Main content
Current time:0:00Total duration:10:21

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 5, analysis by Gerard Schwarz (part 1)

Video transcript

(classical music) - When a composer writes a symphony, there's expectations. It's supposed to be a big piece, it's supposed to be a long piece, it's supposed to have a lot of elements, numerous movements. And Beethoven comes from a tradition, a classical tradition of Mozart and Haydn. He was born in Bonn, in Germany and soon emigrated to Vienna. He wanted to go to the music capital of Europe, as he saw it. He played for Mozart, did some improvisations. Mozart was very impressed and said look out, this man will be someone important. He studied a little bit with Haydn even though his main teacher was Albrechtsberger. He even studied with Salieri. When he started writing his symphonies in the early part of the 19th century, most of his symphonies he wrote in the first decade of the 1800s. The first symphony was a remarkable work, very much in the classical tradition of Haydn and Mozart. The third symphony, The Eroica, is extraordinary, and it's long. Symphonies usually take 25, 30, 35 minutes. All of a sudden, The Eroica is taking 50 minutes. It adds a third horn. It extends the whole concept of the symphony to a larger language than Mozart and Haydn. The fifth symphony is remarkable in lots of ways. Obviously, the most important thing is the way he developed this little motif. (classical music) Think about the audience hearing these notes just played by the clarinets and the strings. And he takes these notes, (classical music) and he develops them throughout the whole movement, and in fact, with the exception of the second movement, that little motif is played in every movement. Something unusual for the time. When you're listening to the symphony, you don't really realize that that motif is going on all the time. You don't even know where it comes from some of the time. In a way, I guess you're not supposed to, you're just supposed to hear it and all of the sudden it's like oh, this sounds familiar, this is recognizable, it somewhat holds together. But I thought I'd show you a little bit of what he does. Okay. So he takes this symphony and he starts it, there's in a sense this wild energy because it's so much activity. There's these little moving notes constantly. There's no introduction, he just jumps right in. So you're in and you hear this motif, which is, in a sense, of course, the first theme. And he, even though it's what we call the exposition, the first section of the piece, he develops it somewhat until the horns come in to introduce the second theme. So they play. (classical music) So obviously, it's the same. Three short and a long. But instead of, (classical music) it goes. So, he expands the interval from, to. (classical music) And then he writes the second theme. (classical music) All within the framework of what the horns have just done. (classical music) Just those notes. But while he's doing, (classical music) you're hearing the bass. The same rhythm as the opening. If I didn't point it out to you, you wouldn't notice it. But if you listen to it, you'll see that you'll hear that cello and bass playing that motif underneath that second theme, which of course is a contrasting theme. (classical music) Then, Beethoven comes back, develops the initial motif again and then we repeat the whole section. So this whole exposition, or first section, is repeated. And the next section, in typical symphonic form, is called the development section. And you take the material from both themes and you develop it, you go in lots of different directions. Clearly, Beethoven was one of the great composers for development because he had this incredible ability to improvise. And in a sense, what you're doing when you're doing the development is you're improvising. You're going in new directions, you're adding new ideas, and changing harmony and melodic contours and doing whatever you can do to keep the audience really interested and excited. (classical music) And then instead of just repeating the same motif over and over again, he extends it, rhythmically, and of course, he includes the gesture. (classical music) And that keeps extending until all of a sudden, he reduces it. So it starts out by being, as I just played. (classical music) And then it becomes. (classical music) Just those two notes and just single notes. And, there's this conversation between the woodwinds and the strings. (classical music) From two notes to one note, changes the harmony, and then (fingers snap) he brings us back again, with the same kind of excitement. (classical music) And then again, single notes. And then again, he brings us back with that same gesture. This time. (classical music) And it builds and builds and builds, just like it does in the first section. (classical music) We've now arrived at what we call the recapitulation. So, we've had the exposition, we've had the development, and now the recapitulation. The recapitulation traditionally is a repetition of the first section with a slight variant in harmony, but otherwise it's the same. And Beethoven does that. He has the same material, everything goes, and at the moment when we get to the big where the violins hold this G, instead of the violins holding the G, a sole oboe holds that G, and then he plays a little cadenza. (classical music) How unusual. Right in the middle of a symphony, first movement. Everything comes to a halt, and there's the oboe. (classical music) After that, we have what would be considered a relatively normal recapitulation and the movement comes to a remarkable conclusion. Of course, there are differences and when the horns play the first time, (classical music) the second time and the recapitulation is played by the bassoon. But you always here this continuing motif of those three short and one long note, whether it's in the accompaniment or in the melody. (classical music) One other thing that's interesting is that the coda is always an important element in Beethoven's music. So we have exposition, development, recapitulation, and now we have another element, the coda. In Beethoven's case, the coda, in the first movement of this fifth symphony is longer than any of the other sections. Codas, when they exist in classical form, are usually short, brief. It's just like the tag at the end. So here's this great genius who makes the coda even more important, in length more important than the other sections of the movement. (classical music)