Beethoven – Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Opus 93

by Max Derrickson

Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Opus 93

Beethoven composed his Eighth Symphony during the summer and fall of 1812. For the piece’s 1814 premiere, it had the misfortune to be paired with a performance of the popular Symphony No. 7, and criticism of the new work was harsh. Critics still condemn the symphony as a throwback to older forms and styles. To this there is some truth, but  [. . .] Ever since, however, the Eighth has suffered from the greatness of both its predecessor and its successor, the incomparable Ninth.

After a 4-year hiatus from writing symphonies, Beethoven composed both the Seventh and Eighth in 4 months. A remarkable achievement-the Seventh, dramatic, fiery, ground-breaking, and the Eighth, more joyful and quick-witted.

The Eighth opens with good spirits, and the robust contentment continues throughout: The Allegretto is built around a musical joke. There is no real slow movement. The Finale is kept off-balance by a coda longer than the rest of the movement.

[. . .]

Starting quietly, with a brimming energy, the Finale breaks loose with an ebullient outburst. The themes generally play out in the same pattern of a controlled, sometimes even calm moment, followed by a burst of uncontrolled enthusiasm. Throughout, we have a sense that the orchestral train wants to derail. Beethoven uses a technique that will return vibrantly 12 years later in the Ninth Symphony: octave pitches in the timpani, and many timpani rolls. But he saves his best jab for the coda, the ending that reestablishes the original key. Not only does the “ending” eclipse in length all the material that precedes it-a gross structural imbalance-but it harkens back to old days and old endings. Finales for centuries past had ended with a mighty pounding of the last few chords over and over again, not unlike a large banner being raised to shout, “We’re now finished! Finished! Finished!!” In the best humor, Beethoven extends this banner long into the night, giving us the dominant C Major chord only six times, but the tonic F Major chord no less than 45 times.