Fifth Dimension

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An Evaluation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony: 3rd and 4th Movements

Posted by fifthdimension on May 16, 2007

The third movement, with its emphasis on the woodwinds and horns, seems to expand and deepen the pastoral mood of the second, drawing at the same time on gestures from the heartfelt Pathetique Piano Sonata, op. 13. The Italian direction for the movement is ‘Adagio molto’, a very slow tempo. But the metronome marking is 60, which is moderately fast, certainly at least an Andante rather than an Adagio – let alone an ‘Adagio molto’. Most performers, in their eagerness to create an emotional effect that answers to the direction ‘Adagio molto’, have simply disregarded the metronome marking and opted for a much slower tempo. Romantic conductors like Furtwangler and Bernstein in fact took this movement at half the speed indicated, creating a mood of reverent, ineffable stillness. Interestingly, it’s only this movement that truly encompasses the stylistic nuances of Beethoven’s third period. The symphony begins ab origine, beginning as if it had always existed from birth (Pestelli, 250). The rustling pianissimo on A and E rapidly crescendo to a powerful theme, with a falling arpeggio in D Minor. The falling fifths eventually swell into a “menacing” fortissimo theme in D Minor. As the melody becomes freer, the strings softly accompany using pizzicato, setting up an almost ethereal aura. The melody progresses even more, increasing in volume, and when it seems that it is coming to a close, a loud fanfare intrudes in E Flat Major. This movement is far off from classical sonata form, and is important because it shows the transition between the Classic and Romantic periods of music.


Another dramatic transition happens between the third and final movement. Beginning with an outraged flurry of instruments, the cellos and basses play dramatic recitative, hinting at some sort of “rapproachement between the instrumental and vocal music.” (Plantiga, 65) Then, in succession, themes from the three prior movements are played, but are quickly interrupted and rejected by the recitatives of the basses and cellos. Finally, a new theme emerges from the orchestra, now hesitant because of what happened previously. It is accepted, however, but not without a minor protest from the basses and cellos. Eventually other instruments join in, which lead to a triumphant statement of the theme.


The finale is the symphony’s most striking movement. The most important feature here is the deployment of graceful choral forces that have occupied the stage in silence through the first three movements. The movement’s formal structure itself is equally compelling in its originality. Music scholars are yet to come to an agreement regarding the structure of this movement, with its blending of techniques borrowed from a variety of media, including theme and variations, solo concerto, sonata procedure and double fugue. A recent theory views the movement as a “symphony within a symphony,” a model that duplicates the whole. Moreover, the ecstatically heroic text set by the music of this section is well fitted to a very fast tempo: ‘Joyously as his suns fly across heaven’s magnificent expanse, brothers, run your race, joyously as a hero [runs] to victory.’

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