When I played this week’s SUGGESTED LISTENING for the CLASSICAL MUSIC SKEPTIC for my non-musician friend, she turned to me and said, “This is freakin’ adorable.” So… check out the freakin’ adorable second movement from Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony, performed below by the Vienna Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein conducting.
About the Composer:
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770?-1827) is pretty famous. He casually transitioned the music world from the Classical period into the Romantic (more on that in a sec) and composed the piece that would later become the first musical score added to the UN‘s World Heritage List, all while fighting a custody battle over his suicidal nephew, penning passionate letters to his mysterious “Immortal Beloved,” gradually becoming deaf, and possibly suffering from lead poisoning. Born in Bonn, he was a child prodigy in a family of musicians, pushed to practice piano by his strict, alcoholic father. Beethoven moved to Vienna as a young man and established his musical career there, developing the compositional style that would bridge the gap between the Classical and Romantic periods. We can think of Classical music in a social context, occurring simultaneously with the Enlightenment and its emphasis on clarity, intellect, and the common man. When the Romantic era rolled along at the very end of the 18th century, the focus shifted from the extroverted philosophy of “hey, let’s include the common man in all our intellectual activities!” to a much more introspective atmosphere with deep connections to nature and personal emotion. With this “personal emotion” idea in mind, it is easy to classify much of Beethoven’s heartwrenching music as purely Romantic — but he maintains many of the Classical techniques that he learned from the previous generation of musical greats. Though, perhaps his greatest achievement was being portrayed by Jimmy Fallon on SNL.
About the Piece:
The entirety of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 8 is sort of like a comedy bit. This doesn’t mean that this symphony is in any way inferior to his others — far from it. Beethoven’s Eighth is a very mature composition, containing tons of gorgeous, innovative moments — as well as tons of wit. Each movement sounds happy and lighthearted to the point of sarcasm, and Beethoven throws in musical quotations of other composers’ styles much as a comedian might do impressions. Most notably, the second movement, this allegretto scherzando (Italian for “joking”), allegedly pokes fun at Haydn‘s Symphony No. 101. Haydn’s 101st is known as “‘The Clock’ Symphony” because its second movement is built on a repeated “tick-tock” rhythm. Beethoven greatly admired Haydn — both the man and his music — so it is quite likely that Haydn’s “Clock” was the inspiration for Beethoven’s meticulous, metronomic allegretto. The woodwinds maintain a cheerful, staccato line of repeated notes, while the violins play a simple, hushed melody that is, in fact, freakin’ adorable. No better way to describe it.
If you enjoyed the 2nd movement from Symphony No. 8, you might also like…
- Ludwig van Beethoven: Presto from Symphony No. 7
- Joseph Haydn: Andante from Symphony No. 101 ‘The Clock’
- Johannes Brahms: Quasi menuetto from Serenade No. 2