“Proust once said that every artist has a particular tune (chanson) that can be found in every work: a special cadence, theme, obsession or characteristic key absolutely the artist’s own… In Beethoven’s case, it is an immediately recognizable tension between simple melody and insistent, sometimes explosive developmental sequences, a tension whose result is the almost visible realization of a conventional form (sonata, symphony, quartet).
Beethoven sets the form, as a dramatist sets a play — on a stage, before the audience and for a concrete span of time. So powerful and so focused was Beethoven’s attention to his musical goals that great units, such as the thirty-two piano sonatas, nine symphonies, sixteen quartets and five piano concertos, emerge from his career with rock-like integrity, as wholes anchored in the secular and human elements, and attractive for that reason. Even at his most sublime, however, he rarely resists interrupting an elevated moment with some jarring sforzando recollection of a vulgar reality, ‘the uncontrollable mystery on the bestial floor.’
Not surprisingly, the last movement of his last symphony opens with a parade of themes from earlier movements, each of which is greeted with loud protests in the cellos and basses, a routine repeated when the baritone soloist enters. There are other examples: the repeated C sharp minor interruptions in the last movement of the Eighth Symphony; the discordant, asymmetrical and offbeat punctuations of the first movement development of the Eroica Symphony; or, to take an instance from Beethoven’s life as a virtuoso, his sudden blow to the piano keys succeeded by raucous laughter, in order to break the audience’s tearful and rapt admiration of an improvisation. All of these moments form part of a drama of fused wholes whose elements are humble and whose artistic ethic is inclusive, not programmatically homogenizing.”
Edward Said, “The Vienna Philharmonic: The Complete Beethoven Symphonies and Concertos” (The Nation, 9. May 1987.)