Ludwig Van Beethoven - Symphony No. 6 / Egmont Overture
Beethoven's Symphony No. 6, named the "Pastoral", signals a break from the Classical period of European music and marches firmly into the Romantic period. But it also is significant in a number of other ways. For a start, it is considerably longer than many earlier symphonies - in the duration of the first movement of the "Pastoral", an orchestra could have played an entire symphony by someone like Haydn. Second, it departed from the usual four movement format of symphonies by adding a fifth movement.
The inspiration for the symphony probably came from Beethoven's love of the countryside. A passionate walker - as he was passionate about many things - he often left the bustle of Vienna to work alone in the country. In order to try to direct the listener to the feelings and emotions he experienced during its composition and which he wished to convey to listeners, he entitled each movement giving it a particular theme. Even so, he knew that the listeners' responses to the music would be the determining factor and he was quite clear, in his writings and notes in the margins, that those who had some direct knowledge of the countryside and rural life would better be able to understand the work.
Perhaps that is one reason why the work received a rather non-descript response when it was premiered in 1808, some six years after he had begun work on it. The fact that it was not a good performance, not having been well-rehearsed, and was premiered along with the fifth, which had been written at the same time, in an overly long concert may have had something to do with it. Nevertheless, it soon became a popular work and has long since entered the popular canon and is one of the more frequently performed and recorded pieces of classical music today. Indeed, even those unfamiliar with it will, I am sure, be familiar with the musical theme of the first movement.
That movement is in the form of a sonata and seeks to express Beethoven's joy at arriving in the countryside. The second movement is also in sonata form and is widely regarded as among Beethoven's more peaceful and evocative compositions. The third movement, the scherzo, has a more rustic feel to it, fitting as it portrays the happier pastimes (which were probably pretty few and far between for your average peasant in the first years of the Austrian Empire) of the country people. The two final movements portray a storm, which erupts and passes as the music unfolds. Once again, Beethoven shows his mastery of musical imagery to express the emotions of the shepherds as they first take refuge from, and later emerge full of thanksgiving that it has finally passed. To many, the final movement is one which will again be familiar.
On this CD, the symphony is combined with the famous "Egmont Overture". Based on a play by Goethe, it is based on the life and heroic death of a Dutch nobleman executed by the Spanish in the sixteenth century for opposing Spanish rule - and Catholicism - in the Netherlands. Even Goethe was full of admiration for the work. Beethoven's intentions in writing it are perhaps linked to his feelings of outrage at the developments in the career of Napoleon, for whom he had expressed great admiration until the Corsican had had himself crowned emperor. Egmont may be seen as something of an exemplar of the heroic individual who takes a stand against tyranny and oppression and pays for it with his life. As for myself, I am not as fond of this as with the rest of the CD - I find it a little too bombastic for my taste, but I am not going to let this detract too much from my overall satisfaction with this CD.
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on 2011-02-22 CharlesMartel Said:
Next to the Fifth, this is probably Beethoven's best known symphony. It is unusual in having five movements instead of the usual four.