Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 1 in C Major (Op. 21) was dedicated to Baron Gottfried van Swieten, an early patron of the composer. The piece was published in 1801 by Hoffmeister & Kühnel of Leipzig. It is unknown exactly when Beethoven finished writing this work, but sketches of the finale were found from 1795.
Portrait of Beethoven in 1803, three years after the premiere of his 1st Symphony.
The symphony is clearly indebted to Beethoven's predecessors, particularly his teacher Haydn, but nonetheless has characteristics that clearly mark it as Beethoven's work, notably the frequent use of sforzandi and the prominent use of wind instruments. Sketches for the finale are found among the exercises Beethoven wrote while studying counterpoint under Albrechtsberger in the spring of 1795.
The premiere took place on April 2, 1800 at the K.K. Hoftheater nächst der Burg in Vienna. The concert program also included a symphony by Mozart, an aria and a duet from Haydn's popular oratorio The Creation, along with Beethoven's septet and second piano concerto. This concert effectively served to announce Beethoven's talents to Vienna.
The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in C, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in C and F, 2 trumpets in C, timpani and strings.
The clarinet parts are commonly played on B♭ clarinet, as C and D clarinets are no longer widely used. However, there is some controversy over whether they should be played on E♭ instruments instead. The E♭ clarinet's timbre is much closer to that of the C and D clarinets than that of the warmer-sounding B♭ clarinet.
There are four movements:
Adagio molto —Allegro con brio, 4/4—2/2
Andante cantabile con moto, 3/8 in F major
Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace, 3/4
Adagio—Allegro molto e vivace, 2/4
Its duration is approximately 25 minutes.
The twelve-bar introduction of the first movement is sometimes considered a "musical joke". For example, the English musicologist Donald Francis Tovey has called this work "a comedy of manners". In fact, Symphony # 1 may simply be a result of Beethoven's experimentation: it consists of a sequence of dominant-tonic chord sequences in the wrong key, so that the listener only gradually realizes the real key of the symphony. There is a shortened recapitulation before the coda which closes the first movement. The andante (in F Major, the subdominant) of the second movement is played considerably faster than the general concept of that tempo, at what could be thought of as moderato. The third movement is remarkable because, although it is marked Menuetto, it is so fast that it is essentially a scherzo. The finale opens with another possible joke, consisting of partial scales played slowly before the full C-major scale marks the real start of the allegro.
^ Grove, George (1896). Beethoven and his Nine Symphonies. London: Novello and Company, Limited. pp. 2.
^ Morris, Edmund. Beethoven The Universal Composer. New York: HarperCollins, 2005, pp. 77-78.
^ Woodstra, Chris et al (2005) All music guide to classical music: the definitive guide to classical music