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Published:April 10th, 2009 20:43 EST
Ludwig Van Beethoven`s Symphony Nr. 7 Is a Lightening Bolt of Radiant Rapture!

Ludwig Van Beethoven`s Symphony Nr. 7 Is a Lightening Bolt of Radiant Rapture!

By John G. Kays

All manner of singular bodily movements. As a sforzando occurred, he tore his arms, previously crossed upon his breast, with great vehemence asunder. At piano he crouched down lower and lower to show the degree asunder. At piano he crouched down lower to show the degree of softness. If a crescendo entered he gradually rose again and at a forte jumped into the air. " - The violinist and composer Ludwig Spohr-commenting on Ludwig Van`s conducting of the orchestra.

Deutsche grammophon logo


A fleeting, ethereal whiff of mirth lifted me up off of my bed, transfixed as I was by bars of music, music that merrily sprung forth from my radio speaker; a sweeping joy permeated my fleshy extremities, butterflies danced in my stomach, beads of sweat drizzled down my brow, I quickly paid attention. What was I hearing?

Bust of Beethoven


 I had been doin` a lazy chew on a Simpleton`s paperback, after a blistering day in the salt mines, when distant clamors of yet another pledge drive piped through from my local classical radio station (KMFA 89.5). My ears perked up for an author or an opus, or both, remote hints of familiarity fairy-dusted my cranium, when out of nowhere the DJ assigned the moniker of Ludwig Van Beethoven`s Symphony Nr. 7, opus 92, while begging trenchantly for big bucks to keep their boat afloat.

Score of Allegretto


After exploring several possibilities for extant editions, I finally settled on a 1976 recording of The Seventh on Deutsche Grammophon, with Carlos Kleiber conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. It is very reliable, the best I have ever heard, as one of The Originals-Legendary Recordings from Deutsche Grammophon`s catalogue; as a bonus The Fifth Symphony is bundled in. The CD has a black vinyl image with DG`s logo, duplicating their attractive vinyl records, that are wonderful to collect. DG uses their ORIGINAL-IMAGE-BIT-PROCESSING; this is a new digital mixdown technology that restores much of the fidelity of the original recording.


The composition was begun in 1811 when Beethoven was staying in the Bohemian spa town of Teplice in order to improve his health. The work was completed in April of 1812 and was dedicated to Count Moritz von Fries and to Russian Empress Elisabeth Aleksiev. It has been rumored that the inspiration for writing it comes from Ludwig Van`s flaming passion for Antonie Brentano, the wife of a prominent Frankfurt banker, Franz Brentano, a friend of Beethoven. The famous letter to his Immortal Beloved ", penned close to the time of completion of The Seventh, is also suggested as a reference to the object of his romance, one Antonie Brentano.


The premiere of The Seventh Symphony occurred on December 8th, 1813 in Vienna and was a benefit concert for wounded Austrians and Bavarians in the battle of Hanau. The highly successful benefit concert was conducted by none other than Ludwig Van himself. The opening quote above is a description of The Man conducting the orchestra with furious authority, on fire with fortississimo! It seems that some good news was filtering through Vienna, the Allies were making inroads against the French, such as at the battle of Leipzig. Moreover, The Duke of Wellington was beginning to defeat the French in Spain; this concert was really a celebration of the Allied inroads.


The First Movement, Poco sostenuto-Vivace [13`36]( slightly smooth-lively ") is a miracle in composition. Breaking with the past dramatically, the introduction (Poco sostenuto) whispers gently a sketch of the entire symphony. Two vistas are provided as if you are climbing the balustrade of an Italian palace. You wind around and upwards, floating freely on a magic carpet of quarter and sixteenth notes. Gigantic musical platforms are created and you are suspended in space without an anchor on your Clipper Ship! Ludwig Van will do that to you at times. Finally you arrive at the Vivace.


