Beethoven's 5th

December 1, 2023:  Everyone will recognize the first four notes of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, often described as “fate knocking at the door”.  The notes form the rhythmic and melodic anchor of the entire composition.  The appeal of this motif is reflected in its multiple uses beyond Beethoven’s 5th.  The Allied forces of WWII used it to signal a victory, as its rhythm – short, short, short, long – is morse code for “V”.  The 1970s disco scene included Walter Murphy’s “A Fifth of Beethoven”, and the motif has often been used in films and television commercials.


Completed in 1808, Beethoven was facing increasing deafness and Napoleon’s armies were marching across Europe.  A sense of foreboding and triumph are felt throughout the symphony, the first symphony that Beethoven wrote in a minor key.  In the first movement, a stormy “Allegro con brio”, the core motif migrates from one section of the orchestra to another.  The more lyrical second movement, “Andante con moto”, includes two alternating themes with variations as they repeat.  The Scherzo Allegro third movement breaks the norm of a minuet and trio typical of symphonies written in the time period;  rather than using a stately minuet, Beethoven instead chose to use a light and playful scherzo and trio form.  The movement is best known for its transition to the fourth movement, considered one of the greatest musical transitions of all time.  Beethoven again breaks the mold by writing his fourth movement in a major key, as it was expected that a piece beginning in a minor key would end in the same key.  The final 29 bars of C major chords are needed “to ground the extreme tension of [this] immense work” according to pianist and composer Charles Rosen.  Beethoven’s 5th symphony is one of the earliest symphonies to use the trombone, piccolo and the contrabassoon. 


We hope that this performance enhances your holidays and that you enjoy a safe and healthy holiday season.

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