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The Symphony No. 5 in C Minor of Ludwig Van Beethoven

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The Symphony No. 5 in C Minor of Ludwig Van Beethoven essay
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Beethoven was a great composer during his time. Beethoven, or his full name, Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in December 1770. He was baptized on 17 December and his birthplace now is known as Beethoven-Haus Museum. He is a famous figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music and also remains as one of the most famous and influential of all composers. His well-known compositions include 9 symphonies, 5 piano concertos, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, 16 string quartets, his great Mass the Missa Solemnis, and one opera, Fidelio. Beethoven starts to display his musical talent at a very early age and was taught by his own father, Johann van Beethoven and Christian Gottlob Neefe, a composer and conductor. He began studying composition with Joseph Haydn after he moved to Vienna. His hearing starts to deteriorate in his late 20s and being almost completely deaf in the last decade of his life. He died on 26 March 1827 at the age of 56 years old, suffering from liver damage affected by alcohol consumption.

A symphony is an extended musical composition in Western classical music and written by composers for orchestra. The word, ‘symphony’ came from the Greek word, meaning “agreement or concord of sound”. A symphony work usually consists of multiple distinct sections or movements, with the first movement in sonata form. Symphonies are composed for string (viola, violin, cello, and double bass), brass, woodwinds, and percussion instruments (timpani). The number of instruments or musicians played in symphony could reach about 30 to 100 musicians. The four-movement that emerged in the symphony are:

  1. Opening sonata or allegro.
  2. The slow movement (Adagio).
  3. Minuet or scherzo with the trio.
  4. Allegro, rondo or sonata.

Variations on this layout, like changing the order of the middle movements or adding a slow introduction to the first movement, were common. Haydn, Mozart, and their contemporaries restricted their use of the four-movement form to orchestral or multi-instrument chamber music such as quartets, though since Beethoven solo sonatas are as often written in four as in three movements.

The Symphony No. 5 in C minor of Ludwig van Beethoven, Op. 67, was written between 1804–1808. It is one of the best-known compositions in classical music, and one of the most frequently played symphonies. First performed in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien in 1808, the work achieved its prodigious reputation soon afterward. The symphony consists of four movements. The first movement is Allegro con brio the second movement is Andante con moto the third movement is a Scherzo Allegro; the fourth movement is Allegro. It begins by stating a distinctive four-note “short-short-short-long” motif twice. The symphony and the four-note opening motif, in particular, are known worldwide, with the motif appearing frequently in popular culture, from disco versions to rock and roll covers, to uses in film and television. The first movement is in the traditional sonata form that Beethoven inherited from his classical predecessors, Haydn and Mozart (in which the main ideas that are introduced in the first few pages undergo elaborate development through many keys, with a dramatic return to the opening section—the recapitulation—about three-quarters of the way through). It starts out with two dramatic fortissimo phrases, the famous motif, commanding the listener’s attention. Following the first four bars, Beethoven uses imitations and sequences to expand the theme, these pithy imitations tumbling over each other with such rhythmic regularity that they appear to form a single, flowing melody. Shortly after, a very short fortissimo bridge, played by the horns, takes place before a second theme is introduced. This second theme is in E? major, the relative major, and it is more lyrical written piano and featuring the four-note motif in the string accompaniment. The codetta is again based on the four-note motif. The development section follows, including the bridge. During the recapitulation, there is a brief solo passage for oboe in quasi-improvisatory style, and the movement ends with a massive coda.

The second movement, in A? major, the subdominant key of C minor’s relative key (E? major), is a lyrical work in double variation form, which means that two themes are presented and varied in alternation. Following the variations, there is a long coda.

The movement opens with an announcement of its theme, a melody in unison by violas and cellos, with accompaniment by the double basses. A second theme soon follows, with a harmony provided by clarinets, bassoons, and violins, with a triplet arpeggio in the violas and bass. A variation of the first theme reasserts itself. This is followed up by a third theme, thirty-second notes in the violas and cellos with a counter phrase running in the flute, oboe, and bassoon. Following an interlude, the whole orchestra participates in a fortissimo, leading to a series of crescendos and a coda to close the movement.

The third movement is in ternary form, consisting of a scherzo and trio. It follows the traditional mold of Classical-era symphonic third movements, containing in sequence the main scherzo, a contrasting trio section, a return of the scherzo, and a coda. However, while the usual Classical symphonies employed a minute and trio as their third movement, Beethoven chose to use the newer scherzo and trio form. The movement returns to the opening key of C minor and begins with the following theme, played by the cellos and double basses.

The fourth movement begins without pause from the transition. The music resounds in C major, an unusual choice by the composer as a symphony that begins in C minor is expected to finish in that key. In Beethoven words, “Many assert that every minor piece must end in the minor. Nego! …Joy follows sorrow, sunshine, rain.” The triumphant and exhilarating finale is written in an unusual variant of sonata form: at the end of the development section, the music halts on a dominant cadence, played fortissimo, and the music continues after a pause with a quiet reprise of the “horn theme” of the scherzo movement. The recapitulation is then introduced by a crescendo coming out of the last bars of the interpolated scherzo section, just as the same music was introduced at the opening of the movement. The interruption of the finale with material from the third “dance” movement was pioneered by Haydn, who had done the same in his Symphony No. 46 in B, from 1772. It is unknown whether Beethoven was familiar with this work or not.

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