Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4: Reconsidering the ‘slender Grecian maiden’

Photo: Beethoven Symphony 4 slide

The Beethoven 9 as we explore the world of Beethoven through the lens of his symphonies with renowned classical biographer Jan Swafford.

Each month is dedicated to a different symphony. Each week you’ll hear a different interpretation from a world-class orchestra.

In April, we look at Symphony No. 4.

Few listeners can easily recall the melodies from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4.

It’s not for lack of energy, invention or beauty. It still impresses and inspires.

In fact, had it been the only symphony Beethoven composed, it would have still put him in the history books.

Robert Schumann called the Fourth “the slender Grecian maiden between two Nordic giants,” referencing the enormous and high-octane Third and Fifth symphonies that surround it.

Approach this gentler work on its own, though, and you get every side of Beethoven’s expressiveness.

Jan Swafford, my co-host for Beethoven 9@9 and author of "Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph," told me it ought to be better known:

“It’s an absolutely wonderful, delightful piece that in its own way is as original as anything he did… … (It’s) the most consistent of all the symphonies from beginning to end. It doesn’t have a weak movement. And that may have had something to do with the fact that he wrote it in one breath -- in a couple, three weeks. It was amazingly fast.”

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