Analysis of Symphonies Essay

Beethoven is an iconic musician who inspires the future generations with his mysterious and abstract music, passionate and elevated motives. Beethoven is famous for his nine symphonies that prove about his endless talent, creativity and musical progress as a prominent artist. His symphonies are the masterpieces that reflect his life experience and events that drove the development of music. This essay intends to analyze the first movements of the 1st, 3rd and 5th symphonies. This paper reveals its differences and similarities that underline complexity and harmony of Beethoven’s style. Moreover, it underlines the parallel between Beethoven as a composer and Beethoven as a noble person who served humanity (Groove 10).

Beethoven’s 1st Symphony has a formal structure characteristic for the Classical period and marks the end point in the development of the Viennese classic tradition of the 18th century. The first movement of the 1st Symphony (Adagio molto – Allegro con brio, 4/4 – 2/2) combines Mozart’s and Haydn’s features of genre and stylistics. However, it differs from their music by improvisation and simplicity. The first movement of the 1st Symphony has many compositional aspects with the works of the early period of the Viennese instrumental school. These are the usage of the typical form of the suite, dance elements, and orchestration for chamber instruments for the symphonic style (Swafford 226).

The most famous recordings of the first movement of the 1st Symphony are of Barenboim Warner at Berlin Staatskapelle, Zinman Arte Nova at Zurich Tonhalle Orch and Davis Newton at Dresden Staatskapelle. All these recordings are unusual in its way. First of all, they differ in a creative and improvised approach to the performance and tempo. Barenboim Warner tries to imitate Beethoven’s style; therefore, one can name his performance more classical variant. As to Zinman Arte Nova, this conductor tries to innovate making emphases on the highest notes of this movement. To reflect Beethoven’s style, musicians try to improvise his works at the piano with spontaneous actions and tastes of creativity. Beethoven wrote that symphony for strings, timpani, 2 horns in F and C, 2 clarinets in C, 2 trumpets in C, 2 oboes and 2 flutes. However, every musician performing the first movement of the 1st Symphony of Beethoven tries to change something, for example, an omitting D and C clarinet. Such innovations prove about their particular perception of this music (Rosen 20).

For its comedic and playful mood the first movement sound like a music joke created with the help of repeated dominant-tonic chords in the wrong key. One can relate his mood in this movement to his illness that was his driving force of the continuation of his symphony. At the same time, the first movement of the 1st Symphony of Beethoven is martial and noisy. The first movement starts from the dominant seventh chord that leads to the subdominant of the key. A relatively distant and unstable harmony emphasizes the active internal motion to the tonic. Such dissonance proves about the difficulties of Beethoven’s life. His musical success provoked envy of enemies, critics and horrible diseases that could deprive of life in any time (Brown 20).

It is evident that Beethoven’s the first movement of the 1st Symphony was affected by personal circumstances and political events. First of all, these were Mozart and Haydn, who were “musical” teachers of this composer. Secondly, Vienna with its musical and cultural traditions was a muse for creating of the 1st Symphony. Thirdly, Beethoven was encouraged by Prince Maximillian Franz, who arranged him at Vienna school.


Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony was the revolution in the art of classicism. In it the musician finally overcame the dependence on the aesthetics of his predecessors and found his individual style. Beethoven created the 3rd Symphony as the hymn of the revolutionary struggle and further victory. He intended to dedicate it to Napoleon, who was perceived by the composer as the ideal national leader in that period of his life. Though, when Napoleon proclaimed himself to be the Emperor, Beethoven changed his opinion and renamed the symphony into Eroica. It means that the historic event inspired him.

It is evident that the first movement of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony differs from the 1st Symphony. The crucial difference is obvious in the atmosphere of both symphonies. The first movement of the 1st Symphony is full of sadness and elevation, tragedy and comedy, pessimism and optimism. All these moods are alternating creating the atmosphere of suspense and unexpectedness. The first movement of the 3rd Symphony proves about any triumphant event, and it is related to Napoleon’s proclamation to be the Emperor. Beethoven was inspired by this politic and historic event as a driving force of his talent. Moreover, the first movement of the 3rd Symphony is more improvised because Beethoven’s hearing was becoming worse and worse (Brown 40).

His improvisation in the first movement of the 3rd Symphony was characterized by a hostile and cold atmosphere, stiffness and brutality. Comparing with the first movement of the 1st Symphony, it is longer and tedious. One can say that this movement is like a transferring of Beethoven from the classical style to more improvised one. The innovative musical techniques of this symphony are related to the complexity and courage to changes. The first movement of the 3rd Symphony has a name allegro con brio where Beethoven creates a picture of a hard struggle. The starting chords playing tutti create the feeling of a fight. Moreover, the first movement of the 3rd Symphony is more dynamic comparing with the first movement of the 1st Symphony because it contains the internal conflict that makes this symphony more dramatic and artistically logic.

