1807: Beethoven: Symphony No. 5 in C minor, age 37

Carlos Kleiber…

I. Allegro con brio (C minor)

II. Andante con moto (A♭ major)

III. Scherzo: Allegro (C minor)

V. Allegro – Presto (C major)

Instruments:

  • 1 piccolo (fourth movement only), 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B♭ and C, 2 bassoons, 1 contrabassoon (fourth movement only)
  • 2 horns in E♭ and C, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones (alto, tenor, and bass, fourth movement only)
  • timpani (in G–C)
  • strings

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I. Allegro con brio (C minor):

II. Andante con moto (A♭ major):

III. Scherzo: Allegro (C minor):

IV. Allegro – Presto (C major):

The most famous symphony of them all…

If there is one symphony that is more famous than any other, this may be it. If you just say “Beethoven’s 5th”, anyone who knows music will know what you are talking about. And yet people who say they know nothing about music, who don’t even like “classical music”, will know this. It is truly universal.

There is also a 5th sonata, and a 5th piano concerto, and a 5th string quartet, but there is only one famous 5th, and it’s this one, and this man. Why do so many people respond to his music? I don’t know. But it’s just magic. My father had old 78 records of Toscanini conducting it, and I can still remember every phrase, what he did differently. I won’t post it here – the sound is awfully primitive – but look it up if you are interested.

Four movements, each a piece of its own, but they all belong together…

Four movements for symphonies was the norm for Beethoven and remained the norm ever since. People may not write as many symphonies today, but they still follow this model. Some symphonies also have only three movements, and there are other variations, but this is the common one. It could be that Beethoven was so good, no one else could better him. He did not invent this idea, but he took it to a level never before heard, and never since bettered.

The balance between minor and major is amazing, and major wins, in the end…

Without minor there is no drama. Everything is happy-shiny, and there is no contrast and contrast. It’s like a story where everyone is happy and no one has to overcome anything. You need dark and light, tension and calm. So Beethoven starts in minor, fast, then a slow, thoughtful movement follows in major. Then next a form called a scherzo, three beats to the measure, back to minor, back to darkness. There’s a middle section in major – always this contrast – but back to minor again. It all fades away, softer and softer, then something very unusual happens. Instead of stopping for the last movement, there is an incredible build or “crescendo” leading to some of the most powerful, joyous music you will ever hear, of course in major. That’s part of the magic, this war between darkness and light, with the light winning. You might say that Beethoven know both the “force” and the “dark side”. In his music there is a lot of “dark side”, but in his symphonies the “force” always wins.

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