Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: An Exhilarating Motivic Journey

“Short, short, short, long…” The four notes which open Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony outline what is perhaps music history’s most iconic motif. It’s a motif which has been subjected to pop culture cliches and dubious superimposed poetic associations, such as “fate knocking at the door.” This motivic kernel, perhaps derived from Luigi Cherubini’s 1794 French Revolution anthem Hymne au Panthéon, is the seed out of which the entire Fifth Symphony develops. Preceded by a …

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Beethoven’s Seventh: The Apotheosis of Dance

Next week, on Monday evening, I’ll be joining my Richmond Symphony colleagues to perform a free benefit concert for the United Way, organized by the Symphony Musicians of Richmond, our players’ association (details here). The program includes Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony, a piece we explored briefly in this past Listeners’ Club post. It’s hard to imagine any music more appropriate for the occasion. In fact, the first performance of the Seventh Symphony, which took place on …

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Brahms’ Fourth: A Symphonic Swan Song

Take a moment and consider the vast number of nineteenth century symphonies which, in one way or another, take an unequivocal journey from darkness to light. The long arc of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with its transcendent final movement, is a perfect example. In the opening of the last movement of Beethoven’s Fifth, C minor turns into C major, and the trombones (who wait through the first three movements without playing a note) suddenly add a …

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