Ludwig Van Beethoven
Listening Time: Approximately 36 Minutes
Mention the name Beethoven to just about anyone and they will know who you are talking about. Beethoven would have to be one of the most well known of the classical composers (maybe with the exception of Mozart or Bach). He was a prolific writer, writing approximately 722 pieces of music, for all kinds of instruments, from piano and violin to some of the wind instruments and also some works for full symphony orchestra. One of his most known would probably be parts of his 5th Symphony, which we will look at today.
Beethoven didn’t live a very wealthy life, in fact, most of it was spent in middle to lower class. His first music teacher was his father, Johann Van Beethoven, singer and violinist, who taught Ludwig to play the violin from a young age. His talent was obvious very early on, and Beethoven began writing some of his first works from the age of 12.
Here is a piece written for Violin and orchestra. It is a section from the well known Concerto in G Major for Violin, including the cadenza and final ending of the first movement from the work. A cadenza is really an opportunity for the musician to show off some of his ability while the orchestra just sits and watches!
Take a look here
For the full work, which lasts about a 1/2 hour, click here:
Our main work today is Beethovens 5th Symphony. It is most recognised by the first 4 notes of the piece, which you’ll hear in a moment.
Although an amazing composer and writer of music, Beethoven began going deaf quite early on in his life. It was gradual at first, but became such a problem that it began to affect his public performing, by which he was making a lot of his income. He never went totally deaf (he could still hear very low sounds and suddenly loud ones) but it has been said that at the first performance of his 9th symphony which he was conducting (which may be recognised as Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee, or Ode to Joy, by some), he had to be turned around at the end of the performance, as he couldn’t hear the amazing applause the audience was giving the work!
Take a listen to the first movement here by the Boston Symphony Orchestra under Benjamin Zander:
Look For This!
- Can you hear the famous opening of this work, known to layman as, Da-Da-Da-Daaaaaaaa!?
- This version is taken much faster than usual versions. For those who have heard other recordings of this, what do you think of the speed in this one?
- Notice the interaction between the violins and cellos throughout this movement.
The second section of this work is a much slower, more relaxed set of variations on a theme. It is what is known as a set of ‘double variations’, where there are two themes, each alternating in variation. See if you can recognise the main tune continually coming back.
Look For This!
- Can you identify the different variations in this movement? How many can you count?
- Notice how much of a prominent part the cellos have. They even open the whole movement.
The third and fourth movements of this work would have to be some of my personal favourite music. With Beethovens hearing deteriorating the way it was, he was struggling quite a bit with his fate, which can be heard in the first movement, the angry, aggressive nature of the work. The second movement is a lot more relaxed, and by the fourth movement you can hear just how much Beethoven came to terms with his deafness by the joyful, huge ending of the entire work, returning to his work and faith.
Take a listen to the final movements of this piece.
Look For This!
- Notice the sneaky opening of the cellos vs the violins in this movement, then contrasted by a dramatic brass entry.
- Listen throughout this movement as the music moves from dramatic and dark to grand, warm and bright.
- At about 1.40, can you hear the passing of the tune around the whole orchestra, starting with the double bass and cellos and moving up through? This is known as a ‘Fugue’.
- The end of this work features what’s known as the ‘Beethoven Ending’. Notice how long it is drawn out for!
What a work this is! It isn’t called the best symphony written for no reason, and although some prefer others, this one is incredibly well written and, as previously mentioned, also my favourite symphony. Its a large work but well worth the time sitting through.
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Until next time,
Evans Music School