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1808 – Beethoven Symphony No. 5

1808 Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 5
Instrumentation Strings, 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons plus contrabassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani
Movements I: Allegro con brio  (c) II: Andante con moto (Ab) III: Allegro (c) IV: Allegro (C)
Overview This iconic piece with its famous four opening notes develops many of the trends found in Eroica, in particular the idea of a symphony that drives through to a powerful culminating finale.

Look at a full score  / Listen to the piece on Youtube

Essay Points
A) Overall form As in Eroica, Beethoven keeps the standard four-movement form but the distinction between last two is blurred because the third not only leads into the fourth but also returns later.

Listen to the end of the C minor third movement giving way to the triumphant C major march of the finale (Booklet: Extract 3):

E) 4th / Finale In earlier symphonies, the last movement is often a fast and light-hearted conclusion to the work, but Beethoven tries to make this finale the climax of the work – resolving the troubled C minor of the first and third movements in the blaze of C major. The finale comes straight out of the dominant pedal at the end of the previous Scherzo movement and begins with a triumphant march-like theme. Any doubt is swept away by a presto coda that hammers home perfect cadences in C major with unprecedented length and force (Booklet: Extract 4 from 2’07):

The movement is in Sonata form, but at the point of recapitulation there is a quiet reprise of a theme from third movement from which there is a crescendo into the recap like the one that introduced the opening of the movement.

F) Dev. of orchestra Compared to Eroica Beethoven considerably reinforces the orchestra at the bottom end with the addition of three trombones and contrabassoon. This allows him to increase the weight of the finale, in which all of these instruments make their first appearance, as does the piccolo.
G) Harm. / tonality The piece as a whole has a C minor (at the opening) to C major (in the last movement) tonal trajectory.
H) Drama / progr. This is the original tragedy-to-triumph symphonies tracing a journey from the fateful C minor opening to the blazing C major cadences at the end. Beethoven didn’t ascribe any narrative programme to this work but the way in which the march-like C major at the end vanquishes the minor-key tribulations of the previous movements tells a clear story of heroism and triumph.
I) Melody / theme The famous four-note opening of this symphony is used relentlessly as a motive both rhythmically and in terms of pitch throughout the rest of this movement. Listen to the opening (Booklet: Extract 1):

At the end of the first movement you can hear the continued intensive usage of this rhythmic idea hammering home the perfect cadences (Booklet: Extract 2):

The rhythm of the opening theme of the first movement can also be heard clearly in the third movement (now in crotchets rather than quavers):

It also appears as an accompanying figure towards the end of the last movement:

Intensive use of motifs is found in many of Haydn’s works and was something that later composers such as Brahms were also very interested in.

K) Rhythm As well the continuous re-appearance of the four-note opening rhythm, the relentless rhythmic drive of this piece is also an important feature of the music.
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