There's honestly not a great deal I can say about this work that hasn't been said before and better. It's one of the towering masterworks of all of music, and likely of all human art. The Seventh is that extraordinary. In this work you encounter the type of perfection that makes you marvel the notion that it emerged from a human mind at all.
Setting aside all that, Beethoven here crafts a work that seems to contain nearly every human emotion in its pages, with the gorgeous meditation that opens the work, the profound depth of the second movement, and the last two movements that abound in dance rhythms. Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is one of those works of art to which I turn when I am feeling generally down about the human race. We have the capacity to do this, why not better?
My very favorite passage comes early in the first movement (3:30 in the first movement), and may well be the single finest transitional passage in all of classical music. The orchestra seems, just for a second or two, to be bogging down in bar after bar of dueling scales, when they all seem to get stuck on the same note, handing it back an forth between the flutes and the violins. A rhythm haltingly emerges...and then takes over as Beethoven slides into a melody of pure delight.
And amazing, he does it again, this time letting that same rhythm come boiling up and out of the orchestra's depths (start at 7:30). Beethoven is so good at building up to something, isn't he? You can always feel his energy gathering. There's no mistaking with him, none at all, that something is coming.
Here's the Seventh.
Is the Seventh Beethoven's greatest symphony? Now that's an interesting question. I discussed this once with someone on a Usenet group, and the case in the Seventh's favor is extremely compelling. Next week, we'll wrap up Beethoven with the other contender to the title of Greatest Beethoven Symphony.