Beethoven: VIII. symphony, opus 92


This symphony is said to be “saluting before Haydn”, however, most of the time it is simply called “chamber-symphony”. Its first performance was in 1814, on the 27th of February, and it was rather unsuccessful, to which Beethoven commented: “People will like it one day”.


Beethoven composed this symphony in 1812, hardly in the course of half a year. This symphony does not carry big thoughts, only summons the moments of joy and serenity; it wishes to entertain, naturally on a classical level. What characterizes this symphony, what should we pay attention to?


Ø It has an extremely potent (irresistible) effect

Ø Its basic tone is cheerful, humoristic, yet lively

Ø It is rich in contrasts, and it is characterized by exceptionally excellent orchestration


After this short appreciation, let us continue with the analysis. There is no need for explanations or literary quotations to understand this symphony. In this symphony we should not look for elevated poetic content or dramatic tone, as it is not our aim this time. We only have to pay attention to the melody, the rhythm, the dynamics and tones, and to the shifts and repetitions etc. – to the music itself.


Analysis of the I. movement


Movement form: sonata form.

Tempo designation and time signature: allegro vivace e con brio, 3/4


I. Exposition


The first, the second, and the third, the closing theme is introduced.

The first theme consists of two sections.

The first section has a resolute tone, it is played on the whole orchestra. It is a  vigorous theme in forte volume. This melody sounds the most often in the elaboration.

The second section has a less resolute tone, it sounds on aerophones, in piano. The melody emanates serenity and joy; there is a general pause /Gp/ between the theme’s two melodies.


This is followed by "rumbling" motivic material with gradually increasing power for a longer period, but the development of the first theme is missing.

After an orchestral pause and a short transition sounds the second theme, which is immediately repeated.


Another transition section follows.

The third, closing theme – just like the first theme – consists of two contrary parts: the first part is really energetic – its three-note motif sounds four times; the second part is a softer, slightly elegiac.

The closing theme is immediately repeated once it ends. Let us observe how the transition's music becomes more and more similar to the closing theme's melody, rhythm and dynamics.


After another transition the octave-motif's repetitions follow /octave/; it always sounds four times. The role of the octave-motif is similar to that of the transition's musical material; it divides and unites the musical parts at the same time.


All music that follows, the elaboration, the reexposition and the coda is built up and arranged from this three musical themes. This musical structure precisely corresponds to the rules of the sonata form. Let us compare what has been told so far with the flow! It can be mentioned as a curiosity, that although the movement has waltz time, we don't feel the usual waltz rhythm.


II. Elaboration


It can be divided into two developmental sections:


a/ In the first section we first hear the octave-motif in piano, than the beginning of the first theme; this is only six notes /this is the head of the theme/, and we hear it four times, which is concluded with a rumbling orchestral chord.

The musical structure is as follows: octave-motif, beginning of the first theme, orchestral forte – repeated twice –, which is concluded again with the octave-motif.


b/ In the second section of the elaboration the beginning of the first theme is further developed. It is repeated several times, then it gradually shortens down to a few notes; this is repeated many times, then it melts into one note on the orchestra. This is theme-thinning. Meanwhile the dynamics become more powerful, dissonance (the absence of harmony, consonance) increases to an unbearable level, the resolution of which happens when the first theme returns, but this is already the beginning of the reexposition.


When we listen to the elaboration section, let us observe that the music follows on a single arch, the pillar of which is – at the beginning – the head of the theme, and later the motif consisting of a few notes.

An odd contrast: while the motif shortens, the gesture becomes more powerful. The fortes in the first section suggest a dramatic outburst – at the end of which we arrive to the musical event’s dissonant climax, to which the resolution is when the first theme sounds. Here the rule of formal analysis clearly succeeds.


III. Reexposition


This time the reexposition is the exact repetition of the exposition.


IV. The movement is concluded with the coda,


which begins with the octave-motif, then we can hear the beginning of the first theme followed by some motivic material. We hear the beginning of the first theme again, the dynamics gain strength,

then the orchestra stops at a hold.


After a transition we hear the closing theme twice, the orchestral chords shorten, then finally the movement ends with the evocation of the first half of the first theme.


For Beethoven the coda is just as important as any other major part of the movement. It summarizes all that he deems important in the movement. The coda is the condensed extract of the movement. To use a comparison: it is like the ending, conclusion of a rhetorical speech, where the speaker summarizes the essence of his message, which is called “the final impression of the speech” among professionals.




