VIDEO LINK: https://youtu.be/Mx0TPAaPW20
Monday’s Lesson: Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7,” movt. 2
Tuesday’s Lesson: Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” movt. 1, 2, 3
Wednesday’s Lesson: Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” movt. 4
TODAY’S LESSON: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major (“Pastorale”)
–The first programmatic symphony!
We began the week with Beethoven and we are going to end the week with him as well. In these “Doc Talks/Lessons,” we’ve explored his “Eroica” Symphony No. 3, and the second movement of his “Symphony No. 7.” We are going to turn our attention today to his “Symphony No. 6” which as the distinction of being the first truly “programmatic symphony” ever written. It preceded Berlioz’ “Symphonie Fantastique” by about 20 years.
The work is subtitled and well-known as the “Pastorale” Symphony; that is, a symphony about nature. Beethoven loved nature more than mankind. He took walks every day, regardless of the weather, carrying around his trusty sketchpad to record musical motifs and themes that would enter his mind because it was during these walks in nature that he conceived so many of his themes. Each of the 5 movements of this work (yes, 5 movements—another first for Beethoven as symphonies up to this point contained a maximum of 4 movements) contains a descriptive title of what the music is aiming to portray.
Let’s have a listen to a bit of each of these movements and discover how Beethoven creates an aural picture of these scenes:
Movement I: “The Cheerful Impressions Excited on Arriving in the Country”
Music Cue #1:
What a charming, placid way to begin a symphony about nature! No introduction is needed here, Beethoven begins the symphony with the main theme (Theme A) in the pastorale key of F Major—that’s right… F Major is well known as the pastorale key in music! [Maybe it’s because the French Horn and English Horn are both written in this key and they conjure up images of hunting calls and nostalgia.] As you might have guessed by now, there is a Theme B comprising descending arpeggios (perhaps illustrating falling leaves in autumn), and even a Closing Theme, a rocking sixteenth-note figure answered by a descending scale (perhaps illustrating the ebb and flow of wind)…and the entire movement is in “sonata-form.”
Movement II: Scene by the Brook
Music Cue #2:
As you might have guessed, running water must play a significant part of this movement, and it does. Again, no introduction here—Beethoven begins with the main theme in the first violins accompanied by gently rolling triplets in the other strings. The phrasing in these triplets give the music a forward motion—like the movement of a current in a brook. The triplets move at twice the speed under the second statement of the theme.
Music Cue #3:
In the coda of this movement, Beethoven gives us a surprise by musically depicting 3 types of birdsong: the nightingale (played by the flute), the quail (played by the oboe), and the cuckoo (played by the clarinet)! He even writes the names of these birds in the score and parts.
Movement III: The Peasant’s Festival
Music Cue #4:
Once again, Beethoven discards an introduction and jumps right into the main theme of the scherzo (merry/jokingly) movement. Theme A is symmetrical—a descending staccato antecedent phrase followed by a rising and falling legato phrase. You can imagine a peasant dance where the band of musicians play a calling phrase and the dancers move to a response. It’s all very folksy!
Later in the movement (in the Trio), Beethoven switches from ¾ to 2/4 time and the music takes on the nature of a rustic dance over a drone.
The initial ¾ section returns giving this short movement an “A-B-A” form.
But what is really cool, is that it flows immediately into the 4th movement—the STORM! There is no break in the action—another Beethoven innovation!
Movement IV: The Storm
Music Cue #5:
The skies immediately darken (timpani roll in the remote pitch of Db), raindrops illustrated by staccato notes in the 2nd violins, little bursts of wind denoted by sighing figures in the 1st violin, the entire phrase is repeated a half step higher (sequence) to add more tension…and then suddenly BAM! The skies open up with heavy rain as denoted by sustain chords by the entire orchestra (tutti). Many of these chords are dissonant diminished 7th chords (4-note chords, like C-Eb-Gb-Bbb 1-b3-b5-bb7) where each note is exactly
3 half steps away from each other) giving the music an even more ominous tone. The dynamic is fortissimo and built atop a sustained roll in the timpani. Note the “thunder-lightning effects” suggested by the accented notes on the first and second beat of the measures.
The storm eventually abates, and calm skies settle over the landscape which launches us directly into the last movement of the symphony…again, there is no break between movements.
Movement V: A Shepherd’s Hymn of Gratitude and Thankfulness at the Passing of the Storm
Music Cue #6:
This movement actually begins with a very short introduction that characterizes 2 shepherds yodeling to each other. The main theme (the shepherd’s hymn) is then sounded in the first violins—like the first movement, it is a very pleasant hymn, not unlike the “Ode to Joy” that Beethoven uses in his ninth symphony.
The premiere performance of this Symphony as well as Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in c minor (the really famous one!) occurred on the same program on Dec. 22, 1808. At that time, the numbers were reversed with the “Pastorale” Symphony being labeled #5 and the famous C minor Symphony labeled number 6. Beethoven started the program with the “Pastorale” Symphony and ended the program with the other one. The program also included a piano concerto, a choral fantasia and several other works. Talk about a LONG PROGRAM! It was also very cold and the theatre was unheated. Needless-to-say, there were not many people in the audience for these world premieres! If only they knew…
1)Listen to this entire symphony without interruption. I have provided several links, including one with a score and several with the music accompanying animated videos!
Source of timings in this “Doc Talk/Lesson”
Symphony No. 6 with score:
Use of this movement in various animated videos:
Please enjoy this wonderful music!