Brief Histories of Beethoven Symphonies

circa 1810: Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770 - 1827) the German composer.
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Beethoven remains one of the most well-known composers in the modern world. This is, no doubt, made possible by his groundbreaking symphonies. Beethoven's symphonies number only nine; each one unique, each one preparing the way for the next. Beethoven’s most popular symphonies, numbers 3, 5, and 9, have graced the ears of millions of listeners. Their histories, for the most part, are known by many. However, what about the other six symphonies Below you will find brief histories of all nine Beethoven symphonies.

Symphony No. 1, Op. 21, C Major

Beethoven began writing Symphony No. 1 in 1799. It premiered April 2, 1800, in Vienna. Compared to other Beethoven symphonies, this symphony sounds the tamest. However, when it premiered, imagine how the audience reacted. After all, they were used to hearing the purely classical styles of Haydn and Mozart. They must have been shocked to hear the piece begin on a dissonant chord.

Symphony No. 2, Op. 36, D Major

Beethoven laid the ground for this symphony at least three years before its completion in 1802. This was a dramatic time for Beethoven, as his hearing was quickly diminishing. Some believe the overall “sunny” nature of this symphony is Beethoven’s personal will to overcome his problem. Others believe the opposite: not every composer writes music set to their own inner-struggles; Beethoven was almost suicidal because of his hearing.

Symphony No. 3, Op. 55, E-flat Major, “Eroica”

The Eroica Symphony was first performed privately in early August 1804. We know from discovered writings of Lobkowitz, one of Beethoven’s patrons, that the first public performance was on April 7, 1805, at the Theater-an-der-Wien in Vienna, Austria. It is clear that the performance was not as well accepted or understood as the composer would have liked. Harold Schonberg tells us that, “Musical Vienna was divided on the merits of the Eroica. Some called it Beethoven’s masterpiece. Others said that the work merely illustrated a striving for originality that did not come off.”

Symphony No. 4, Op. 60, B Flat Major

While Beethoven was composing his famous 5th Symphony, he set it aside to work on a symphonic commission he received from the Sicilian Count, Oppersdorff. Much is unknown why he set it aside; perhaps it was too heavy and dramatic for the count's liking. As a result, Symphony No. 4, composed in 1806, became one of Beethoven’s lighter symphonies.

Symphony No. 5, Op. 67, C Minor

Composed during 1804-08, Beethoven premiered Symphony No. 5 in Vienna’s Theater an der Wein on December 22, 1808. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is by far the most well-known symphony in the world. Its opening four notes are far from being indistinguishable. When Symphony No. 5 premiered, Beethoven also premiered Symphony No. 6, but in the actual concert program, the numbers of the symphonies were switched.

Symphony No. 6, Op. 68, F Major, “Pastoral”

In the concert program in which it first premiered, Beethoven labeled Symphony No. 6 with the title “Recollections of Country Life.” Although many believe this symphony to house some of Beethoven’s most beautiful writing, the audience at its first performance was not too happy with it. I would probably agree with them after having heard Symphony No. 5 before it. However, Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony remains popular and is played in symphony halls throughout the world.

Symphony No. 7, Op. 92, A Major

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 was completed in 1812 and conducted its premiere on December 8, 1813, in the University of Vienna. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 is widely viewed as a symphony of dance, and Wagner described it as “the apotheosis of the dance.” Its highly enjoyable, haunting 2nd movement was often most encored.

Symphony No. 8, Op. 93, F Major

This symphony is Beethoven’s shortest. It is often referred to as “The Little Symphony in F Major.” Its duration is roughly 26 minutes. Amongst a sea of exuberant symphonies, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 is often overlooked. Beethoven composed this symphony in 1812 at the age of 42. It premiered two years later on February 27, alongside Symphony No. 7.

Symphony No. 9, Op. 125, D Minor “Choral”

Beethoven’s last symphony, No. 9, marks a triumphant and glorious end. Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 was completed in 1824, when Beethoven was completely deaf and was premiered on Friday, May 7, 1824, in the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna. Beethoven was the first composer to include the human voice at the same level as the instruments. Its text, “An Die Freude” was written by Schiller. When the piece ended, Beethoven, being deaf, was still conducting. The soprano soloist turned him around to accept his applause.