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Allegro ma non troppo from the Sixth Symphony.
Allegro from the Sixth Symphony.

The announcement of Beethoven's concert of December 22, 1808 appearing a few days earlier in the Wiener Zeitung refers to "A Symphony, entitled: `A Recollection of Country Life'". The word "pastoral" is first found in a violin part (now in the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde, Vienna) used at the first performance. But although the composer numbered it among his symphonies and did not regard it as an occasional piece, he was afraid that the "Pastoral" would be understood as an imitation of Nature; and so he inscribed the following motto in the first edition: "More an expression of feeling than a painting".

Despite this strong qualification, the idea of a programme, which is further outlines by the subtitles the composer devised for each of the five movements, has elicited more commentary than the substance of the music itself. It has led many writers to seek similar programmatic explanations in the rest of Beethoven's oeuvre, most notably in the other symphonies. But the "Pastoral" is particularly resistant to musical explanation because it is at least partly programmatic: for though its form is, as usual, governed by the thematic materials, the materials themselves have real links with the sounds of country life and the natural world. In this respect the "Pastoral" differs fundamentally both from those works for which Beethoven suggested emotional associations in the title (Sonate pathétique, Quartetto serioso, Sinfonia eroica) and form his only other work in the sonata style whose movements are subtitled, the "Farewell" Sonata ("Les adieux").

Simple harmonies, regular phrase constructions and soloistic textures are the chief characteristics of the world of the "Pastoral"; and to maintain a spirit of repose throughout, Beethoven uncharacteristically minimizes the roles of harmonic transition and motivic elaboration in the development sections of his sonata forms. In the first movement, whole phrases are often put together from a short motivic idea repeated over and over. And even when Beethoven does move to harmonic areas far removed from the home key of F, he is content merely to restate his themes in the new keys rather than to use this part of the movement for the usual motivic development. The second movement, also nominally in sonata form, carries these tendencies one stage further: the exposition and recapitulation themselves rely on numerous internal repetitions.

In the scherzo, the principal sections is followed by two consecutive trios, yielding a formal design (including all repeats of AB1B2AB1B2A' . The extra element (B2) compensates for the absence of the harmonic transition normally found in a Beethovenian scherzo; in other words, the enlarged design is needed to make the scale of the movement commensurate with that of the symphony as a whole. The Thunderstorm, the movement with the least stable harmonies and the greatest amount of motivic elaboration, can be thought of as the development section of the entire symphony. Though the bulk of the movement is framed by F minor, the parallel minor of the home key, it has neither a discrete beginning nor ending, and so its meaning is mainly dependent on its relation to the entire symphony. The finale is a kind of sonata rondo, but its development section is largely displaced by a new theme, for the clarinets and bassoons.

Besides the descriptive programme, one can sense a dramatic content in the music which is reflected in the scoring of the work. The first two movements use the woodwind (without piccolo), horns and strings, i.e. an instrumentation suited to the symphony's unpretentious opening. The trumpets do not appear until the second trio of the scherzo, and here mainly to reinforce the wind's background drone in a peasant dance. Beethoven withholds the timpani until the fourth movement, identifying them solely with the representation of the thunder ; the piccolo enters soon after, but the trombones are reserved until the very climax of the Thunderstorm - and this of the whole symphony. For the finale, the dénouement of the drama, the piccolo and timpani are dropped; but Beethoven appropriately retains the trombones in this hymn of thanksgiving.

Multimedia Beethoven Online Encyclopaedia provides completely explanation of Ludwig van Beethoven's greatest works - his nine symphonies. Please choose the number of the symphony below:

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