Beethoven’s fifth symphony is one of the best compositions of classical music and one of the most played symphonies (Schauffler, 1933). It was composed between 1804 and 1808 and first performed in 1808 at a concert in Vienna’s Theatre. At the concert, since it was performed late many people did not really get the music therefore its reception was not as expected. It was after E.T.A. Hoffman, wrote an interesting review of fifth symphony that the public started appreciating it. Some described it as a song of war time victory. It was thus used during World War II as a campaign tool by the allies.
Beethoven was a significant musician and writer especially in the transition in the western music from classical to romantic eras. He was one of the best producers of classical music. He composed 5 piano concerts, 9 symphonies, 16 string quartets, one violin concerto and 32 piano concerts. He was good especially in instrumental music. He started music from a young age and moved to Vienna when he was twenty one years old to study music and that’s where he became a pianist. He did not start out as a composer but first dedicated himself to studies and performance. He became a good instrumentalist and some people noticed his talent and offered financial support for his career. He first performed in Vienna one of his piano concertos. He also started publication of his works. After some of his symphonies between 1800 and 1803 he was regarded as one of the young influential composers in music. He continued to grow his music in terms of the depth of emotions, high level of originality and strength of character. He also taught a few young people who took after him and composed their own music. After losing his hearing he reduced the level of performance at concerts but still composed music until his last days.
Fifth symphony was one of Beethoven’s successful music that he composed. The style of this music was classical, mostly accompanied by many well played instruments. This song has elements in the popular culture such as rock and roll and disco versions.
Beethoven describes the opening words as “”fate knocking at your door.”” The rhythm of the music is the most important part of it. It has four parts, also referred to as movements, that is, Allegro con brio or Sonata, Andante con moto, Scherzo Allegro and Allegro.
The first part, Sonata, is a very powerful part since it’s the beginning of the song. It is one of the most famous rhythms in western music. It brings out a feeling of intensity, anxiety, suspense and mystery. It prompts the listeners to ask what the meaning is. For example, the oboe has a brief unaccompanied cadenza almost at the beginning of the recapitulation. The opening of this movement involves the horn which brings out the fate rhythm, followed by the violin which is softer and then accompanied by an even softer and lower strings. This movement is amazingly dramatic and melodious due to the change from dark trombones to the sweet woodwinds. It ends with a massive coda play. Many conductors have argued on how to play the first movement, some saying it should be allegro tempo, others think of a weighty treatment and others argue that it should have a slow tempo.
The second part, Andante con moto is a lot calmer than the first movement, but also has a few grand moments. Two themes alternate in this movement, the first theme is sweet and melodious followed by the second forceful one. It opens with a unison play of violas and cellos, accompanied by double bases. It is then followed by a harmony of clarinets, violins, bassoons and bass which bring out the second theme. It has a lyrical theme which kind of resonates and reminds the listeners of the first theme. It ultimately expresses bliss.
The scherzo allegro has a kind of free form or song form consisting of scherzo and trio or intermezzo. It is a forecast of the last movement and also shows a little of the drama in the first movement. It is seen as the climax of the symphony. The opening is accompanied by winds, returns to the main key C minor, then the horns follow and the music goes on. Beethoven recasts the theme in a completely new dynamic and orchestration.
The fourth movement, allegro, is a uniquely surprising move as a lyrical theme is introduced and also another key, C major is introduced which is unusual. This movement expresses joy and victory. It ends the music in a joyful and celebratory mood.
Fifth symphony uses a number of instruments; piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 bassoons, strings, timpani, 2 trumpets, 2 horns, 2 clarinets, 2 oboes, 3 trombones and a contrabassoon. These instruments bring out the standard orchestration. To elaborate this, in regards to brass, the music has two trumpets, three trombones (alto, tenor, and bass) and two French horns (E flat & C). For woodwinds, two clarinets (B flat & C), two bassoons, two flutes, one double bassoon, and one piccolo are used. In general, different instruments are used to bring out the orchestration. The instruments are in some occasions played simultaneously while in other cases they are played separately. For example contrabassoon and the trombones are only used in the final movement, while instruments such as the piano and horns are used in almost every movement. For example, in the second movement the violas and cellos are played in unison while as the first movement begins, only the horn is played.
Fifth symphony uses C minor as the main which is very unique and make it a special form of symphony. The tempo of this song has proved to be a difficult one for most conductors. However it is recommended that each movement has its own tempo. The first movement, Allegro con brio, should have a tempo of 108 to the half note , the second movement has 92 to the eighth note, the third movement scherzo Allegro, should be 96 to the dotted half note while the forth movement Allegro should be 84 to the half note. Generally the song should be played at a tempo of 108BPM. The song also brings out a heroic and celebratory mood. The song was released shortly after Beethoven had lost his hearing ability. He said that “”it shall not bend or break me completely,”” which relate directly to his music which he describes the struggle as “”fate”” which “”knocks at the door.”” This song is kind of a narrative which he uses to show he’s a hero. The heroic life struggle is described in the opening of the song in C minor to the transition to C major as the song comes to an end which shows a progression of emotions. The strong lyrics and instruments show power and nobility.
When fifth Symphony was performed for the first time at Vienna, it did not attract the best reception. In fact there were many critics and negative reception. The orchestra failed to perform well and at some point the performance messed up and Beethoven had to start the song all over again (Robins, 1992). Critics such as Dionys Weber and others at the time described the song as a disappointment because the first movement began with what they regarded as discord. Others said it was absurd. Years later, most of them reversed their criticisms and spoke highly of the music. One of them E.T.A Hoffman, dedicated his review and analyzed Symphony and praised the instrumental work and C minor key. This changed people’s view and the song was played in various concerts and events. People have realized that fifth symphony was a song that not only brought out the emotions in the tone and tempo but also the way instruments were played conveyed an inspiring message. People have learnt the meaning of the music and now receive it more positively.
It is amazing how people changed their view of this amazing song and got to understand the music. It is also evident that Ludwig Beethoven had a lot of skill in composing music and singing. It is especially surprising how he uses C minor in his song which was also very hard for people to believe then. It is a perfect song that resonates with mood, instruments, captures people’s attention and also entertains which is one of the main aims of music.
1. Schauffler, Robert Haven (1933). Beethoven: The Man Who Freed Music. Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Doran, & Company. p. 211
2. Landon, H.C. Robbins (1992). Beethoven: His Life, Work, and World. New York: Thames and Hudson. p. 149
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