Symphony No. 8 (Beethoven)

de:8. Sinfonie (Beethoven) ja:交響曲第8番 (ベートーヴェン) Beethoven's Symphony no. 8 in F Major (Opus 93) is approximately 26 minutes in duration. Beethoven referred to it as "my little one."

The symphony is generally light-hearted, though not lightweight, and in many places is cheerfully loud, with many accented notes. Various passages in the symphony are heard by many listeners as musical jokes. 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.

The Eighth Symphony belongs to a class of works in Beethoven's output that have tended to attract less attention: not overtly heroic, nor expressive of impassioned or dark emotions, but (it would seem) meant simply to be musically delightful, as many of the works of Haydn and Mozart were. Some similar works in Beethoven's oeuvre include the three piano sonatas Op. 31 no. 3 (see below), Op. 54, and Op. 79--whose first movement resembles that of the Eighth Symphony.


Composition, premiere and reception

The work was composed during the summer and fall of 1812 when Beethoven was 42. 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. This dissonance has been cited as a good example of why it is not always wise to make close connections between a composer's life and music.

The premiere of the Eighth Symphony took place on February 27, 1814, at a concert at which the mighty Seventh Symphony (which had been premiered two months earlier) was also played. Beethoven was growing increasingly deaf at the time, but nevertheless led the premiere. According to [1] (, "reports indicate that the orchestra largely ignored his ungainly gestures and followed the principal violinist instead."

Critics immediately noted that the Eighth did not reach the heights of its predecessor, launching a long tradition of complaining that Eighth Symphony is not something different (more heroic, more emotive) from what it is. However, many listeners seem to be able to enjoy the symphony anyway, and it appears frequently today on concert programs as well as on recordings.


The Eighth Symphony is written for a Classical orchestra consisting of 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, timpani, and the usual string section of first and second violins, violas, cellos, and double basses.

Unusually among Beethoven's works, the Eighth Symphony bears no dedication.

The Movements

The symphony is in four movements:

Allegro vivace e con brio

This movement is in the home key of F major and is in fast 3/4 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, 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), an unusual dynamic for Beethoven.

The opening theme is in three sections of four bars each, with the pattern forte-piano-forte. At the onset of the recapitulation, the theme is made more emphatic by omitting the middle four bars.

Allegretto scherzando

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. It is worth remembering that unlike today, people in Beethoven's time had little access to machine-generated musical rhythm, and mostly knew only the nuanced rhythms produced by musicians (see link below). Thus the perfectly even, monotonous sound of the metronome may well have struck them as particularly ridiculous and amusing. Machine-created rhythm had already been parodied by Haydn in his "Clock" Symphony; Beethoven pursued the same impulse for the faster rhythm of the new metronome.

The metronome 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".

The key is B flat 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 flat for the recapitulation.

The second subject includes a motif of very rapid 64th notes (hemidemisemiquavers), 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.

Tempo di Menuetto

A nostalgic invocation of the old minuet, obsolete by the time this symphony was composed. (A similar nostalgic minuet appears in the Piano Sonata Opus 31 no. 3, from 1802). The style of Beethoven's minuet is not particularly close to its 18th century models, as 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.

Allegro vivace

This is the most substantial movement, in very fast tempo. It is written in a version of sonata rondo form in which the opening material reappears in three places: the start of the development section, the start of the recapitulation, and about halfway through the coda.

The fourth movement imitates the first in that 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.

The coda section is felt by many listeners to be extraordinary, being one of the most substantial and elaborate codas in all of the Classical era. Because the opening material returns in the middle of this coda, it can be interpreted loosely as a second development and recapitulation section. Thus, if ordinary sonata form is conceived as "ABA" (exposition, development, recapitulation), then the finale of the Eighth Symphony could be interpreted as "ABABA". This extension perhaps arises from the same impulse that led Beethoven to write scherzi in ABABA form (scherzo/trio/scherzo/trio/scherzo) in the Sixth and Seventh Symphonies.

The coda has two particularly striking events. The harmonically out-of-place loud C# that interrupts the main theme in the exposition and recapitulation finally gets an "explanation": it turns out to be the root of the dominant chord of the remote key of F# minor, and the main theme is loudly played in this key. 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.

The symphony ends in good humor on a very long passage of loud tonic harmony.


The following books were used as references in preparing this article:

  • Extensive discussion of the symphony is offered in Antony Hopkins's book The Nine Symphonies of Beethoven (1982, Pan Macmillian, ISBN 0330266705).
  • Charles Rosen provides extensive discussion of the fourth movement, particularly its coda, in his book Sonata Forms (revised edition 1988; New York: Norton. ISBN 0393302199).

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