Among Beethoven’s nine symphonies—long established as the core of the orchestral repertory—some tend to get a bit lost among more famous siblings. A listener unaware of their actual chronology might find the order rather surprising: The more famous odd-numbered symphonies alternate with more Classical ones. The Eighth, which opens the concert tonight, is Beethoven’s shortest and looks back to Haydn, his teacher. It is a delightful work brimming with witty touches. Schumann remarked that the Fourth Symphony was like a “slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants,” the heroic Third and the monumental Fifth.
Beethoven premiered his Seventh Symphony in 1813 at the height of his popular fame and success. By then, he was generally recognized as Europe’s greatest composer. In this work, unveiled as victory in the Napoleonic wars was close at hand, he brilliantly captured the celebratory spirit of the time. During Beethoven’s life, it was his most successful symphony, especially the miraculous second movement that one critic called “the crown of instrumental music.”