Berliner Philharmoniker (Berlin Philharmonic) plays Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major (Op. 36). Conductor: Herbert von Karajan.
Beethoven’s Second Symphony was mostly written during Beethoven’s stay at Heiligenstadt in 1802, at a time when his deafness was becoming more pronounced and he began to realize that it might be incurable. The work was premiered in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on 5 April 1803, and was conducted by the composer, and dedicated to Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky. During that same concert, the Third Piano Concerto and the oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives were also debuted. It is one of the last works of Beethoven’s early period.
The four movements are:
- Adagio molto, 3/4 – Allegro con brio, 4/4
The first movement is constructed in the shape of a sonata with a thematic material of great simplicity “leaving the impression of dignity, mature and serious vision of life, of destiny.” The Introduction, Adagio molto, begins in D major, changing to B♭ major in measure 11. In measures 26–28, it briefly modulates to A major and immediately back to D. The exposition (Allegro con brio) begins in D major with the A theme lasting until measure 57. A transition towards the B theme lasts until measure 72, modulating to A minor at measure 61. The B theme begins in A major at 73, moving to A minor again at 113 with a codetta from measure 117–136 (moving to D major in measure 120). The development uses material from the A theme, going through several modulations throughout and making use of the main idea from Theme A in sequence. At measure 216, the A theme returns in the recapitulation, lasting until measure 228. There is a retransition from 229–244, bringing back the B theme at measure 245, this time in the tonic key. At 327, B♭ major returns briefly, moving back to D in 334 with a Coda from measures 340–360.
- Larghetto, 3/8 in A major
The second movement can be considered one of the high points of Beethoven’s creation. The themes are of great beauty and serenity expressing noble ideas sprung from a great deal of sorrow. Through a short Coda of just 16 bars this sonata-like segment ends under the auspices of joy and bliss. is in the dominant key of A major and is one of Beethoven’s longest symphonic slow movements. There are clear indications of the influence of folk music and the pastoral, presaging his Symphony No. 6 (“Pastoral”).
- Scherzo: Allegro, 3/4
The third movement is a very dynamic segment irrigated by life. For the first time in the structure of the symphony, a new movement appears, different from the minuet in expression and at the same time allowing the composer to fully express his vision and his feelings. It encloses a melodious oboe and bassoon quartet within typical-sounding Austrian side-slapping dance.
- Allegro molto, 2/2
The fourth movement has of great depth, musical and harmonic complexity. It is composed of very rapid string passages. American composer, pianist, and musicologist Robert Greenberg wrote: “Beethoven’s gastric problems, particularly in times of great stress – like the fall of 1802 – were legendary. … It has been understood almost since the day of its premiere that that is what this music is all about. Beethoven never refuted it; in fact, he must have encouraged it. Otherwise, how could such an interpretation become common coin? And common coin it is.”