Beethoven - 1st Symphony

Scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, tympani, and strings.

In the late 1790's Beethoven, having begun to achieve recognition as a promising composer, discovered for the first time that he was beginning to lose his hearing, even though he was still a young man. In its early stages, his disability was only a minor nuisance that did not significantly affect his work. After an early concentration on smaller forms, he now began to attempt more weighty works. His first efforts were two piano concertos, designed to show off his talents at the keyboard, but he soon turned to the symphony. He lost little time in developing his own unique style: the earliest sketches for the First Symphony appeared in 1795, while it was only 8 years later that he revolutionized music with the appearance of the Third Symphony, better known as the Eroica.

Although the First is obviously the product of a young man experimenting in an unfamiliar medium, it nevertheless contains clear signs of what Beethoven would soon become. A listener's first impression may well be of Mozart, for there is a concentration on melodic invention (especially in the fourth movement) that is similar to the style of that composer. Yet a second hearing reveals the unmistakable elements that made Beethoven unique: a vigorous approach that would have embarrassed the older composer, more robust orchestration producing a more powerful sonic effect, and a use of harmony as well as melody to express ideas.

The work was well-received by critics, one of whom liked the ``art, novelty, and wealth of ideas'' even while finding that there was ``too much use of wind instruments.'' Little did he suspect that this style was only the opening experiment of a genius who would usher in an entirely new school of music, the 19th-century Romanticism that even today enthralls us with its depth and emotional complexity.

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