Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 7
Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: 40–45 Minutes
Time of Creation: 1811–1812
World Premiere: December 08, 1813 (Vienna)
Table of Contents
Beethoven's Symphony No. 7 in 5 Sentences
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is, in my opinion, his brightest, most radiant and altogether most positive symphony. If you want to relate this impression to Beethoven’s circumstances, the seventh symphony can perhaps best be interpreted as a “declaration of war.” The European wars of liberation against Napoleon’s domination were looming, and personally Beethoven was struggling with his deteriorating hearing. The premiere of the work was very successful. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was thus one of his most popular works from the beginning and is still one of the most frequently played today.
4 Highlights from Beethoven's Symphony No. 7
Highlight 1: First movement – the dancing Beethoven
Beethoven begins his Symphony No. 7 with a slow introduction that is very dance-like. Rhythm is the focus here. This is followed by the fast main movement, which has amazing similarities to an early Mozart symphony (K. 97). Since Beethoven could not have known this (unpublished) Mozart symphony, it can be assumed that both Mozart and Beethoven were inspired by a work of a third person. But who might this third person have been? So far, this is an unsolved mystery of music history.
Highlight 2: Second movement – even more riddles
The second movement from Beethoven’s seventh symphony is for me one of Beethoven’s most puzzling symphonic movements. After the extremely positive, cheerful first movement (Christian Thielemann once called it “healthy and vigorous”), the second movement is dark, oppressive. Quite prominently, Beethoven here brings a rhythm that has been known as the “death rhythm” at least since Schubert’s “Death and the Maiden”: Loooong-short-short.
By the way, it is not easy for conductors to deal with this second movement: First, Beethoven overwrites the movement with the tempo indication “Allegretto” (which leaves a lot of room for interpretation); second, it is difficult to decide how the phrases “flow”. Try to pay attention to this while listening: the phrase gets longer…and longer….and even longer….
Highlight 3: Third movement – cheerful and lively
In the third movement, Beethoven returns to the serene mood of the first movement. The fast movement ends so abruptly with five orchestral beats that Robert Schumann once said that one could “hear the composer throw away his pen.”
Highlight 4: Fourth movement – full speed
If the second movement of Beethoven’s Seventh is Beethoven’s most enigmatic symphonic movement, the fourth movement is perhaps the closest to madness. For a good seven minutes, there is only one motto here: “Full throttle!” This final movement is energetic, rousing, or to return to Christian Thielemann: healthy and vigorous.
3 Questions and Answers about Beethoven's Symphony No. 7
Question 1: What is special about Beethoven's 7th Symphony?
Beethoven’s 7th Symphony is probably the most dance-like, bright and overall positive Beethoven symphony. Its premiere was also among the greatest successes Beethoven experienced.
Question 2: To whom did Beethoven dedicate his 7th Symphony?
Beethoven’s 7th Symphony is dedicated to Moritz Reichsgraf von Fries, a patron of the arts and banker. In 2018, however, another score copy was discovered on which Antonie Brentano is inscribed as the dedicatee. Antonie Brentano was a close friend of Beethoven – some musicologists consider her to be the famous “Immortal Beloved.” Beethoven also later dedicated his Piano Sonata No. 32 to Antonie Brentano.
Question 3: Was Beethoven already deaf when he composed his Symphony No. 7?
Beethoven was not yet completely deaf when he composed his Symphony No. 7. However, he was already suffering from increasing hearing loss. His hearing was already so poor that he communicated mainly in writing (with so-called “conversation notebooks”).
2 Recommended Recordings of Beethoven's Symphony No. 7
Recording 1: Concertgebouworkest, Iván Fischer (live, 2014)
This is the most gripping recording of Beethoven’s Seventh that I know. Iván Fischer and the Concertgebouworkest keep the energy on the top edge from the start and don’t step away from it for a second. Not everyone likes that (“tension needs relaxation, too”). I find that if this approach is appropriate for any piece, it is for Beethoven’s Seventh: