Hyperion Records

Symphony No 1 in C major, Op 21
first performed on 2 April 1800 in Vienna

'Beethoven: Symphonies' (CDS44301/5)
Beethoven: Symphonies
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'Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1 & 5' (LSO0590)
Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1 & 5
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Movement 1: Adagio molto – Allegro con brio
Movement 2: Andante cantabile con moto
Movement 3: Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace
Movement 4: Adagio – Allegro molto e vivace

Symphony No 1 in C major, Op 21
Beethoven’s Symphony No 1 famously begins with a series of ‘sighing’ dissonances leaning away from the home key, and it may have been the peculiar sonority of these opening bars, in which the strings provide only pizzicato support, that led a critic at the work’s premiere to complain that the orchestra sounded too much like a wind-band. Following the slow introduction, the Allegro con brio begins quietly, and in an atmosphere of deliberate understatement. The main subject’s military flavour seems to owe a debt to the greatest of Haydn’s C major symphonies, No 97, and Beethoven further stresses its march-like character in the coda, where trumpets and drums come into their own with a series of fanfares.

The slow movement’s opening pages have staggered thematic entries in the manner of a fugato; and when the cellos add a new ‘running’ part to the texture at the start of the reprise, the music manages miraculously to sound even more translucent. Another felicitous piece of scoring is the ‘tapping’ timpani rhythm that runs through the exposition’s closing bars. In a characteristically Beethovenian gesture, the rhythm is appropriated by the strings, fortissimo and in a distant key, at the start of the central development section.

For all the defiant originality of its slow introduction, perhaps the symphony’s most prescient movement is the third—not really a minuet at all, despite its label, but a piece in Beethoven’s dynamic, thrusting scherzo style. As for the finale, it opens with a celebrated joke. A dramatic held note played fortissimo by the full orchestra seems to herald some event of high seriousness, but all that ensues are scraps of a C major scale, hesitantly put together in slow-motion by the violins. The scale is fully assembled only at the start of the Allegro molto e vivace, where it turns out to form the upbeat to the main theme. The music’s wit and brilliance again owe something to Haydn, though there is no shortage of thoroughly Beethovenian gestures—not least, the dramatic outburst near the start of the central development section. Towards the end, Beethoven cheekily introduces a march of toy soldiers, before bringing the work to a rousing conclusion.

from notes by Misha Donat © 2007

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Details for CDS44301/5 disc 1 track 2
Andante cantabile con moto
Recording date
30 August 2006
Recording venue
Usher Hall, Edinburgh, Scotland
Recording producer
Bill Lloyd
Recording engineer
Matt Parkin & Mike Hatch
Hyperion usage
  1. Beethoven: Symphonies (CDS44301/5)
    Disc 1 Track 2
    Release date: September 2007
    5CDs Boxed set (at a special price)
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