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Symphony No. 5, in C Minor. Op. 67.

Ludwig Van Beethoven

1. Allegro con brio.
2. Andante con moto.
3. Allego (Scherzo).
4. Allegro. Presto.

The Fifth Symphony was finished in 1808, although its composition had occupied Beethoven's attention for many years before. At its first performance, at Vienna, it was numbered on the program as the Sixth ; and the Pastoral appeared as the Fifth. Both were finished in the same year, but the priority of the C minor is clearly established by Beethoven's own numbering in the autograph.

The C minor Symphony is probably the best known and most admired of the nine, perhaps because it is the most human in its qualities. Beethoven himself has left us a clue to its meaning, namely, that it pictures the struggle of the individual with Fate, the alternations of hope and despair, and the final triumph. In speaking of the first four notes of the opening movement, Beethoven said, some time after he had finished the symphony : "So pocht das Schicksal an die Pforte" ("Thus Fate knocks at the door").

In the Fifth, as in the Third Symphony, we find that concentration of the thought and labor which makes these two musical poems so all-powerful and overwhelming in their effect. It is not marked by a spontaneous flow of musical phrases lightly strung together, or by mere toying with musical forms; but each motive represents a concentrated essence of thought which, once heard, makes an indelible impression, and apparently admits of no change. We give only a few quotations, but bearing them in mind, the listener will be able to follow the development of this passionate outpouring of a passionate mind while brooding over its fate:

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The holds at a occur frequently, as well as the abrupt chords leading up to a pause. The persistency with which the theme at b is repeated and carried upward in a steady crescendo, only to vent its range in those terrible three notes, dropping into a third below and cut short by two abrupt chords, well depicts the persistent struggle of a great mind with the misfortunes of life. After the statement of inexorable fate by the horns at c, it almost seems as if the mortal were appealing for mercy; but the pitiless cry at the five-fold repetition of the four notes at d grows unendurable, and, strung to the quick, he curls his defiance against the gods. A period of exhaustion characterizes a passage in which the winds alternate with the strings during thirty-two measures, in short chords ever dropping until roused again to life and strife by the motive at c, given in unison by the whole orchestra. The last motive, at f, may simply be described as a hammer and anvil.

Of the Andante we quote only the principal pharases:

[Music excerpt]

The opening is given out by the violas and cellos, while the phrase at b is always started by the winds, breaking into a sudden fortissimo at d and enriched at every repeat by more animated figure in the violins. The first phrase breathes sweet consolation, while the second points onward and upward, with a bold transition at d assuring the sufferer triumph and happiness. The measures preceeding this outburt produce a thrilling effect by the use of the ominious ninth below the melody, which in the second violins and violas raises the ghost of the Fate motive of the first part with its three strokes indicated at c.

The Allegro Scherzo atarts out with a timid question --

[Music excerpt]

but in the answer it seems as if the youthful hero had grappled with the decrees of Fate and boldly turned the point of the weapon againts his foe. The three strokes of the first movement which started on an up-beat

[Music excerpt]

are now defiantly turned into

[Music excerpt] ,

and boldly carry the day. The second part of the Scherzo, in the key of C major, which represents the Trio, opens with a strong and boisterous passage in the cellos and basses, gradually reinforced by the violins, carried to a joyful climax, from which a gradual decrescendo leads back into the first part.

After the hold the now victorious triple beat starts pianissimo in the clarinets and changes from instrument to instrument, but always pianissmo, as if intended thoroughly to repress any premature exultation. The kettle drum finally takes up the beat, and for forty eight measures persistently furnishes the rhythm. The violins begin an upward sweep, always pianissmo and in ever-widening intervals, until it reaches the dominant seventh chord, when with a short crescendo the jubilant march of the last Allegro, in the key of C major, common time, begins:

[Music excerpt]

The upward sweep from the sixth measure, ending twice on the octave, is in its third repetition carried a third higher, as if breaking all bounds, and naturally flows into a dotted rhythmic figure which only increases the exitement. After a perfect whirl on the dominant chord of G for twenty measures, the violins having a tarantella-like figure in triplets, the movement is suddenly interrupted by an episode of fifty-four measures in triple time, recalling the Scherzo in its rhythm, but in reality only a prolongation of the dominant chord, which was cut short at its climax so as to make a more deliberate change at the repetition of the grand march of joy.

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See also:
Middle Ages Music
Renaissance Music
Baroque Era Music
Classical Era Music
Romantic Era Music
Nationalist Era Music
Turn of Century Music

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