Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 36, is a symphony in four movements written by between 1801 and 1802. The work is dedicated to Karl Alois, Prince Lichnowsky.
Lichnowsky was one of the most significant aristocratic supporters of Beethoven. In an 1805 letter the composer called him "one of my most loyal friends and promoters of my art." In 1800, Lichnowsky gave Beethoven an annual allowance of 600 florins until such time as he found a regular appointment as a musician. The stipend continued until 1806, when a furious quarrel erupted between the two, terminating their friendship: Beethoven, staying at Lichnowsky's country estate, had refused to play for visiting French officers. Later, arriving home in Vienna, Beethoven smashed a bust of the Prince. Seven of Beethoven's musical compositions, all before 1806, were dedicated to Lichnowsky.
He also lent Mozart money, which Mozart was unable to repay. The Prince sued Mozart, a few weeks before Mozart died, the Lower Austria Court decided the case in favor of the Prince, ruling that Mozart owed him the sum of 1,435 florins and 32 kreutzer, a substantial amount. The court issued an order to the chamber of the Imperial court (Mozart's employer) to attach half of Mozart's salary of 800 florins per year.
The Second Symphony was written at a time when his deafness was becoming more pronounced and he began to realize that it might be incurable.
The work was premiered in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on April 5 1803, and was conducted by the composer.
The scherzo (A movement that replaces the minuet as the third movement in a four-movement work) and the finale are filled with Beethovenian musical jokes, which shocked the sensibilities of many contemporary critics. One Viennese critic wrote of the Symphony that it was "a hideously writhing, wounded dragon that refuses to die, but writhing in its last agonies and, in the fourth movement, bleeding to death."
The symphony is scored for two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in A, two bassoons, two horns in D, E and A, two trumpets in D (first, third and fourth movements only), timpani (first, third and fourth movements only) and strings. The composer also made a transcription of the entire symphony for piano trio which bears the same opus number.
The fourth movement, Allegro molto, is composed of very rapid string passages. Musicologist Robert Greenberg of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music describes the highly unusual opening motif as a hiccup, belch or flatulence followed by a groan of pain. According to Greenberg: Beethoven's gastric problems, particularly in times of great stress – like the fall of 1802 – were legendary. ... It has been understood almost since the day of its premiere that that is what this music is all about. Beethoven never refuted it; in fact, he must have encouraged it. Otherwise, how could such an interpretation become common coin? And common coin it is. (However Musicologist and composer Bryan Townsend refers to this assertion by Greenberg as "an example of musicological overreach")