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Timbral Analysis of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C Minor

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Tyler Martin Advanced Orchestration Symphony no. 5 in C minor Beethoven’s intent behind this piece is creating diversity out of unity. The unifying idea of the work is a series of three short notes followed by one long note. The diversity of the simple unifying idea therein is generated by the use of timbral development techniques and expansion of the orchestra; however, there are several performance practices and technical issues that impact the work’s total realization.

The score referenced throughout this essay is the Kalmus Miniature Orchestra Scores version.

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Beethoven takes his initial motif, which is quite simple, and fleshes it out via timbral orchestration. Throughout each movement, he carefully places developmental and accompanimental material within each section to generate the most impact over the course of the symphony. The first movement naturally bears the first examples of that practice.

After giving the theme a rather loud introduction with strings and (curiously) clarinet in the opening measures, the string section bounces the repeated section from violin to viola to violin and so on (mm.

6 – 17) before including the entire orchestra in a harmonized statement of the theme which is itself incased in a macro series of three short chords followed by a long dominant chord (mm. 19 – 24). The textures again thins out to just strings that carry a downward falling of the motif which is ended by a double bass So to Do motion.

The rapturous textural crescendo that follows the downward line is met with ever increasing attacks from the strings section still plowing along with the motif which is now not literally being played since the last note of every measure – the long note in the motif – is just an eighth note, but the agogic accent that occurs on the first of each measure gives the feel of more weight than the three previous(mm. 37 – 43).

In the first great climax of the piece, the violins carry the motif played out in a descending line that again uses the agogic accent of the downbeat to create emphasis at the end of the pattern in stead of note length, which allows this seemingly tumultuous, eighth-note driven section to press forward unrelentingly(mm. 44-55). Now, after sixty-two measures of exposition and a grand horn fanfare, the B theme is heard. The flowing, luscious melody acts counter to he original motif, but is harried by the continual use of the note pattern in the double bass and cello sections until it boils over again in the measure ninety-four (mm 65 – 94). The two themes are then repeated and explored in similar ways and in various tonal centers throughout the rest of the movement. In some places, Beethoven makes very pointed use of the wind tutti either as opposed to or in conjunction with the string section. He bounces them off each other, almost as if dueling, in a with back and fourth block chords (mm. 96 – 227) before then bouncing the motif between winds and strings (mm. 228 – 244). The same tactic is employed with the B theme later on, allowing it to be heard anew in a rich wind texture as well glimpsing the already heard in the strings (mm. 311 – 328). Also, during that same section, the motif is repeated yet again, but not simply in the double basses; the timpani share the motif as well, creating a back-and-forth between the two instruments.

This momentous act is one of (if not the) first occasions in which the percussion section is allowed important material. Unfortunately, as the key center is moved around, the timpani cannot continue their playing with the basses due to the lack of tuning flexibility and number of drums available at the time. After this point the movement gradually picks up harmonic momentum and eventually wraps up after continued and similar textural and timbral build-up that is to be resolved by a tutti restatement of the motif followed by a loud chain of V – i chords.

The second movement, which is conveniently in three, makes very good use of the motif for rhythmic fuel as it explores variations of the motif of the movement. The original motif can be felt in essence in the pick-up notes of the first measure, which is only two shorter notes followed by a long, but is also very similar. The first appearance of the full original motif is in measure fourteen, made of three eighth notes and an agogically emphasized eighth on the downbeat of the next measure.

This particular rendition is used throughout this movement to hold bring sections of it together on a macro level (mm. 21, 23, 30, 79 – 85, etc. ). Various instruments throughout the movement also adapt three short notes as pick-notes or as set-up sections for a string of lesser articulated notes(mm. 15 Violins, 76 – 77 Violin II and Viola, etc. ). For the first time in music history, movement three sees the emancipation of the low strings. The introductory statement of the movement is not made with violin, high wind, or even viola; it is made with the celli and basses.

The two instruments lend a sort of dark cast to the line that sounds anticipating, almost in a foreboding sense. The anticipation is met with the original motif at measure nineteen played by horns and accompanied by strings, which is then texturally expanded into the entire orchestra, much like it has been at time in the previous two movements (mm. 19 – 44). This movement, again conveniently in three, allows the motif to be interwoven throughout in much the same way as the second movement while the theme from the beginning measures is also developed.

