if ever there was one. I’ll never forget that sensation for as long as I live. Needless to say when I finally heard ‘Symphony No. 7’ in full, I was not disappointed.
The other three movements are generally active and playful, I. Poco sostenuto – Vivace
opening the symphony up with vigor and fortitude; rigorous string work and airtight composition make it a strong opening salvo. III. Presto – Assai meno presto
’s exposition is electric, with Beethoven treating dynamics between forte
as if they’re an on-off switch, and finally the spontaneous IV. Allegro con brio
proves to be an exercise in call-and-response between horns, winds and strings; a compelling close to the grandiose symphony.
In all its bombast, the most powerful movement of ‘Symphony No. 7’ is the subtle II. Allegretto
, which was immediately demanded an encore at the symphony’s 1813 premiere. The entirety of the work is a masterpiece, though, like most of Beethoven’s symphonies. To quote music author Antony Hopkins, “Beethoven himself spoke of it fondly as ‘one of my best works’. Who are we to dispute his judgment?”
Herbert von Karajan & the Berliner Philharmoniker
Leonard Bernstein & the Wiener Philharmoniker