A highly rhythmic, simple melody bursts forth like cannon balls from your speakers. This 2nd section melody in F major is pitched in a million-myriad permutations, changes in dynamics, and arrangement exploration is mined unbelievably; it builds ever so gradually, yet suddenly sprints to the finish line with the zeal of a gold medal hungry Jessie Owens in Berlin, 1936.


The F major morphs into a minor key, then staccato is employed to advantage-many stops and starts-small sound-bite presentation and a pounding timpani that bows to no one. To put it another way, Beethoven smiths the melody with fluctuating rhythms into a musical alloy; then the bars shotgun forth from a cannon, as volleys punching out more rapidly in succession as the movement progresses to its finalé, its inevitable conclusion. It is as if Beethoven is ranting to his orchestra: now try this, now try that "how `bout a little of this, how `bout a little a that."  


The Second Movement, Allegretto [8`09] (a little lively ), with a welcome-wagon waiting after the First, is a more familiar and popular anthem from Beethoven`s oeuvre. It was encored when played at the premiere in Vienna, December 8th, 1813. A dirge-like ditty with a slow build in A minor that is repetitious and simple in melody, yet uses dynamics that force you to stare darkness directly in the face. A second section is introduced (3`18 seconds into the movement) that is idle and pastoral, that induces sleep and you fancy countless sheep leaping over the white picket fence in an empty neighborhood meadow.


The dirge of a tune brings to mind the Alfred Hitchcock Presents theme, for me, and builds to a crescendo with a clever counterpoint melody; as such when coupled together, in the final few measures, it`s few notes juxtaposed against a flurry of notes, a sort of clashing of blades at some mock fencing lesson. I just replayed it, and visuals are plentiful; I see a solemn procession of weepy courtiers, snatched from a lost chronicle of the Di Medici in 15th century Florence, pacing slowly behind a, color specific, dynastic-draped coffin of the elder Cosimo, a distant drum is keeping a solemn time.


The Third Movement, Presto [8`15] (as fast as possible ) is a waltz and has two sections, a scherzo and a trio; it has the unusual configuration of A-B-A-B-A and zips along zestily, breaking the speed limit! The break-neck speed of the A sections conjures a masked affair in Venice, say, with costumed lords and ladies, at play in Carnivale, leaping about the ballroom in the grips of a turbulent spring night as so many Chatty Kathys at a debonair bacchanal. The B section couldn`t be any more contrasting, where bucolic slumber is coupled with the fire of dance such as an elderly couple perched on a park bench with too much time on their hands!


The Fourth Movement, Allegro con brio [8`36] (rapidly with a dash; spiritedly)is like a jack-in-box springing forth from `is box, sprinting down the track. I see a princely fox hunt in an English countryside, a mad-dash-of-a-hunt. Suddenly the violin and cello strings are tornado funnels projecting forward faster and faster! In the coda the strings are spinning, swirling epicycles of unfettered treble clef notes that explode at the end of the measure and sprinkle cosmic debris down on the bacchanal of a ballroom. No one is injured but merely are buried in sheet music confetti galore.


Beethoven must have been one happy camper when he wrote this. This is a work that exudes pure energy, joy, and probably love! The horns play a role in this, in terms of their high end nature they can exude happiness better. Two points should be made about The Seventh:


1.It fuses classical techniques and new romantic devices most perfectly. And yet he cheerily chips away at the foul fabric of tradition. 2. It is experimental in nature almost to a fault. Today we can not readily recognize that, since it has transferred to the mainstream by the mere passage of some 200 years. Better than The Fifth, sweeter than the Quaker Oats bit, more powerful than a locomotive etc, etc `it`s concentrated vitamin C bliss, LUDWIG VAN =S LOVE & HAPPINESS!` [P.S. I had to put Electric Ladyland on to mellow out.]


The Columbia University Orchestra has a free online recording of The Seventh Symphony with a nice laser lightshow that accompanies it to boot!


I like to follow the score (or attempt to) while listening to the music.