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

Video transcript

("Symphony Number Five" by Beethoven) - [Voiceover] 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 immigrated to Vienna. He wanted to go to the music capitol of Europe as he saw it. He played for Mozart and did some improvisations. Mozart was very impressed, and he 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 a 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 motive. (piano plays Beethoven's Fifth motive) (Symphony plays Beethoven's Fifth motive) - [Gerard] Think about the audience hearing these notes just played by the clarinets and the strings, and he takes these notes (piano plays motive) and he develops them throughout the whole movement and in fact, with the exception of the second movement, that little motive is played in every movement. Something unusual for the time. When you're listening to the symphony, you don't really realize that motive 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 a sudden, 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... 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 motive 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 second theme, so they play (piano theme) (horn theme) - [Gerard] So obviously, it's the same. Three short and a long, but instead of (piano theme) it goes (piano theme). He expands the interval from (chord) to (chord) And then he writes the second theme. (orchestral theme) (piano theme) All within the framework of what the horns have just done. (piano theme) Just those notes, but what he's doing... (piano theme) You're hearing the base, 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 motive underneath that second theme which, of course, is a contrasting theme. (symphony themes) - [Gerard] Then, Beethoven comes back, develops the initial motive again, and then we repeat the whole section, so this whole exposition, or first section, is repeated. 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. Changing harmony and melodic contours and doing whatever you can do to keep the audience really interested and excited. (Beethoven's Fifth Symphony) - [Gerard] Instead of just repeating the same motive over and over again, he extends it rhythmically and of course he includes the gesture. (piano theme) That keeps extending until all of a sudden he reduces it. So it starts out by being as I just played- (piano melody) and then becomes (piano melody) Just those two notes, and just single notes. And there's this conversation between the woodwinds and the strings. (Beethoven's Fifth Symphony) - [Gerard] From two notes to one note, changes the harmony, and then he brings us back again with the same kind of excitement! (piano theme) and then again, single notes. And then again, he brings us back with that same gesture, this time (piano theme) and it builds and builds and builds, just like it does in the first section. (Symphony builds) - [Gerard] We've now arrived at what we call the recapitulation. 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... (full chord) 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 (piano melody) How unusual. Right in the middle of a symphony, first movement, everything comes to a halt, and there's the oboe. (oboe solo) - [Gerard] After that, we have what would be considered a relatively normal recapitulation, and the movement comes to a markable conclusion. Of course, there are differences and when the horns play the first time (piano theme) the second time in the recapitulation is played by the bassoon. But you always here this continuing motive of those three short and one long note, whether it's in the accompaniment or in the melody. (bassoon theme) - 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, well in length more important than the other sections of the movement. (symphony continues)