Assignment: Beethoven Symphony No. 5
Beethoven began composing Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 in 1804, but set it aside until 1807 and completed work on it in 1808. Since its first performance in Vienna in 1808, at a marathon concert of all Beethoven works that lasted about 4 hours, the 5th Symphony has held a place of importance in the classical music repertoire. It is perhaps the most famous symphony ever written, and has entered into today’s popular culture through its use in rock and roll, advertising, movies, etc.
Beethoven was deaf when he wrote this symphony. He had already been through a great crisis in his life because of the growing deafness (read Beethoven’s Heiligenstadt Testament URL- http://www.all-about-beethoven.com/heiligenstadt_test.html ). In spite of the challenges of going deaf as a musician and composer, Beethoven championed on, and the years from 1804-1808 were extremely productive.
The 5th Symphony begins with the famous four-note motif “short-short-short-long,” with a drop in pitch on “long.” The rhythmic component of the motive is used as a building block for nearly every aspect of the movement.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 is in four movements:
Mvt 1: Allegro con brio
Mvt 2: Andante con moto
Mvt 3: Scherzo–Allegro
Mvt 4: Allegro
Listen to the entire Symphony and answer the following questions:
- After listening to the first movement, write down your reaction. What kind of emotional impact do you think Beethoven was trying to convey with this movement?
- The opening motive is used in nearly every measure of the first movement. Many claim that the rhythmic component of the motive (short-short-short-long) can be heard in all of the movements. Do you hear any evidence of the opening motive (especially the rhythm) in movements 2, 3 & 4? Which movements do you hear the motive?
- Do you think Beethoven had a reason for using the rhythmic motive throughout the symphony? Explain.
- In contrast to the Classical Era’s focus on “reason” and emotional reserve, the 5th Symphony of Beethoven exemplifies heightened expressiveness. It is interesting to note that nineteenth century critics would often try to explain the emotional and psychological meaning behind works of music, especially if the emotions could be linked to the psychological state of the composer at the time it was written. In light of this trend, there is a story that Beethoven declared that the opening motive (short-short-short-long) represented “Fate knocking at the door.” Music historians today are not sure of the validity of this story, but do you think that it makes sense? Consider what kind of struggles Beethoven must have been going through as a famous composer and pianist who was facing the effects of permanent deafness—be sure to read the Heiligenstadt Testament.
- When you get to the last movement, describe the emotion you think the entire symphony ends with. Did Beethoven succumb to fate or triumph over it?
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