The symphony’s first movement – 9 minutes playtime – is built from the three themes, the three musical sentences introduced in the exposition. Several listennings are required to get to know the musical themes well, and to be able to follow the musical events; to realize, where we are within the musical structure.



Analysis of the II. movement


Tempo designation and time signature: Allegretto scherzando, 2/4, B-major

Musical form: sonata form without elaboration.


The root of the movement’s music is the “witty joke”. What does that mean in the language of music? Scherzo – it, music – a music piece cheerful in nature and lively in metre; a musical joke.


Before answering our question it is worthy to explore the definition of the words “joke”, “humor”, and “witty” found in the dictionary.


joke n. – something said or done to evoke laughter or amusement; a saying not to be taken seriously; a triviality


humor n. – the quality that makes something laughable or amusing; funniness

An example for the manifestation of a joke, humor:

What did the vengeful bee say? … “I’ll bee back!”


witty adj. – possessing or demonstrating wit in speech or writing; very clever and humorous /idea, joke etc./

An example for a witty line: They tell us to be happy with what we have. But that means I’d be even happier if I had even more of it.


In everyday common talk or in a conversation, a joke or a witty or humorous expression is but an unexpected turn of events, a sudden continuation in which we found delight and which makes us laugh; we rather smile at a witty answer.   


How is all of this expressed in music? It can be expressed through rhythm or through the play with motifs; on the other hand it can be expressed with unexpected and sudden dynamic shifts, or with interjections within the flow of the music etc..


The legend of the symbols that appear on the PowerPpoint pages:

©   - unexpected dynamic effect, “sunspot-eruption”

Bm  - appearance of the bass-motif

!     - dissonant chord in the flow of music

         These symbols mark the place of musical humor and musical jokes.


Returning to the movement: the whole movement’s humor is given by the play with the motifs. The use of motivic play certifies exceptional professional knowledge. It catches the listener’s attention how the two short motifs playfully change each other, and how the extraordinarily simple repetitions’ witty solutions shift. This simplicity possibly took a lot of effort from the master, because to create such grand music from such simple material surely requires an exceptional intellect.    


Everything that is music is present in its whole, perfect form in this movement; it is alone an unsurpassable masterpiece; it is charming, it emanates an idyllic mood. The orchestra’s peerless sound is characteristic of the whole movement.


What also belongs to the movement’s history: In the XIXth century, Johann Nepomuk Maelzel (1772-1838), German mechanic creates the so-called “metronome” (a clockwork with a pendulum, that produces regular, metrical ticks; in music it is used to set the tempo). Beethoven composed a short canon for the inventor, this is what creates the II. movement’s melody, while the rhythm imitates the ticking of the metronome on woodwind instruments.  


I. Exposition


The idiom is fluent, elegant; it immediately grabs the listener’s attention. After the first theme sounds it is repeated in variational form, then a short play of motifs follow with repetitions among the string instruments and the bass. 


The second theme has a jovial, friendly melody. The bass-figurations rumble in several times (we also hear these during the motivic play), then again motivic play follows.  


The third, or closing theme is repeated once.  


There is NO elaboration in the II. movement!


III. Reexposition


With the appearance of the first theme begins the reexposition. After it we hear the first theme’s variational development. The motivic play is shorter here! Then the repetition of the second and third theme is the same as in the exposition, after which a short coda concludes the movement.



Analysis of the III. movement


Tempo designation and time signature: Tempo di  Menuetto, ¾  /minuet/

Movement form: traditional triple division – A B A


It is not a real minuet, and that is also expressed by the tempo designation; Beethoven only recalls its mood. He avoids using the minuet in his symphonies, while it is frequent in Haydn’s and Mozart’s music.


A./ The first part of the movement, the minuet begins with introductory music, followed by the main theme, which is immediately repeated. Then, thew whole musical material heard so far is repeated.


Then one of the main theme’s motifs is sequentially developed, and after a short transition, the main theme sounds first on bassoon, then on violins, and finally on the whole orchestra; as a conclusion we hear the shrill signature-tune of the horn and the trumpet twice.

The beginning of the main theme follows, one of its motifs is repeated, then again the main theme sounds, which is again concluded by the shrill signature-tune. 



B./ Trio

The trio’s melody and musical material are real simple. It recalls a bygone mood, sounds on the horn, and is immediately repeated. Then the motifs of the trio’s melody are developed. Let us listen to the cello’s accompaniment that sounds in staccató! 



