Symphony No. 8 (Beethoven)

The Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93 is a symphony in four movements composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1812. Beethoven fondly referred to it as "my little Symphony in F," distinguishing it from his Sixth Symphony, a longer work also in F.[1]

Symphony in F major
No. 8
by Ludwig van Beethoven
Beethoven Mähler 1815.jpg
Portrait of the composer by Joseph Willibrord Mähler in 1815, a year after the premiere of the symphony
CatalogueOp. 93
Composed1812 (1812): Teplice
Performed27 February 1814 (1814-02-27): Vienna

The Eighth Symphony is generally light-hearted, though not lightweight, and in many places cheerfully loud, with many accented notes. Various passages in the symphony are heard by some listeners to be musical jokes.[2] As with various other Beethoven works such as the Opus 27 piano sonatas, the symphony deviates from Classical tradition in making the last movement the weightiest of the four.

Composition, premiere and receptionEdit

The work was begun in the summer of 1812, immediately after the completion of the Seventh Symphony.[3] At the time Beethoven was 41 years old. As Antony Hopkins has noted, the cheerful mood of the work betrays nothing of the grossly unpleasant events that were taking place in Beethoven's life at the time, which involved his interference in his brother Johann's love life.[3] The work took Beethoven only four months to complete,[3] and is, unlike many of his works, without dedication.

The premiere took place on 27 February 1814, at a concert in the Redoutensaal, Vienna, at which the Seventh Symphony (which had been premiered two months earlier) was also played.[4] Beethoven was growing increasingly deaf at the time, but nevertheless led the premiere. Reportedly, "the orchestra largely ignored his ungainly gestures and followed the principal violinist instead."[5]

When asked by his pupil Carl Czerny why the Eighth was less popular than the Seventh, Beethoven is said to have replied, "because the Eighth is so much better."[6] A critic wrote that "the applause it received was not accompanied by that enthusiasm which distinguishes a work which gives universal delight; in short—as the Italians say—it did not create a furor." Beethoven was angered at this reception.[7] George Bernard Shaw, in his capacity as a music critic, agreed with Beethoven's assessment of the work, writing that "In all subtler respects the Eighth is better [than the Seventh]."[8] More recently, Jan Swafford has described the Eighth as "a beautiful, brief, ironic look backward to Haydn and Mozart."[9] Martin Geck has commented on the authenticity of the Eighth, noting that it contains "all the relevant hallmarks, including motivic and thematic writing notable for its advanced planning, defiant counterpoint, furious cross-rhythms, sudden shifts from piano to forte, and idyllic and even hymnlike episodes."[10] But other critics have been divided in their judgement.


  1. Allegro vivace e con brio (F major)
  2. Allegretto scherzando (B major)
  3. Tempo di menuetto (F major)
  4. Allegro vivace (F major)

The symphony is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in F (in B basso for the second movement), 2 trumpets in F, timpani, and strings.

It is approximately 26 minutes in duration.

First movementEdit

This movement is in the home key of F major and is in fast 3
time. As with most of Beethoven's first movements of this period, it is written in sonata form, including a fairly substantial coda. As Antony Hopkins has noted,[11] the movement is slightly unusual among Beethoven's works in that it reaches its dramatic climax not during the development section, but at the onset of the recapitulation. To this end, the concluding bars of the development form a huge crescendo, and the return of the opening bars is marked fff (fortississimo, i.e. extremely loud), which rarely appears in Beethoven's works, but has precedents in the 6th and 7th Symphonies. This extravagance is balanced, however, by the quiet closing measures of the movement.

The opening theme is in three sections of four bars each, with the pattern fortepianoforte. At the onset of the recapitulation, the theme is made more emphatic by omitting the middle four bars.[11]

Second movementEdit

There is a widespread belief that this movement is an affectionate parody of the metronome, which had only recently been invented (or more accurately, merely improved) by Beethoven's friend, Johann Maelzel. Specifically the belief was that the movement was based on a canon called "Ta ta ta... Lieber Maelzel," WoO 162, said to have been improvised at a dinner party in Maelzel's honor in 1812. However, there is no evidence corroborating this story and it is likely that WoO 162 was not written by Beethoven but was constructed after-the-fact by Anton Schindler.[12] A more likely inspiration was the similar rhythmic parody of Joseph Haydn's "Clock" Symphony.[12]

The metronome-like parody starts at the very beginning of the movement with even staccato chords in 16th-notes (semiquavers) played by the wind instruments, and a basic 16th-note rhythm continues fairly steadily through the piece. The tempo is unusually fast for a symphonic "slow movement." Richard Wagner has argued that the third movement was intended as the slow movement of this symphony and that the second should be played as a scherzo.[citation needed]

The key is B major, the subdominant of F, and the organization is what Charles Rosen has called "slow movement sonata form"; that is, at the end of the exposition there is no development section, but only a simple modulation back to B for the recapitulation; this also may be described as sonatina form.[citation needed]

The second subject includes a motif of very rapid sixty-fourth notes, suggesting perhaps a rapidly unwinding spring in a not-quite-perfected metronome. This motif is played by the whole orchestra at the end of the coda.

