© 2022 WOSU Public Media
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Classical 101

Irrepressible Wit and Great Energy in Beethoven's Eighth Symphony

Ludwig van Beethoven circa 1815, just one year after the first performance of his seventh symphony.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 in F, Op. 93 was first performed in public in February of 1814 in Vienna.  It didn't create quite the splash his sublime and exuberant Seventh  did only a few months earlier, or than his huge, visionary Ninth would ten years later.  This evening on Symphony @ 7, you can hear what has been called the wittiest of Beethoven's 9 symphonies.

The Eighth Symphony is sometimes undervalued as being somehow "lightweight."  With its numerous musical jokes a-la-Haydn, it may be more lighthearted the the Seventh or Ninth, but it also contains the powerful symphonic utterances we love so much in Beethoven's music.  When he was asked by his pupil Carl Czerny why the Eighth was less popular than the Seventh, Beethoven supposedly replied, "because the the Eighth is so much better."

If brevity is the soul of wit, then it's appropriate that the Eighth Symphony is also the shortest apart from Symphony No. 1, perhaps depending on the performance.  What is certain though, is that there is concentrated energy to spare in this irrepressible and cheerful work by Beethoven.  We'll hear the Berlin Philharmonic with conductor Claudio Abbado.

The other work on the program is inspired by Beethoven.  Austrian composer Franz Schmidt wrote his Concertante Variations on a theme of Beethoven for left hand and orchestra in 1923 for pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in the First World War.  This is the same pianist for whom Maurice Ravel wrote the better-known Piano Concerto for the Left Hand seven years later.

Schmidt's variations are based on the theme of the scherzo in Beethoven's Violin Sonata No. 5 in F Major, Op. 24 "Spring."  Our performance comes from pianist Markus Becker and the NDR Radio Philharmonic led by Eiji Oue. 

Symphony @ 7 can be heard Thursday evenings at 7 on Classical 101.