A./ After the trio the “A” part, namely the minuet’s musical material is repeated, but not completely. This can be seen when comparing the flow charts. The movement’s short conclusion is composed from the signature-tune’s musical material.


Observation: The II. and III. movement of the symphony that sounds between the first and fourth movement is called the “relaxing episode” in musical books, apparently because of their fluent, easy tone and nature.



Analysis of the IV. movement: Finale


Tempo designation and time signature: Allegro vivace, 2/2

Movement form: a mixture of sonata and rondo forms. Current analysis follows the sonata form.


This movement has sweeping dynamism; rich in contrasts and dynamic shofts, suggestive, just like the first movement. It is further characterized by motivic play and pattern-weaving, which is one of the principal characteristics of the classical style. Its mood is characterized by unbridled, unrestrained cheerfulness. (These are rare moments in Beethoven’s life!)


I. Exposition


The first theme, marked: 1, consists of two motifs:

-         The first is the so called „giggling-motif”, marked: km

-         The second: „answer-motif” in response to the first motif, marked: vm    

The theme first sounds in piano, then it is concluded, and finally repeated on whole orchestra in fortissimo.

Right after the repetitions of the so called “raging-motif” follows, marked: to-m-i. This motif is composed from the second part of the first theme.


This is followed by the second theme,  

which is repeated with richer orchestration.


Then the third closing theme follows (we took the sonata form as base!), which also can be divided into two sections:

-         The first part sounds on aerophones,

-         The second part on whole orchestra,  

The closing theme is concluded with a musical chord, and after a general pause the elaboration begins with the giggling-motif.


Now we are familiar with the whole musical material of the movement. In the following music – elaboration, reexposition – there is no new material. The exposition is not repeated.


II. Elaboration


In the elaboration part after a preparation of a few metres we hear the first theme, then a section of the answer-motif is repeated several times. The giggling motif starts again, but it does not end, rather it leads to the repetitions of the so called beating-motif. At the end of the repetitions – almost unnoticed – begins the first theme in piano, which is the beginning of the reexposition section.


III. Reexposition


The musical material known from the exposition is repeated.



IV. Coda /PowerPoint page #19/


The role of the coda is to conclude the movement, and to give a brief summary of the movement’s musical material. Beethoven put much more emphasis on the conclusion of the symphony than the contemporary composers; especially in this symphony. Due to the coda’s richness in musical details, the markings are a little more detailed than usual.


An interesting fact: the coda’s playtime is 3.36 minutes long, more than the exposition and the elaboration altogether, which is 2.28  minutes long.


1/ The coda’s first part begins with the beginning of the giggling-motif, followed by a new motif, its repetitions and energetic development, as if we were in another elaboration section instead of the coda.


After this the giggling-motif begins again, followed by the beating-motif. The first theme follows, which is concluded with five orchestral chords.

Afterwards, the giggling-motif is followed by the answer-motif’s elaboration-like development. A development section in the coda was also quite rare, not only in contemporary symphonic music, but also in the case of Beethoven’s music. Despite what has been said, the short development grabs our attention, and can be described with one word: wonderful.   

And another unexpected turn: the second theme sounds, which is shortly repeated then concluded.


2/ And it is still not over, because now comes the coda’s concluding part, which is significantly shorter.

After a general pause the horn begins the coda’s concluding part. The motivic material that follows is the beginning of the conclusion; at around the middle of this section Beethoven recalls the answer-motif’s beginning twice, after which the only things present are symphony concluding chords that tremble in fortissimo.


According to many the coda is way too long, however when we experience it, we will only be able to describe it with one word: grandiose. /grandiose/


Contemporary opinions about the symphony


On the occasion of the publication of its printed issue the Viennese Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung wrote a veritable praise of the symphony (issue of 17th  January, 1818). The twin newspaper in Leipzig similarly acknowledges the symphony in its review published the same year.

Furthermore it is the Leipzig musical newspaper that first highlights the symphony’s lively nature and humor appropriately. All those who noticed the piece’s cheerful tone in time could not avoid this masterpiece’s suggestive effect.

These people include Schumann, who wrote the following in December 1840, on occasion of the orchestral concerts in Leipzig:

“From among Beethoven’s symphonies this F-major symphony is the least played; even in Leipzig, where all Beethoven symphonies are popular, people are biased towards it, despite the fact that its depth of humor is peerless. Its powerful enhancement towards the end of the finale is unequalled even in Beethoven’s art and upon listening to the B-major Allegretto, the listener cannot do anything else then to remain silent and be absorbed in happiness..

