In 1812 Beethoven wrote one after another two bright symphonies one after another – the Seventh and the Eight. His personal period is not very bright itself, though. For a decade now, due to his deafness, he had been forced to suspend his concert performances, restrict his communication, and live alone. And yet he created those vitality-filled opuses. Although they were written at the same time and in each of them there is a cheerful dynamics of dance genres, the two works are very different. While the Seventh seems to be moving forward, towards the art of romanticism, the EIGHT SYMPHONY looks back to the traditions of past epochs, refracted through the prism of Beethoven’s unique style.
The initial Allegro is somewhat reminiscent of Haydn’s symphonies with their balanced contrast and symmetrical structure. The second scherzo part (there is no lyrical part in the Symphony No 8) is a subtle parody of the metrical pulsation in early classical music, the melodic movement is based on the rhythm of the pendulum, which inexorably measures the beat. The main theme of this Allegretto is also the subject of a humorous canon composed by Beethoven in honor of his friend, the inventor of the metronome Johann Maelzel (he also made the hearing aids, which Beethoven used alongside the “conversation books”). The third part gives life to an ancient court minuet, with a comically emphasized repetition of the dance motif and pompously sounding wind instruments. In the fast-paced finale with sharp humor, Beethoven reproduces the buffoonish character of the rondo-finals in the instrumental music of the eighteenth century. “In the finale, one of Beethoven’s greatest symphonic masterpieces. “ – writes P. I. Tchaikovsky – “live boundless humor, unexpected episodes, striking contrasts in harmony and modulation, countless ingeniously invented orchestral effects. ”
Completed in four months, Symphony No 8 was premiered on February 27th, 1814 at the Redoutensaal in Vienna. Symphony No7, conducted by the author, was also performed at this concert, although at that time he had already completely lost his hearing. The Eight Symphony was not greeted as enthusiastically as the Seventh, the critics were divided in their judgement, but Beethoven himself told his student Carl Czerny that he considered it “so much better”than the Seventh. Such was the assessment of Bernard Shaw, who in his capacity of a music critic wrote that in “In all subtler respects the Eighth is better [than the Seventh]”. Some see in it “a beautiful, brief, ironic look backward to Haydn and Mozart“, the contemporary German musicologist Martin Geck commented on the uniqueness of the Eighth, emphasizing”all the relevant hallmarks, including motivic and thematic writing notable for its advanced planning, defiant counterpoint, furious cross-rhythms, sudden shifts from piano to forte, and idyllic and even hymnlike episodes”.
With the Eighth Symphony ends the middle, extremely active period of Beethoven, which brought to life some of his most mature, sublime works.