Peers expected Beethoven’s works to portray ideas and heroes, to set to music the struggle of light and darkness, the clashes and passions of his protagonists. Composed in 1806, the Fourth (B-flat major, op. 60) conforms least to our image of Beethoven. While it has the makings of an instant success – wittiness, proportion, respect for the traditions of the genre – the audiences expected Beethoven to be more of a rebel and slap the predecessors in the face.
The gloomy introduction of the first movement foreshadows tragedy; however, the main theme explodes in with joyful vigour and the movement proceeds to introduce light, pastoral music.
The second movement is reminiscent of a slow stylised march in which the typical dotted rhythms of the tympani in the background assume a crucial role. They are counterpointed by the broad, melodious sounds in the violins, clarinets and oboes.
The third movement is a classical scherzo brimming with rhythmic play. The traditional three-part trio form is expanded to five parts through repetition of the trio and the main part.
The fourth movement has most in common with the world of Haydn, still alive at the time. The young Beethoven was, perhaps, out to show off his gift in wild and cheerful music-making, like the great maestro in his symphony finales. (László Gombos)