8th April – Beethoven’s 5th Symphony

It’s the famous one! Many people recognise the opening notes of what is probably the most famous symphony ever written. But have you ever listened to the whole piece?

This piece for orchestra was written by German composer Ludwig Van Beethoven between 1804 and 1808. This was during what is called the ‘Classical period’ in music. Mozart and Haydn are examples of other Classical composers. Beethoven also continued to write music in the ‘Romantic period’ of music (which started in approx 1812) – where the new music being written became increasingly emotional and dramatic. Wagner is an example of another Romantic composer who wrote for orchestra in a similarly dramatic style.

The length of any symphony depends on how fast the orchestra plays it, but in the version below (from the BBC Proms) it lasts 33 minutes. However, as in most symphonies this is broken into four movements:

1. ‘Allegro con brio’ starts at 0:00 (this translates as ‘fast, with spirit’)

2. ‘Andante con moto’ starts at 8:26 (‘slowly but with motion’ i.e. don’t play it so slowly that you grind to a halt!)

3. ‘Scherzo: Allegro’ starts at 19:13 (scherzo means ‘playful’ or ‘a joke’, while allegro means ‘fast and lively’)

4. ‘Allegro’ starts at 24:35 (‘fast and lively’ again) – this time there’s no gap between this movement and the one before it! The official start of the movement is when the big dramatic tune comes in – see if you can spot it! (By the way, this is my favourite movement of the four – it has some very catchy melodies and it sounds so exciting!)

I recommend listening to at least the first movement (8 minutes long) and listen to it at least twice! You’ll probably enjoy it more the second time round when it’s more familiar.

Here are a few things to consider while you listen:

  • What instruments can you hear? Are there times when you hear one instrument more than another? Does every instrument get the spotlight at some point?
  • What is the conductor doing? Can you think of three ways he might be helping the orchestra to play this piece?
  • Do the names of the movements (and their meanings) match the style of the music?
  • When was the slowest and gentlest part of the piece?
  • There are times when the musicians in the orchestra are moving around a lot as they play. Why do you think this is? What does the music sound like at this point? Is it fast/slow, loud/quiet, passionate/thoughtful/happy/angry/sad, etc?
  • Did the famous opening notes return later on in the piece?

The orchestra in this video is the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, conducted by Daniel Barenboim. This video may contain ads.

This article was written by alison