The orchestra truly excelled; even the delicate trio – with its own consoling and melancholic horn melody – turned out to be perfectly beautiful.”

Dénes Bartha: Beethoven kilenc szimfóniája – p.241.


I n  w o r d s


It may seem that the VIII. symphony composed between the VII. and IX symphonies is less significant, but this is not true. It was possibly created on carefree days; however its artistic elaboration is of an extremely high standard, a real masterpiece. Happiness, serenity and musical humor is present in its content. It quickly spread across Europe and became popular. even today it is played in many concert halls all around the world.


The first movement can be described best with two: resolute and energetic. It is full of bold turns and sharp contrasts at the same. One of the Grotesque elements is the often sounding octave-motif.


The elaboration is a single, powerful increase towards a dynamic and dissonant climax. It is not the cheerful moments that emerge or increase, rather it is the main motif  that clashes with its own motif, which – besides serenity –, results in a music full of conflict, even if it’s not that dramatic. This is of course something unexpected.


The coda is significant in its playtime as well; it is a worthy top up of the movement – we witness another musical climax. It is a nice gesture in the movement’s conclusion, how Beethoven recalls the main theme’s initial motif in piano.


The second movement is the scherzo of scherzos. The use and application of motifs, as well as the motivic play is masterful; no attribute is exaggerated: it is peerless, unique, unsurpassable. Those who have never witnessed it before, can now truly understand what jest is in music.

What does a musical joke sound like? 

Let us observe


Ø how Beethoven passes the motiv between the violins and the bass

Ø how the dynamic shifts happen – in an unexpected and irregular way

Ø how forte “g r u m b l e s”

Ø how the motif of three bass notes intrude into the pianissimo

Ø how in the recall the main theme’s motif is split into quick thirty-second notes


The orchestration, the “musical robe” requires extra attention, as it is seductively wonderful. The music has “good sounding” and it is perfectly equaled throughout; it is further away from the too dissonant and bizarre attributes of the so called “Beethoven-tone”; from the “sunspot-eruptions”, which is used to describe Beethoven’s unexpected dynamics.

The movement’s “drastic conclusion” is another short and witty joke in the coda. The listener does not expect this, rather a lyrical ending.


According to experts, the third movement, as well as the II. movement are considered to be relaxing episodes between the I. and IV. movement. In this movement, in the first part we hear a melody reminiscent of a minuet dance in a moderate tempo. Beethoven banished the minuet from his symphonies, as he did not find dance itself to be worthy for his universal thoughts. If we accept that this symphony is a “salute before Haydn”, then recalling the mood of the minuet is highly appropriate; there is nothing else to it!


the melody of the Trio is simple, intimate, jovial in mood, but lifted to the level of classical music; it emanates a greater sense of tranquility than the melody of the minuet-theme from the first part of the movement. Let us think for a moment about Haydn’s symphonies, where the musical themes, thoughts can be enjoyed and listened to without any particular sense of shock.


The fourth movement has sweeping dynamism. Extreme contrasts characterize it both in dynamics, within the theme and in temperament.

The movement’s beginning is unusual: the main theme is a gliding violin-figuration in piano. (It cannot be called a melody!) At the end of the movement, in the coda, as a result of the great enhancement, the movement ends in maximal fortissimo.






grandiose it magnificent, wonderful; fascinating in proportions < back


grotesque it /grotta: cave/ – odd, peculiar, deformed; aesthetic quality: the type of humor in which the interweaving of the most extreme contrary elements result in a hilarious effect; e.g. connecting the motifs of majestic and inferior creates a grotesque effect < back


idill greek (eidüllion: „small image”) – a work of art or art piece that presents life or a part of life in a beautified form as simple and happy, without problems; it can be found in almost every period of arts; shows reality as ideal and joyful, which is contradictory in every age; music musical piece with no definite form that emanates a calm, peaceful mood < back


menuette, minuet fr – pair dance of French origin with three quarter metre and moderate tempo; in the XVIII. century it was the suite’s regular movement type; later it served as the concluding movement in symphonic and chamber music; Stamitz replaced the III. movement with it, Haydn sped its tempo up, while Beethoven formed it into a scherzo < back


oktave lat – the eight note on a scale /do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do/, its value is the same as of the keynote < back


staccato it – interrupted performance, each note sounds separately /it is not continuous/ < back