BEETHOVEN 200 YEARS AGO TODAY: Thursday, November 22, 1821

The third Concert spirituel of the season is held at 4 PM today in Vienna. On the program is Beethoven’s first symphony, as well as a Mass, Gradual and Offertory for two choirs and four soloists and orchestra by Joseph Leopold Eybler (1765-1846). Eybler was at this time deputy kapellmeister for the Emperor. Eybler conducted his Mass himself.

The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung #101 of December 19, 1821 contains a review of the concert at 800-801. The anonymous reviewer wrote glowingly of the Beethoven symphony, “This beautiful masterpiece by Beethoven (in C) plays, in the true sense of the word, with the loveliest and at the same time most wonderful forms. The notes come in whole rows, and now solo, floating in front of the Soul to look for a fight, and they resist in a mighty struggle to bring unity. B. approaches it in an extremely delicate way, especially in the winds as he shows over and over again how he refreshes the whole picture. How often have we already heard and admired the graceful and yet so artistic Andante in F. Through an interesting interweaving of the melodies, as well as through striking and yet well-defined harmonies, it most beneficially distinguishes itself – and once again you always enjoy the beautiful sound picture!

“The extremely lively minuet is made possible by the quite unexpected shift in the bass that always tenderly drags along the leading violas. The wonderfully lovely Trio is crowned by the two beautifully contrasted orchestral sections. In the pompous Finale, Beethoven’s imagination flows with power through everyone again, and pours out tremendously into the heart of the listener. This beautiful symphony, which is probably familiar to every friend of the art of music from frequent listening over the years, as well as by the joyful enjoyment of memory, was well performed by the enthusiastic orchestra, with great precision and expression.”

The Concerts spirituels have certainly come a long ways from their first performance, when they were described in Beethoven’s conversation books as the work of unrehearsed dilettantes!

Beethoven’s first symphony is here performed on period instruments by the Hanover Band: