Beethoven, Symphony No. 1 in C Major, Op. 21
Beethoven’s first symphony premiered in 1801 when Beethoven was 30 years old. His first two symphonies belong to his early period in which he wrote in a style not far removed from Mozart and Haydn. His third symphony, Eroica (1804), is often regarded as a milestone in the move to Romanticism.
But even at this relatively early stage of Beethoven’s life, we see his stamp of individuality. The symphony is often cited for its unusual beginning. The slow introduction to the first movement sounds three pairs of chords that point the listener away from the home key of C major. He seems to set up a couple of different keys before gradually settling into C. Some commentators have characterized it as a joke and others think it profound. I’m not sure those are mutually exclusive. Either way, it’s the kind of misdirection that would keep some listeners of his day intrigued and others confused.
This Beethoven symphony is relatively short, and I encourage you to hear it all, especially if you are not already familiar with all nine.
This also seems like a good time to remind our readers that we have a short course on Beethoven. It’s free, and you can get it delivered by email or read it at your leisure online. It includes video performances (rather like the ones in this series) plus Professor Carol’s scintillating prose. It’s a great overview of “what makes Beethoven special” (hint: it’s not the fact that Beethoven was deaf), and it can be completed in 7 short daily sessions.