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1808 – Beethoven Symphony No. 6 (Pastoral)


1808 Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’
Movements I: Allegro ma non troppo ‘Awakening of joyful feeling on arrival in the country (F) II: Andante molto mosso ‘Scene by the brook’ (Bb) III: Scherzo: Allegro ‘Peasants merrymaking (Bb) IV: Allegro ‘Storm’ (f) V: Allegretto ‘Song of thanksgiving after the storm’ (F)
Instrumentation Strings, 2 flutes (plus piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, timpani
 Overview  This symphony is very different in tone from its predecessor (i.e. No. 5), being mostly gentle and pastoral in tone. Beethoven offers programmatic titles (see above) and occasional notes (e.g. identifying bird songs) on the score so the narrative is much more explicit than, for example, Symphony No. 3.


See a full score here.

Essay Points
A) Overall form The five movements are driven partly by the loose pastoral narrative described by the movement titles.  Without the storm, the remaining movements broadly follow the traditional pattern, including Andante and Scherzo middle movements. Many later five-movement symphonies adopt this basic plan of an extra movement before the finale.
D) 3rd mov. / Minuet This movement is more rustic peasant dance than refined courtly minuet. It is unusual in its form in that the Trio is played twice, making five main sections in total, although the last repeat of the scherzo is considerably shortened.


In this extract you hear the first Trio section (a rusting sounding dance in 2/4) followed by the opening of the middle Scherzo (in a fast 3/4).

F) Dev. of orchestra Although the orchestra is no larger than that for fifth symphony, Beethoven uses some innovative effects, especially in the storm movement. The composer includes rumblings of thunder depicted by fast and dissonant writing in the lower strings and tremolo whilst there are dramatic flashes of lightning in the higher woodwind.


Beginnings of rumbling thunder

(Booklet: Extract, part 1)


Full thunderstorm

(Booklet: Extract, part 2)


G) Harm. / tonality Diminished sevenths play a major role at the beginning of the storm movement.
H) Drama / progr. Each movement loosely depicts a scene from nature including the very obviously programmatic fourth, which represents a storm (see above). Beethoven also includes bird calls in the slow movement and a representation of a village band in the third. The idea of creating a symphony that depicted a relatively concrete sequence of events was enthusiastically picked up by some later Romantic composers.
L) Folk and national music

As in the last movement of Haydn’s Symphony 104, Beethoven makes use of simple folk-like melodies often over drones and pedals in both the first and last movements. The use of ‘pastoral’ keys such as F major, and metres such as 6/8 were also common features of folk. The most explicitly folk-like, however, is the “Merry Dances of the Countryfolk” that he offers as the third movement.

In this extract you hear the first Trio section (a rustic sounding dance in 2/4) followed by the opening of the middle Scherzo (in a fast 3/4).

Schindler, a friend of Beethoven, but not a wholly reliable witness, said that the composer “asked me if I had noticed how village musicians often played in their sleep, occasionally letting their instruments fall and keeping quite still, then waking up with a start, getting in a few vigorous blows or strokes at a venture, although usually in the right key, and then dropping to sleep again. Apparently he had tried to portray these poor people in his Pastoral Symphony.” It is certainly the case that instruments suddenly start and stop and there is a passage in the first section where the oboe seems to enter a beat out and stay syncopated for quite a number of bars:

The last movement imitates a very specific type of Shepherd’s song known as a ranz des vaches (call to the cows!). The opening melody is almost identical to this traditional melody, played by Swiss shepherds on an alphorn. (see here on Youtube) ‘

K) Rhythm There are some interesting uses of rhythms for programmatic effect in this symphony.

In the third movement (see above) the oboe gets one beat adrift from the accompaniment, creating an unusual syncopated idea.

In the storm movement, Beethoven creates the rumbling thunder with quintuplet semiquavers against ordinary semiquavers in the double basses (see score):

Full thunderstorm


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