Symphony No. 5 (Beethoven)

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Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 in C Minor was written in 1804-1807. In the catalog of Beethoven's works it is Opus 67. The work was dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz and Count Rasumovsky, a Russian diploma who had commissioned three of Beethoven's string quartets.

The symphony is one of the most popular and well-known compositions in all of classical music, and is frequently performed and recorded.

The symphony achieved its reputation soon after its first performance in 1808; it was described at the time by E.T.A. Hoffmann as "one of the most important works of the age."

The symphony is immediately recognizable by its four-note opening motif. Because of the motif's resemblance to the Morse code for the letter V (dot dot dot dash), it was used as a shorthand for the word "victory" to open the BBC's radio broadcasts during World War II, an idea of William Stephenson's.


Premiere and critical reception

The Fifth Symphony premiered December 22, 1808 during a mammoth concert, consisting entirely of Beethoven premieres, at the Theater an der Wien in Vienna. Other highlights were the Choral Fantasy, the Sixth Symphony, and the Fourth Piano Concerto. (The names of the Fifth and Sixth symphonies were mistakenly reversed on the program, due to the order of their performances).

There was little critical response of any sort to the symphony's first appearance, perhaps due to the poor playing of the orchestra (they had only one rehearsal before the concert) and the exhaustion of the audience from the long program. However, a year and a half later another performance resulted in a rapturous review by E.T.A. Hoffmann in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. He described the music by writing, "Radiant beams shoot through the deep night of this region, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy all within us except the pain of endless longing -- a longing in which every pleasure that rose up amid jubilant tones sinks and succumbs. Only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with a full-voiced general cry from all the passions, do we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits."

Movements and Scoring

The work is in four movements:

I. Allegro con brio
II. Andante con moto
III. Scherzo. Allegro
IV. Allegro

First movement

The first movement is in sonata form and opens with a four-note motif, one of the most famous in western music:

Missing image
Image:Beethoven symphony 5 opening.png

This opening statement has been described as "Fate knocking at the door", which serves to give imagery to the dark, tense, and energetic mood of the movement. The motif starts a headlong rush to the end of the first movement, giving off an aura of inevitability. The four-note motif is repeated in various forms throughout the symphony and unites it thematically.

Second movement

The second movement is a gentle, lyrical movement which follows a theme and variations form. This relatively relaxed and confident sequence is a respite from the darkness of the first movement. Near the end, the pulse of the music quickens as a mysterious mood is introduced, but the heroic, confident atmosphere returns to finish the movement.

Third movement

The third movement is a scherzo, which returns to the dark mood of the first movement. It opens with winds and strings tossing phrases between each other. Then the horns loudly announce the main theme of the movement, and the music proceeds from there. Near the end of the movement, the music drops to a whisper before slowly building in a huge crescendo and transitioning without interruption to the fourth movement. This final passage takes the music from C minor to the C major of the finale (Beethoven had tried a similar key change from B flat minor to B flat major at the opening of his Symphony No. 4).

Fourth movement

The allegro finale is pervaded by feelings of ecstatic glory. It is interrupted by a brief, haunting reprise of the scherzo theme before the symphony ends with repeated triumphant chords in C major.

Influence and legacy

Groundbreaking technically and emotionally, the Fifth Symphony had a large influence on composers and music critics. It specifically impacted on the works of Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Bruckner, and Mahler. The symphony stands with the Third Symphony and Ninth Symphony as the most revolutionary of Beethoven's symphonies, and indeed, all his compositions. The symphony is so popular that it is considered a war horse.

The symphony in popular culture

Not surprisingly given its fame, the Fifth Symphony has appeared frequently in popular culture.

  • A disco version, called "A Fifth of Beethoven," was made by Walter Murphy during the disco era of the 1970s. This version was featured in the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.
  • In turn, "A Fifth of Beethoven" was used as the backing track for "When I Get You Alone" by Californian R&B artist Thicke, released in 2002, with songwriting credits listed as "Walter Murphy / Robin Thicke".
  • A short passage appeared in the 1970s disco medley "Hooked on Classics 1".
  • The 1970s rock band Electric Light Orchestra included the opening bars of the symphony as an introduction to their cover of Chuck Berry's Roll Over Beethoven.
  • The first movement also appeared in Disney's Fantasia 2000 in the sequence that opens the film. As with the much earlier Disney Beethoven Sixth in the original Fantasia, the music was severely cut. The animation depicts paper butterflies being chased by a storm of darker, evil paper butterflies.
  • In Disney's "Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers," when Mickey is sent to prison, his best friends Goofy and Donald attempt to save him. At the last minute, Donald backs out (being the coward that he's portrayed to be). This scene is then accompanied by The Troubadour (the narrator of the story) singing the 5th Symphony with different lyrics. The starting lyric includes "This is the end!" Eventually, Donald joins Goofy in saving Mickey.
  • In Douglas Adams' 1979 novel "The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy", hero Arthur Dent hums the symphony's first bar to a Vogon guard, in a last-ditch effort to persuade the guard to abandon his brutal ways; the attempt is unsuccessful, although Dent evades imminent death by other means.
  • On a mid 1980s mix tape of humorous answering machine messages there is a version which goes: "Nobody's home. Why did you phone? Please leave your message here when you have heard the tone, And we will call you back as soon as we get home. Your message here, After the tone, Here is the tone... tone"
  • In one episode of Animaniacs, The Warner Brothers and Sister visit Beethoven as chimney sweeps who hum the first few notes continuously, thus giving Beethoven the idea for his piece.


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External links



  • Bookspan, Martin (1973). 101 Masterpieces of Music and Their Composers, p. 50-52. New York: Doubleday & Sinfonie (Beethoven)

es:Quinta Sinfona de Beethoven fr:5e symphonie de Beethoven ko:베토벤 교향곡 제5번 ja:交響曲第5番 (ベートーヴェン) sl:Ludwig van Beethoven: Simfonija št. 5 zh:第五交响曲 (贝多芬)


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