Movement 1: Allegro vivace e con brio
Movement 2: Allegretto scherzando
Movement 3: Tempo di menuetto
Movement 4: Allegro vivace
In marked contrast to the seventh symphony, there are no preliminaries here: the Allegro vivace e con brio begins immediately, and in confident mood, with its main theme given out by the full orchestra. Following the second subject, the exposition’s final moments introduce a new unison ‘rocking’ motif with its upper and lower notes an octave apart, and the same rhythmic motif threads its way through the first stage of the central development section. A similar subject is to be found in the finale, and perhaps it was this that gave Beethoven the highly original notion of having his two timpani tuned an octave apart in the latter movement.
The second movement, with its ‘tick-tock’ accompaniment, has the lightness and grace of a ballet, though its ending is disconcertingly blunt—as if the music had fetched up in the wrong key. If the minuet that follows has a heavier tread, its trio is an elegant serenade-like piece with prominent parts for the first clarinet and the two horns.
In the ‘Eroica’ Symphony’s opening theme, Beethoven had introduced a ‘foreign’ note whose function and meaning became clear only at a much later stage. The finale of the eighth symphony contains a more spectacular use of that same alien note. As the shimmering main theme dies away to almost nothing, an unexplained C sharp blares forth—whereupon the theme bursts out fortissimo still in the home key, as if to reject what had been no more than a rude interruption. Not until the start of what is perhaps the most colossal coda Beethoven ever wrote does the C sharp at last succeed in making its mark. Here, the note is hammered out over and over again, with the insistence of the Stone Guest knocking at the door in Don Giovanni, and this time it cannot be ignored: with hair-raising effect, the orchestra plunges into the remote key of F sharp minor, and the home key is not established again without a good deal more hammering.
from notes by Misha Donat © 2007