The Pastoral Sinfonie, or Symphony as we spell it II

I had begun telling you about Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, also known as the Pastoral Symphony (or Pastoral-Sinfonie in the original German, which accounts for the unusual variant of the spelling you see above in the title. I apologise for repeating this point, but I do not want to be accused of misspelling)

And now for a brief account of the five movements in the symphony….. and don’t worry, I will use the English names here, along with the original German. (I cannot do anything about the Italian terms… they are de rigeur, and their understanding is necessary to appreciate the finer nuances of Western classical music)

Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande (Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country): Allegro ma non troppo

The symphony begins with a placid and cheerful movement depicting the composer’s feelings as he arrives in the country. The work is in sonata form, and makes use of seven distinct motifs, each of which is extensively developed and transformed.

The multiple repetitions of very short motifs, which is quite unusual, results in what experts term “a microscopic texture”.

Szene am Bach (Scene at the brook): Andante molto mosso

This movement can be held as one of Beethoven’s most beautiful, conveying a sense of serenity. The key is B flat major, the subdominant of the main key of the work, and it is in sonata form.

It begins with a motif played by  the strings that is clearly redolent of flowing water. The cello section is divided, with just two players playing the flowing-water notes on muted instruments, with the remaining cellos playing mostly pizzicato notes together with the double basses.Toward the end of the movement, there is a cadenza for three woodwind instruments that imitates bird calls at measure 130. Beethoven helpfully identified the bird species in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (clarinet).

Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute (Happy gathering of country folk): Allegro

In F major, a return to the main key of the symphony, this is the scherzo movement of the symphony, which depicts the country folk dancing and revelling. The final return of scherzo conveys a riotous atmosphere with a faster tempo. The movement ends abruptly when the country folk notice that raindrops are starting to fall.

Gewitter, Sturm (Thunderstorm; Storm): Allegro

The fourth movement, in F minor, depicts a violent thunderstorm with painstaking realism, starting with just a few drops of rain and building to a great climax. There is, of course, thunder, as well as lightning, high winds, and sheets of rain.The storm eventually spends itself, with an occasional peal of thunder still heard in the distance. There is a seamless transition into the final movement, including a theme that could be interpreted as depicting a rainbow.

Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm (Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm): Allegretto

The finale is again in F major. The first eight bars form a continuation of the introduction of which the storm was the main part; the finale proper begins in the ninth bar. The movement is written in sonata rondo form, or in simpler terms, that the main theme appears in the tonic key at the beginning of the development as well as the exposition and the recapitulation. Like many classical finales, this movement emphasizes a symmetrical eight-bar theme, in this case representing the shepherds’ song of thanksgiving. The mood throughout is unmistakably joyful.

Starting rather quietly, the coda gradually builds to an ecstatic culmination for the full orchestra (minus “storm instruments”), with the first violins playing very rapid dotted semi-quavers at the top of their range. There follows a fervent passage suggestive of prayer, marked by Beethoven “pianissimo, sotto voce”; most conductors slow the tempo for this passage. After a brief period of afterglow, the work ends with two emphatic chords.

I wish I could do the same but….


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