Well Tempered Beethoven: Even-Numbered Symphonies Featured

Beethoven in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman(Photo: Wikipedia)
Beethoven in 1803, painted by Christian Horneman(Photo: Wikipedia)

On Symphony @7 for the rest of this week, we’re continuing the even-numbered symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven.  We started with No. 2 on Tuesday, and we’ll finish with No. 8 on Friday.

There have long been discussions about the “even-odd” dichotomy of Beethoven’s symphonies, and numerous generalizations have been made;  the odd-numbered ones are considered the great revolutionary works, particularly the Third, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth, while the even-numbered ones are less innovative, nice but not as important.

The even-numbered symphonies show Beethoven in a sunnier, brighter mood, and the odd-numbered ones, his darker, stormier side.  We have the even tempered Beethoven contrasted with the odd–well, you get the picture.  These are generalizations with perhaps some truth, but there are notable exceptions that shouldn’t let us under appreciate Symphonies No. 2, 4, 6, and 8.

The Second Symphony (1802) is bigger and tougher sounding than the First (1800) and the traditional minuet is replaced by the more raucous sounding scherzo, a newer form.  The Fourth Symphony (1806) has a long and mysterious slow introduction that makes you not sure what’s coming, and the beautiful slow movement is interrupted by rather violent outbursts.  The Pastoral, Symphony No. 6 (1808) is one of Beethoven’s most popular and has some of his most thunderous sounding music (well, in the thunderstorm, of course), and it’s in five rather than four movements.  Symphony No. 8 (1812) is one of the shortest, and has been described as his wittiest, but it is also full of concentrated energy and drive.

I hope you can join me for the rest of this short series of the sunnier side of Beethoven’s symphonies.  While the Fourth has a very lengthy and quiet introduction, once it gets going, it really goes, and the finale is downright exhilarating.  Here’s a sample: