Beethoven: Symphony No. 5
The composition of the Fifth Symphony occupied Beethoven for about four years and sketches for the work date back as far as 1804. Work on it was interrupted by the first version of Fidelio, the Appassionata piano sonata, the three Razumovsky string quartets, the Violin Concerto, the Fourth Piano Concerto, and the Fourth Symphony. The première of the work took place in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna on December 22, 1808, as part of a mammoth concert which lasted about four hours in duration. The music consisted of the debut performances of the Sixth Symphony, the concert aria “Ah, perfido,” the Fourth Piano Concerto, selections from the Mass in C Major, the Fifth Symphony, and the Choral Fantasy. ,p>
The concert took place under
extremely adverse conditions since the auditorium was very cold. The critical response was quite minimal. There had been only one (!) rehearsal for the performance and as a result the renditions were not error-free. When the work was played again about a year and a half later, critic E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote a warm review in the Allgemeine Musikalishe Zeitung. Hoffmann wrote in part: Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing—a longing in which every pleasure that rose up amid jubilant tones, sinks and succumbs. Only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with a full-voiced general cry from all the passions, do we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits.
The Symphony consists of four movements, beginning with an impeccablesonata allegro section headed by the familiar motif which many have likened to “fate knocking at the door.” The second movement is a luminous set of variations. This is followed by a scherzo with further allusions to the “fate” theme of the opening movement. The scherzo leads directly to a triumphant and exhilirating finale.
The stature of this Symphony soon grew in the musical world. Eventually it became part of the inaugural concerts of the New York Philharmonic in 1842 and the National Symphony Orchestra in 1931. Formally speaking the Fifth is one of the most perfect symphonies ever written. Its distinctive first movement theme brought it more popularity during the Second World War since the rhythm is the same one used in Morse Code for the letter “V” (Victory)
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