The nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827) represent an unquestionable landmark in the evolution of this genre. While Beethoven’s predecessors Haydn and Mozart established the formal structure of the symphony, Beethoven followed from the inherited principle in each symphony, working it out in an individual way. The symphony finally became a complete work in terms of musical ideas; the significance of the sonata movement in the development increased as a result of the thematic work, and each symphony acquired an individual character. Beethoven began composing Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92, in October 1811; from April 1812 he worked on its full score. At the same time he began composing his Eighth Symphony, which he finished as early as October of the same year. He realized that the loss of his hearing was inevitable, and coped with this fact by hectic creativity. The circumstances of Beethoven’s private life during these two years are one of the greatest mysteries, not fully explained up to this day. In the summer months of 1812, Beethoven, suffering from rheumatic problems, went to West Bohemian spa towns. On his way there he stopped in Prague and from the beginning of July to the beginning of October he stayed in Teplice (Teplitz), Karlovy Vary (Carlsbad) and Františkovy Lázně (Franzensbad). He took the symphony in progress with him. The town of Karlovy Vary is connected with Beethoven’s letter to “the Immortal Beloved”; his memorable meeting with Johann Wolfgang Goethe took place in Teplice. Count Kinský, one of Beethoven’s patrons, died in an accident in November 1812, which together with the depreciation of the currency as a result of the Napoleonic Wars made Beethoven feel that he was now just a “poor Austrian musician”. Beethoven’s conflict with his brother Johann who, according to Beethoven, lived with a woman of questionable morals, and the illness of his other brother Karl were another of the many worries that plagued the composer. At the same time, both the Seventh and the Eighth are cheerful works, as if unaffected by external influences.
The Seventh Symphony was first performed in private in April 1813 in the residence of the Archduke Rudolf; the concert was prepared by Beethoven’s friend Mikuláš Zmeškal (Nikolaus Zmeskáll), a native of Leštiny (present-day Slovakia), and Antonín Vranický (Anton Wranitzky), a bandmaster at the court of Prince Lobkowicz. The work premiered on 8 December 1813 at a charity concert in the hall of the Vienna University together with Wellington’s Victory, or the Battle of Vittoria, Op. 91. This impressive piece of martial music was composed to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat in June the same year. The concert included musicians such as Louis Spohr, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, Giacomo Meyerbeer, Ignaz Moscheles and Antonio Salieri. It was organized by the inventor of music automatons, Johann Nepomuk Maelzel, who made hearing aids (ear trumpet) for Beethoven. The battle piece was received with much more enthusiasm than the Seventh Symphony. The successful concert was repeated on 12 December 1813, and immediately after the arrival of the New Year, Beethoven gave a benefit with the same program on 2 January 1814 in the Redoutensaal in Vienna. In the following season, on 29 November 1814, both compositions were performed together with the premiere of another piece of incidental music written by Beethoven for the opening of the Congress of Vienna, Der glorreiche Augenblick (The Glorious Moment). It was such a success that the whole program had to be reprised on 2 and 25 December, and according to Beethoven’s secretary and biographer, Anton Schindler, these were “the proudest days in Beethoven’s existence”. Beethoven dedicated the Seventh Symphony to Count Moritz von Fries, an industrialist and banker, who was a prominent collector and patron of the arts. However, his passion and eccentric life led to his bankruptcy, and Fries’s rise and fall even served as inspiration for Ferdinand Raimund’s play Der Verschwender’ (The Spendthrift). The popularity of the Seventh Symphony grew after its publication in 1816. Beethoven took advantage of the fame of this composition and reworked it for piano two and four hands, i.e., for two pianos; he dedicated these arrangements to the Empress Elizaveta (Elizabeth) Alexeyevna of Russia, born Princess Luise von Baden.
In Seventh Symphony, there is the pathos of the Fifth and the elemental joy of the Sixth. In the first movement we find both positions in a slow introduction and in the entrance of the main theme, whose syncopated rhythm gives rise to the following idea. The double variations of the second movement are a masterful sample of Beethoven’s thematic work; the trio in three sections features a melody of a pilgrim’s song common in Lower Austria. Richard Wagner called the symphony an “apotheosis of the dance” probably primarily because of the elementary fury of its finale.