I. Adagio molto – Allegro con brio II. Larghetto III. Scherzo. Allegro IV. Finale. Allegro molto
Beethoven composed his Symphony no. 2 in 1801-1802. It was premiered at the Theater an der Wien on April 5th 1803 at Beethoven’s second major “composer’s evening.”. Beethoven himself conducted. “Everywhere, we see the second symphony linked to the famous Heiligenstad Testament completed on October 6th 1802, that documention of an outburst of personal despair. And yet the music of the symphony is diametrically opposed to every kind of desperation: it is characterised by youthful fiery power and life affirming energy. How can we explain this contradiction? Is it possible that it was the same Beethoven who composed the Second Symphony and yet in October 1802, was on the brink of suicide as he put his desperate thoughts down on paper?” The question was framed by Dénes Bartha. He was not satisfied with the explanation that the Second Symphony is a kind of heroic lie, a denial of the testament in which Beethoven overcomes the depression caused by his deafness through a desperate effort. In the opinion of Bartha, Beethoven does not undertake the heroic triumph over the demons of illness in the Symphony no. 2 but in the next work, the Eroica.
The Second Symphony is a giant step forward. By contrast with the First Symphony, Beethoven is bold and experimental, he again launches the first movement with a slow introduction but by contrast with the earlier work, this Adagio is much more significant and weighty. Among the themes expounded is a characteristic one in the minor which foreshadows the opening movement of the Ninth Symphony. This thematic idea crops up several times in the principal section of the movement: Beethoven creates the closing theme of the exposition from it in such a way as to link with the principal theme; besides this it also plays an important role in the development. The concentration and dimensions of the movement anticipate the world of the Eroica.
The slow movement, marked Larghetto, presents one of the longest and most poetic of Beethoven’s melodies and is prodigal in its supply of material. “My first works were not printed for some time after I wrote them; when I looked at my first manuscripts a few years later, I asked myself if I wasn’t perhaps mad, having boiled down so much into a single work which would have been sufficient for 20 different pieces.“
The Third Movement is one of the most daring works Beethoven wrote in this period. Its importance is multiplied because it is the first such work he labels as a scherzo. The finale was the least traditional and for his contemporaries, the hardest to grasp of all the movements. According to a journalist at the time “the entire symphony is like a wounded convulsing dragon which does not want to die and in the finale, in its final throes, lashes out madly with its tail.“