In the towering shadow of the “Eroica”, the novelties and idiosyncrasies of the Second Symphony seem insignificant – because we are looking down the wrong end of the telescope. In reality, the stride Beethoven took from his First to his Second is vast – not only in the expanded dimensions of the whole work but equally in the enhanced assurance with which he fills these dimensions. The very introduction to the Second sets a new, dignified tone, fanning out in ornamental figurations rudely interrupted by an intrusive D minor chord and allowed to proceed only under strict metrical control; the surviving trills lead directly to the inconspicuous little turn that primly opens the first Allegro in the basses – at once the movement’s motivic germ and its driving force. Midway through the Scherzo we encounter it again, here leading back to the main theme, a temperamental patchwork in pitch and volume. The heart of the symphony is the cheerfully tuneful, subtly orchestrated Larghetto, a heartfelt, intimate dialogue between strings and wind whose lyrical themes are varied and enriched with captivating adornments and delicate changes of timbre – prefiguring an Andante by Schubert. The finale, virtuosic and perceived by Beethoven’s contemporaries as bizarre and peculiar, plays games with the three motifs of its burlesque main theme, juggles them and shuffles them together – a telling last word in buffo style.
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