Fifth Dimension

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An Evaluation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony: 1st and 2nd Movements

Posted by fifthdimension on May 16, 2007

The very beginning of the Symphony Nine sets the ball rolling for a new musical atmosphere. There is no abrupt declaration, which is noticeable in the openings of the Third and Fifth Symphonies. The musical sense slowly merges out of an incipient mist; for several bars, the very key of the symphony remains in doubt. From here the movement creates an intense mood, very much in the rhetoric of the earlier heroic symphonies.

One of the most striking characteristics of the Ninth is the emotional fervor of each of the movements. In the first movement, one can hear a brief burst of sunlight, a gesture in the woodwinds that augurs the main theme of the choral finale. It’s only towards the end that the movement reveals its real meaning, collapsing into an ominous funereal march.

The second movement is a brisk scherzo. It would do well to remember while listening to it that the English version of “scherzo” is “joke”. Here, the threatening malevolence of the first movement is transformed into the merely (and comically) sinister; the opening timpani solo announces as much, even as it recalls the main theme of the first movement. It communicates its energy through the use of staggered rhythm, staccato, and timpani accompaniment. Technically, the scherzo opens with a falling fifth, then transforms into a legato, then plunges a full octave. The scherzo runs along interrupted until it is interrupted by brief slow interludes by the strings; the scherzo manages to overpower them initially, but then a trio takes over. The trio offers a relief, with a change in timbre. It consists of variations on a folk-like tune. Then the scherzo reenters with a grand note. What sounds like a repetition of the trio is quickly stifled by the scherzo and timpani, ending the movement on an abrupt note.

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