Beethoven – Symphony No. 5 in C-Minor, Op. 67

by Max Derrickson

Ludwig van Beethoven   (b Bonn, December 16, 1770; Vienna, March 26, 1827)

Symphony No. 5 in C-Minor, Op. 67
1. Allegro con brio
2. Andante con moto
3. Allegro
4. Allegro

“Music is the mediator between intellectual and sensuous life … the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend” said Beethoven when trying to express in words what music expressed in sound.  But if anyone could come close to articulating the intangibleness of what music speaks to us, it should be Beethoven himself, the composer of the incomparable Symphony No. 5 in C-Minor.  This is the symphony that, more than any other (even Beethoven’s own Ninth Symphony), changed music completely, and it did so by wrestling the very intangibles of music into a nearly guaranteed listener response.

[. . .]

From here, Beethoven needed a first theme to set the stage for the beginning of his Symphony’s ultimate journey.  But first came that famous introduction – the “tah-tah-tah-daaaaaa.”  For many reasons, those opening bars have stamped their imprint on the world as no others have.  Certainly one reason is that their force, their near terror, are immensely potent.  They place, with their pregnant pauses afterwards, the listener at the precipice of something colossal.  One could never guess at what it is or what sort of music might follow them.  What does follow is the first theme, from which those first introductory notes are but a brief excerpt, and we are swept into a mighty current of force in which those notes and their stabbing rhythm punctuate nearly every bar of the first movement.  Their psychological impact is staggering, and thus, in this symphonic journey, we are left in great need of a resolution.

[. . .]

The last genius stroke is perhaps the most important of Beethoven’s career.  The third movement scherzo and the fourth movement finale become one movement together, through a kind of sheer willpower of making the music bend to Beethoven’s concept.  His sketchbooks show that this blending of the two movements gave Beethoven some considerable trouble, but the result is magic.  [. . .]   It’s important to note, however, that the first nine notes of this scherzo are the same as those of Mozart’s finale to his 40th Symphony, though with a different rhythm.  This is telling.  Mozart and his music, which arguably represented the musical pinnacle of the Classical period, [. . .]