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Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor Op. 67 is one of the most well-known and performed compositions in the classical genre. The symphony is used throughout pop culture worldwide and is often played at inaugural concerts for new orchestras. The classic four-note ‘fate motif’ is one of the most recognizable openings in the history of music and is featured prominently in a variety of contexts throughout the piece. Although this symphony was not as influential to listeners during the time period as to which Beethoven was alive, the 19th and 20th centuries popularized the piece and has been deemed to be the epitome of Beethoven’s musical style during the height of his musical career among composers, music directors, and musicians alike.
The form and instrumentation of this piece are vastly different than pieces prior to the symphony as a performance of this work can range anywhere from 30-40 minutes in length. Not only did this piece further expand the length of the symphony, but the demands placed upon the musicians to which Beethoven composed in the music were so demanding and dense that a performance of this symphony was considered to be quite difficult to achieve in the early 19th century. The first movement is in C minor, is marked Allegro con Brio, and is in a traditional sonata form which was influenced from Beethoven’s teachers and mentors Haydn and Mozart. If one were to examine the score of this movement, one would notice the development section is expanded through the use of several key increasing the section in length and tension before returning to the recapitulation and coda of the movement. The second movement is in Ab major, is marked Andante con Moto, and is in a double variation form. This is where two differing themes are presented and are played in alternation as they are presented in contrasting styles. A lengthy coda is also presented at the conclusion of this movement. The third movement is a Scherzo and trio, and is in a ternary form. This movement follows the classical tradition of a minuet and trio, but replaces the minuet with the faster, and newer in style Scherzo. There is no pause as the third movement transitions into the triumphant and heroic finale of the fifth symphony. This finale is in C major, the parallel major of the original key of the first movement. Upon hearing this, one could suggest that this minor to major tonality could represent some sort of internal struggle which the fate motif clearly emphasizes. The finale displays the conquering of this struggle as the movement ends in a brilliant fashion of stating the tonic resolution for the last eighty measures of the symphony. The instrumentation consists of piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in Bb and C, two bassoons, contrabassoon, two horns in Eb and C, two trumpets, alto, tenor, and bass trombone, timpani in G and C, and strings. However, the piccolo, contrabassoon, and the three trombones are only used for the fourth movement signifying another new trend as most pieces did not feature these instruments during the time period.
What makes the fifth symphony different from the third of Beethoven is that the third symphony was increasingly popular throughout Beethoven’s lifetime. The fifth achieved the fame it has today until later into the 19th century. However, although the third symphony is referenced as the ‘Heroic Symphony,’ some scholars of Beethoven’s works suggest that the fifth symphony is more heroic in style and form than the third as once again there seems to be some type of overarching representation of a battle or struggle which is endured then overcome with success. With this in mind, the fifth symphony could be more programmatic in thought leading to more emotional output in composition from Beethoven throughout his middle/late periods and for the several composers to which this symphony will influence in a further programmatic sense of mind.
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