The first movement of the 3rd Symphony was like a border of Beethoven between his classical past and full of improvisation future. The fractional instrumentation enhances the expressiveness and detailing of intonations. It is necessary to mention that this symphony is more thematically revealed. One can easily follow here the military and revolutionary motives. This differs the first movement of this symphony from the first movement of the 1st Symphony where personal development is more evident than political or military.

The 3rd Symphony was performed by a great number of orchestras and by the best conductors. Herbert von Karajan performed it with the Berliner Philharmoniker orchestra, and René Leibowitz recorded the symphony in 1961 together with London Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Herbert von Karajan interpreted Beethoven reflecting brutality and some aggression. As to René Leibowitz, he was more expressive as he did nit only imitate, but added more rich intonations and his attitudes to this music. It means that René Leibowitz had more individual style while performing the first movement of the 3rd Symphony. Both conductors reflected Beethoven’s style revealing the dynamic and dramatism of this musical work (Teetgen 17).

It is evident that Beethoven’s the first movement of the 3rd Symphony was affected by the political event such as the French Revolution. For him, Bonaparte was a liberator of people. However, soon Beethoven was disappointed as imperialistic motives of Bonaparte prevailed under the liberal ones. Moreover, a distinctive orchestral colour of the first movement proves about changes of the musical change of Beethoven as a musician. One can feel his personal contribution through thematic completion, dramatic and dynamic shifts and innovations in the atmosphere.

Beethoven created the 5th Symphony in the period from 1806 to 1808 that can be certainly called the most prolific time in his work. It is written in the c moll – C dur key. The main theme of the first movement 5th Symphony is similar in some aspects to the first movement of the 3rd one. Both of them tell the story of the struggle and fight. The similarities are easily explained by the fact that both of the symphonies belong to the Middle period of Beethoven’s work. However, they differ in his attitudes to the political events. In the first movement of the 3rd Symphony Beethoven was inspired by the French revolution and Napoleon’s activity. In the first movement of the 5th Symphony Beethoven was indignant and disappointed by imperialism and failure of the French Revolution.

The elaborate clarinet parts and elevated violin notes prove about the interconnection between the first movements of the 3rd and 5th Symphonies. Beethoven introduces the theme of fate, that tries to ruin the human life and people have to fight for their happiness. The subject was urgent for Beethoven in that time for several reasons. First, he was suffering from his illness and was loosing the hearing. Second, Vienna, where the composer lived, was occupied in 1805 by the troops of Napoleon. The war in Europe showed the composer thousands of examples of the work of the evil fate (Swafford 484).

In the musical aspect, the first movement of the 5th Symphony is simpler and thoroughly elaborated than the 3rd Eroica Symphony. Beethoven managed to express the theme of fate in four notes that became one of the most popular motifs in the Western music. It is constantly repeated through the movement and the entire symphony that is written in the sonata form. It features a number of expressive techniques that make the 1st movement of the symphony emotional. Repetitions in a violent manner, fortissimo, use of octave unisons reinforce Beethoven’s style. The motion in the 5th Symphony is more active towards the dramatic culmination than it was in the 3rd and 1st Symphonies. The heroic motives in the symphony are used for brass instruments that are accompanied by the strings. In the 5th Symphony, Beethoven showed the essence of his individual style of composition and he progressed obviously from the times of composing of the 1st Symphony.

There are different interpretations of the 5th Symphony. For the current analysis, the performances of Karajan and Leonard Bernstein are used. Karajan interprets the first movement in a strict way and does not switch from allegro tempo while Bernstein prefers to play it freely and more emotionally. It means that both musicians add their won interpretations of Beethoven’s music.

In conclusion, one should say that the first movements of the 1st, 3rd and 5th Symphonies reveal Beethoven as a talented musician and exceptional personality. Such personal circumstances as his health issues were not less essential driving forces for his talent. Mozart and Haydn were “musical” teachers of this composer; therefore, Beethoven interpreted their music works as the best example of the Classical music. Vienna with its musical and cultural traditions was also a muse for Vienna as there he studied, absorbed in the art and culture and took inspiration for his music.

The similarities of the first movements of the 1st, 3rd and 5th Symphonies refer to his intention to develop his individual style. The first movement of the 1st Symphony was created under the influence of his impression by Mozart and Haydn. The first movements of the 3rd Symphony and 5th Symphony were composed under the influence of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s activity. One can name these first movements the steps of Beethoven to the development of a composer with an improvised musical style.

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