Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67 ”Allegro con brio” (first movement), first carried out in 1808, has always been an eye-opener to me because of how it is delivered by revealing to the ears and the deepest part of my soul. This is with regards to mainly the concatenation of the emotions portrayed during the graduation in C minor that reveals his secret thoughts of sorrow and his most intimate ideas as captured throughout the movement. It brings attention and calmness as the brain tries to distinguish the various notes performed as well as the rhythm, harmony, melody and the orchestration that this work produces. One aspect that interests me most is how he is able to capture the attention of his listeners using the movement which is accompanied by a beautiful background that suggests heroism. On the first movement, the melody introduces a new feeling as the rhythm unleashes an enormous energy in the development section in sonata form and the use of fermatas in the presentation of the opening motif. The performing forces of the first movement are the strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion.
Ludwig van Beethoven started to write the symphony in 1804 a period he was most fruitful in his career and it took him more than four years to complete it (Kinderman, 2009). In 1808, the symphony was introduced on 22nd December, four years later in one of the most extraordinary concerts in the history of music. Although this particular symphony was not popular immediately after its introduction, it later gained popularity and became one of the most prominent pieces in classical music as well as the most played. During this period, he worked on several compositions simultaneously. It was not until 1807 that Beethoven worked with intensity on this symphony. Lockwood (2008) noted that he had contemporaneous works among which are Violin Concerto, the Fourth Symphony and the sixth symphony, Mass in C as well as many others. He was at the same time composing symphony number 6 which also premiered at almost the same time as symphony number 5 at the famous marathon in Vienna at a theatre. In the first public presentation his Fourth Piano Concerto and two movements from his Mass was made.
At that time, Vienna was in the grip of extremely cold weather and the hall was unheated, the musicians were unprepared for the performance and the public was not prepared to comprehend this extraordinary music. Lockwood (2008) observes that the musicians at this time found it difficult to cope with this new demanding music and things fell apart. But this did not dampen the Fifth Symphony which later became a masterpiece and it soon emerged as a measure of other Symphonies.
With the increase of instrumental music in 18th century, audiences wanted to understand works of individuals in order to figure out their meaning. They did this by associating a particular work of an individual with their lives. The work of Beethoven proved to be accommodating because of his generous, eccentricities, independence as well as his deafness that was disturbing him in a great deal (Kinderman, 2009). He first revealed about his escalating hearing loss in the fall of 1801 at the age of 30 and stated in a letter that he would “seize Fate by the throat; it shall not bend or crush me completely.” It has been easy to associate such statements directly to his music.
Young (2008) asserts that the struggle with his condition as he allegedly told his assistant Anton Schindler happened at the beginning of the Fifth Symphony and it helped in the endorsement of this brave period of his career. The Fifth Symphony, more than his other symphonies, seems to present an extensive narrative where his struggle and heroism in his life is presented by the emotions evident in the well-known introduction in C minor to the coda in C-major some minutes later in the fourth movement. The symphony presents his most intimate thoughts and feeling, his sorrows, his dreams that are full of melancholy oppression and his burst of enthusiasm.
This Fifth Symphony explores a new theme and era in the history of music. One feature seen in this work is the “organicism” where the movements appear to mature from seeds planted in the opening measure (Staykova, 2009). The opening (Allegro con brio), is so familiar and the piece adjusts to the major key as the horns introduce another theme, the softener, which is first presented in the violins. In particular, the four-note opening motif is famous worldwide, and it appears frequently in popular culture, from disco to rock and roll. The motif was also used by BBC to introduce its news during the Second World War because it evoked the Morse code letter “V” for victory.
For today’s audience, this work is particularly relevant as it is a stepping stone to the development of various cultures and types of music throughout music history. He introduced emotions and romanticism in music and he was never afraid to alter the social convention and he carried on composing against all the odds of being deaf. Young (2008) points out that he was totally deaf at the premier of his Ninth Symphony. He also inspired many acting in movies because of his style.
I have gained a deeper knowledge and understanding of this particular work that has made me alter my initial thoughts and feelings about the work and the composer. Amidst all the challenges he had during his composing years, he never stopped to compose more and more. His influence to the development of music since the 18th century continues to strike me (Lockwood, 2008).
Kinderman, W. (2009). Beethoven. Oxford University Press.
Lockwood, L. (2008). Inside Beethoven’s quartets: history, interpretation, performance. Harvard University Press.
Staykova, Z. (2009). Contextual Approach to Learning Orchestral Excerpts for Cello.
Young, J. B. (2008). Beethoven’s Symphonies: A Guided Tour (Vol. 14). Hal Leonard Corporation.