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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  02 March 2024

Barry A. R. Cooper
Affiliation:
University of Manchester
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Summary

Symphony biography

Almost throughout his life, the symphony held a special fascination for Beethoven. His earliest known attempt to write one (Hess 298 or Unv 1)dates from about 1788. Then at the end of his life the completion of his unfinished Tenth Symphony was to have been one of his next major projects. Between these two uncompleted works, he composed a large number of fragments and concept sketches that were intended for possible symphonies, in addition to the nine completed symphonies themselves. The symphony was for him the noblest and grandest of instrumental genres, so that at one stage he was considering devoting himself almost entirely to ‘operas, symphonies, church music’. Conversely, his musical style was particularly well suited to symphonic composition, since many of his most striking and personal features – intensive motivic development, teleological drive and continual flux – are characteristic of symphonic style in its purest form.

Since Beethoven is such a central figure in Western musical culture, therefore, it is hardly surprising that there have been many studies of his symphonies. Some of these studies are of individual works or movements; others can be found in broader accounts of all his music, or of Classical music as a whole. In addition, there are several monographs devoted specifically to the nine symphonies, by authors ranging from George Grove in 1895 to a much more recent scholarly study by Lewis Lockwood. These tend to focus on the musical content of the finished works, rather than their historical background. In contrast, biographical studies of Beethoven tend to relate the circumstances surrounding the first performances of the symphonies, but not their content nor how they came into being. His manuscripts have rarely been given much attention in biographical studies, even though the process of writing his sketches and autograph scores formed a major part of his everyday life and a huge number of sketches still survive. Lockwood’s account of the symphonies covers more of this ground than others, with much detail about both the symphonies themselves and their biographical context. But even his account is far from comprehensive, particularly with some of the later symphonies. As he points out: ‘The full sketch material for the Eighth Symphony remains to be transcribed, published, and evaluated’; and ‘Much remains to be done to elucidate the sketches that survive for the Ninth.’ Similar statements could be made about most of the other symphonies.

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Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2024

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  • Introduction
  • Barry A. R. Cooper, University of Manchester
  • Book: The Creation of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies
  • Online publication: 02 March 2024
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781805432036.002
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  • Introduction
  • Barry A. R. Cooper, University of Manchester
  • Book: The Creation of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies
  • Online publication: 02 March 2024
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781805432036.002
Available formats
×

Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Barry A. R. Cooper, University of Manchester
  • Book: The Creation of Beethoven's Nine Symphonies
  • Online publication: 02 March 2024
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781805432036.002
Available formats
×