A new century literally began as Ludwig van Beethoven completed his first symphony in the year 1800. Within the next quarter century his great cycle of nine symphonies was complete, taking its place as the measure for the entire symphonic repertoire that followed it. In a 5-part series, classical music and opera expert Saul Lilienstein uses the finest audio and video recordings as he discusses each symphony, as well as examines Beethoven’s personal journey of creation against the backdrop of Viennese society.
October 17 Symphonies No. 1 and No. 2
In his first symphony Beethoven follows the models of Haydn’s orchestral structures along with elements of Mozart’s lyricism. In the second, even as major symptoms of deafness began encroaching, Beethoven adds a boisterous humor and youthful freedom into the symphonic mix.
October 24 Symphonies No. 3 (“Eroica”) and No. 4.
The “Eroica” is one of music’s landmark moments. The work’s breadth stretches against classical restraints, breaking through with personal and emotional qualities recognized today as the gateway to Romanticism. Symphony No. 4 returns in an almost-relaxed pleasure closer to the earlier style, content with merely being beautiful.
October 31 Symphonies No. 5 and No. 6
Each of these works epitomizes new elements of 19th-century expression. The 5th Symphony confronts the drama inherent in the composer’s mature artistry created through a sonic architecture as firm as a monument in stone. In the Symphony No. 6 that followed, Beethoven introduces a romantic freedom descriptive of nature’s realm.
November 7 Symphonies No. 7 and No. 8
Richard Wagner aptly called Beethoven’s Seventh “an apotheosis of the dance.” Each movement exults in human rhythms that represent the composer’s most joyous and extroverted symphonic expression. With No. 8, Beethoven gazes back fondly on the style of his teacher Haydn in a shining 19th-century tribute to 18th-century practice.
November 14 Symphony No. 9
Beethoven defies his almost-total deafness with new levels of imaginative expression and expansion. Every movement demonstrates the state of his symphonic art, concluding with the choral “Ode to Joy,” universally embraced as a symbol of our highest aspirations.