Stopping the Show: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7

Stopping the Show: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7

If there had been a Billboard Hot 100 Chart in Beethoven’s day, his Seventh Symphony certainly would have been at the top. At its premiere, the work was so well received that it literally stopped the show.

More than 200 years later, it remains one of his most popular achievements. As the world celebrates the 249th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth this month, the Houston Symphony looks forward to a performance of his remarkable Seventh on January 30 and February 1 & 2. Read on for more on this beloved masterpiece, plus a preview of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy, onstage in May 2020.

Background and Premiere

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 premiered at an 1813 charity concert for soldiers wounded in the Napoleonic Wars. The performance featured a patriotic and now rarely played piece called Wellington’s Victory. The soldiers surely must have taken to the Seventh Symphony’s overarching spirit of bubbling energy and lively, rhythmic verve (a quality Richard Wagner admiringly deemed “the apotheosis of dance”), but it was the Symphony’s haunting second movement that really struck a chord. So enthusiastic was the response that the orchestra, with Beethoven himself conducting, was forced to stop mid-symphony and replay the entire movement from start to finish. All in all, the symphony was an instant hit and a resounding success for its composer. It was repeated three times in the weeks following its premiere.

Beethoven 7 In Popular Culture

The music which so captivated the soldiers at the premiere performance is equally enthralling today—and not just in the concert hall. The Seventh Symphony has shown up everywhere from Seinfeld and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos Series to Hollywood cinema, most notably underscoring the climactic scene in the 2010 Academy Award–winning film The King’s Speech.

Shades of Joy: Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy

Before there was Beethoven’s Ninth and its all-embracing “Ode to Joy,” there was the Choral Fantasy, a piece for solo piano and orchestra with an uplifting choral finale that laid the groundwork for the history-changing symphony to come. With its timeless message of the power of music to bring “outer peace and inner bliss,” the Choral Fantasy offers an uplifting and inspiring close to the Houston Symphony’s 2019–20 Classical season on May 15 & 17.

Katy Judd

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