Five years after Joseph Haydn’s last symphony No. 104 and twelve years after Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN created in 1800 his First symphony, using the same instrumentation as his predecessors, but with the inclusion of clarinets.
Prior to settling permanently in Vienna in 1792 Beethoven was at the service of prince-elector Max Franz of Bonn, who was undoubtedly extremely fond of the musician and granted him twice funds for making a trip to Vienna. As a token of appreciation, Beethoven intended to dedicate to him his most significant piece of music, written by 1801 – Symphony No. 1. But he later reconsidered and the object of the dedication became Baron Gottfired van Svieten, who was one of the staunchest supporters of Beethoven and the incumbent director of the imperial library.
The premiere performance of the symphony was given on 2 April 1800 in Vienna by Beethoven’s friend of and celebrated conductor of the day Paul Wranitzky.
The impression of this music can work in more than one way – judged, on the one hand, as too rudimentary, on the other, as pretentious, featuring “too many wind instruments” and outlandish sound effects. But what was undoubtedly clear was that it offered a demonstration of an innovative imaginative approach of the composer to the genre. Put in the words of an unknown admirer of Beethoven’s music – in the First symphony one can discern “claw that harbingers the lion…”
While Beethoven’s aesthetic criteria by virtue of his origins and traditions are understandable to the German and Austrian audiences, France, due to the different predilections of its audiences, remained to Beethoven the most inaccessible stage. French musicians boycotted his music until as late as 1807 and the only work they performed between that and 1811 was precisely his first symphony.