Thursday, November 05, 2009

Music I like: Beethoven's 5th Symphony

I picked Beethoven's Fifth Symphony to share first because everybody knows the first movement. Yes, the first movement is waaay overplayed, but I like it because, well, there's not much music that can stand up to being that overplayed and still be so compelling that I regularly listen to it of my own volition. So hats off to Ludwig van Beethoven for composing such an excellent piece!

What do I like about it? Well, it's not the melody, I can promise you that. I mean, "be-be-be-baaah"... what kind of a melody is that? Not a good one.

In fact, something I really love about Beethoven is that he can take these crappy, almost non-melodies, and just do something amazing with them!

In each movement of a symphony, there's a primary theme and a secondary theme. Here, the primary theme is what opens the movement, and the secondary theme begins at about the 0:49 mark. I've already dissed the primary theme, but to its credit, the secondary theme is a little more melodious. What is Beethoven going to do with these two themes?

He modulates them, changes keys and modes, and generally mixes each one up. At 2:55, the primary theme appears again, this time changed to a slightly different interval. And the secondary theme pops up again too. But the thing he does to combine them is what keeps me coming back for another listen.

At 5:12, he uses the primary theme as a fanfare introduction to the reprise of the secondary theme. He modulates the second theme from C major through a minor key, and beginning at about 5:32 the cellos and basses start playing in the rhythm of the primary theme. And gradually, the second theme takes on more and more characteristics of the primary theme until before we know it, we're back to the primary theme!

I actually like the third and fourth movements of this symphony the best (although I like my scherzo and allegro substantially slower than the videos I've linked to). When I listen to the fourth movement, I feel like I could do anything -- it's just so triumphant and powerful! I love the reprise of the C-minor scherzo theme in the middle of it (at roughly 5:20) -- it's like you have this triumphant feeling, then you see this potential problem, but you know you can overcome it and end on a positive note -- 29 bars of fortissimo C-major chords, to be exact. There's no better ending than that!

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