Third movementEdit


A nostalgic invocation of the old minuet, obsolete by the time when this symphony was composed. (A similar nostalgic minuet appears in the Piano Sonata Opus 31 no. 3, composed in 1802). The style of Beethoven's minuet is not particularly close to its 18th-century models, as it retains a rather coarse, thumping rhythm. Thus, for example, after the initial upbeat Beethoven places the dynamic indication sforzando (sf ) on each of the next five beats. This makes the minuet stylistically close to the other movements of the symphony, which likewise rely often on good-humored, thumping accents.

Like most minuets, this one is written in ternary form, with a contrasting trio section containing prized solos for horns and clarinet. The clarinet solo is of significant importance in that it was the first major example of a solo clarinet playing a written G6.[citation needed] Igor Stravinsky praised the "incomparable instrumental thought" shown in Beethoven's orchestration of the trio section.[13]

Beethoven Symphony 8, 3rd movement (trio) bars 45–52

Fourth movementEdit

This is the most substantial movement, in sonata rondo form that proceeds at a very fast tempo.[14] (The metronome marking supplied by Beethoven himself is whole note = 84.) This is the first symphonic movement in which the timpani are tuned in octaves, foreshadowing the similar octave-F tuning in the scherzo of the Ninth Symphony.[15] Antony Hopkins quotes the entire opening theme of the finale "in order to emphasize the outrageous impropriety of the last roaring C-sharp":

Finale bars 1–17
Finale bars 1–17

"All that precedes it is so delicate in texture, so nimble and light-footed."[16] Donald Tovey cites the abrupt intrusion of the C-sharp as an example of Beethoven's "long-distance harmonic effects".[17] This "rogue" note is eventually revealed as having an architectural function in the structure of the movement as a whole. The opening material reappears three times: at the start of the development section, the start of the recapitulation, and about halfway through the coda. As in the first movement, the move to the second subject first adopts the "wrong" key, then moves to the normal key (exposition: dominant, recapitulation: tonic) after a few measures.[15]

The coda, one of the most substantial and elaborate in all of Beethoven's works,[18] contains two particularly striking events. The loud and startling C from the opening finally gets an "explanation": "and now it appears that Beethoven has held that note in reserve, wherewith to batter at the door of some immensely distant key. Out bursts the theme then, in F sharp minor."[19]

Finale bars 370–381
Finale bars 370–381

A few measures later, there is a stunning modulation in which this key is "hammered down" by a semitone, arriving instantaneously at the home key of F major.[20]

Beethoven Symphony 8 finale bars 386–394
Beethoven Symphony 8 finale bars 386–394

The symphony ends in good humor on a very long passage of loud tonic harmony. Tchaikovsky called this movement "One of the greatest symphonic masterpieces of Beethoven."[21]


  1. ^ "Beethoven's Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93".
  2. ^ Some instances given by Hopkins 1981, pp. 224, 232, 233–234, 236–237 are: 1st mvt. bars 36–37 (bassoon mimicry), the "breaking of the metronome" passage at end of the second movement, the shift of the minuet into 2
    time, and the hesitancy in the last movement about whether the exposition will be repeated or not.
  3. ^ a b c Hopkins 1981, p. 221
  4. ^ Rodney Corkin (2010). "Symphony No.8 in F major, op.93". Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  5. ^ "Welcome to Carnegie Hall (program notes)". Carnegie Hall. 2006. Archived from the original on 29 September 2007.
  6. ^ Steinberg, Michael. "The Symphony: a listeners guide". pp. 44–47. Oxford University Press, 1995.
  7. ^ Solomon, Maynard. Beethoven. p. 214. Schirmer Books, 1977
  8. ^ Shaw, George Bernard. The Great Composers: Reviews and Bombardments. p. 107. California University Press, 1978.
  9. ^ Swafford, Jan (2014). Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph: A Biography. Boston. p. 624. ISBN 978-0-618-05474-9. OCLC 881386554.
  10. ^ Geck, Martin (2017). Beethoven's Symphonies: Nine Approaches to Art and Ideas. Translated by Spencer, Stewart. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-45388-0. OCLC 958779834.
  11. ^ a b Hopkins 1981, p. 222
  12. ^ a b Brown, A. Peter, The Symphonic Repertoire (Volume 2). Indiana University Press (ISBN 0-253-33487-X), pp. 517 (2002).
  13. ^ Stravinsky, I. and Craft, R., Stravinsky in Conversation, London, Faber, 1959.
  14. ^ Hopkins 1981, p. 234 notes that the music is "marked allegro vivace but usually played presto".
  15. ^ a b Hopkins 1981, p. 236
  16. ^ Hopkins 1981, p. 235.
  17. ^ Tovey, D. F. (1944). Beethoven. Oxford University Press. p. 52.
  18. ^ Extensive discussion of the coda is given in Rosen 1988. Hopkins 1981, p. 238 calls it "magnificent" and suggests it is too substantial to be referred to by the term "coda".
  19. ^ Tovey, D. F. (1935). Essays in Musical Analysis. 1 Symphonies. Oxford University Press. p. 67.
  20. ^ Hopkins 1981, p. 240.
  21. ^ "The Eighth Symphony Concert. The Italian Opera".


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