By Ludwig van Beethoven
Composed in 1800
Ludwig van Beethoven was aware that he was following in the footsteps of giants as he began composing his first symphony. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, already dead eight years in 1799, had blazed across the musical firmament like a meteor, leaving lesser composers despondent and scrambling to incorporate his stylistic innovations. Franz Josef Haydn, still active in Vienna, was famous as the “Father of the String Quartet” and brought the symphony to a perfection recognized in all the capitals of Europe.
Beethoven’s first effort at symphonic writing built squarely upon the work of these two models: four movements in the order Fast-Slow-Minuet-Fast; a texture in which the melody dominates, but with digressions into the older, contrapuntal style; harmonies which were clearly delineated, changed slowly, but served always to propel the music forward; above all, a sense of balance and proportion in all the aspects of composition. What Beethoven could only have suspected, but that we now know, is the craft, inspiration, power, and vigor that he poured into the form handed down to him.
The work we hear today is in no sense a youthful experiment, but it is instead a fully-developed masterwork by a young genius, and has earned a place among the great monuments of musical art.