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Why Is Beethoven's Allegretto So Completely Captivating?

The second movement of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7—the Allegretto—has captivated listeners since the symphony’s 1813 premiere, when it was so popular that the orchestra used it as an encore. WRTI’s Susan Lewis has more on why this particular movement continues to engage us.

The famous Beethoven “Allegretto” from his Symphony No. 7:

Listen to conductor Stephane Deneve talk about Beethoven's Seventh Symphony, the stories people have used to describe it, and what makes its second movement in particular so magnetic.

Radio script: 

MUSIC: Beethoven, Symphony No. 7, Movement 2.

Susan Lewis: The Allegretto has been performed on its own, used in The King’s Speech and other films, and inspired composers from Schubert to jazz pianist Jacques Loussier. 

MUSIC: Jazz pianist Jacques Loussier, Variation 1 on Beethoven's Allegretto.

SL: What is it about the second movement of Beethoven’s 7th symphony that draws us in?

Stéphane Denève: It starts by the way within a minor chord, and then suddenly what you hear is not the theme, but the counter theme... you hear [sings].

MUSIC: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7, Movement 2.

SD: Then, finally, when the theme arrives, it’s fabulous because it has this element of nostalgia. You have the feeling you have direct access to the heart of Beethoven.

SL: There’s also that rhythm. 

SD: There is something subliminal that makes this rhythm we hear all the time... [sings] symbolize the full life.

SL: What is it about the Allegretto?  Melody, motion, and maybe a little mystery—all part of the genius of Beethoven.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.