Further diversity is generated through the use of articulation to create emphasis as in measure seventy-seven, where the slurred-two, tongue-two structure generates the short-short-short-long feel. The same occurs in several measures throughout this movement (mm. 33, 37, 77, 85, etc. ) Movement three is effectively part of a unit with movement four by way of an attacca between the movements, and the unification of the third and fourth movements is perhaps the most ingenious aspect of the third movement.

Starting at measure three hundred twenty-four, the timpani play a relatively simple and delicate solo of the original motif on C while strings hold octave C’s. As the timpani solo evolves to continuous quarter notes, the violins and low strings begin adding different elements of this movement’s theme to their pad, modifying the chord on top of the C pedal from the timpani and other strings(mm. 339 – 349). The lows eventually settle on G while the violins continue to play the theme until the timpani and the strings switch to eighth notes in measure three hundred sixty-seven.

The F major seven chord that is finally settled on for two measures brings with it the oboes and bassoons, and when the chord shifts to a G major seven, the horns and trumpets join. All the while, the pedal C is still being held by the timpani, and every section is in the middle of a crescendo that brings a powerful textural and volume crescendo to the downbeat of the ever-anticipated fourth movement. The first thing one hears in the fourth movement is a triumphant and loud brass and wind, fanfare-like melody accompanied by multiple stops in the strings.

What seems as a simple orchestration effect today was at the time very strange; Beethoven effectively stood the orchestra on its head in terms of which sections usually play the melodic material – strings – and which sections play accompaniment or accenting passages – winds. The strings act essentially as a snare drum due to their inability to play the multiple stops as true chords. The bridge is curved, and they may only play two, maybe three notes at once; therefore, each stop of more than two notes is played a broken chord which sounds like a snare drum ruff that is accenting the melody.

Because the full complement of brass and winds can be so loud at the notated fortissimo, the effect is a very powerful sound that washes over the listener. To make matters more interesting, trombones, a piccolo, and a contrabassoon are added to the orchestra. The powerhouse trombones deliver arguably the loudest sound in the entire orchestra, and the piccolo and contra add an entire octave both above and below the former range of the winds, allowing the sound to be even brighter and richer.

Yet another odd move is the key of the movement. Even though the title of the piece is given in C minor, the fourth movement begins in C major. This seemingly odd maneuver on Beethoven’s part yields several very useful results. The open strings on all the strings instruments fall within C major, thus the multiple stops that begin the piece are not only easier but fully resonant with each instrument using as many open strings as possible. The resonance of C major also benefits the clarinets, who are called on to switch to C clarinets.

As an instrument’s transposition moves closer to C, it becomes brighter in tone, and the brightness of the clarinets is not lost in this movement. Following the opening fanfare, the violins, piccolo, flutes, and oboes gives us the first showing of the original motif: staccato running eighth notes that are grouped in fours, the last note of each taking advantage of being on the downbeat for its accent (mm. 6 – 12). The grace notes that appear in measures eleven and twelve hearken back to the opening ruffs of the movement.

Another incarnation of the motif appears starting in measure twelve, guided by articulation. After that has been used up, a descending motif that is surrounded by textual crescendo brings the whole orchestra crashing back down to the fanfare (mm. 22 – 25). Everything that occurs after the initial fanfare is also governed by a macro short-short-short-long as well. The rest of the movement develops each of these aspects in similar ways mostly in a business-as-usual manner with the motif appearing in multiple places to unify the work almost constantly.

At the time of this symphony’s conception, there were several technical challenges to its realization. As was mentioned before with regards to the first movement, the timpani had only two pitches available to it because the tuning mechanisms in place were just lugs and custom at that time required only two drums of the average timpanist, generally tuned to Do and Sol. Under those circumstances, Beethoven clearly used the timpani to great effect in every movement.

The clarinet was a fairly new instrument, having only been around since the time of Mozart, and its design and pedagogy were still being refined when the work was premiered. That no doubt made it more difficult to include in the piece, and in several places the instrument is either not used much or is given easy middle-ground scoring. However, it also sees a lot of motivic lines and sharing melodies with the violins and other instruments, giving the impression that either Beethoven did not care the instrument was still developing or know the players that would be performing the piece very well.

With the exception of the trombones, the brass section was very limited in its tonal range since no other instrument was chromatic, and the only scalar passages most of them could play were very high in the overtone series. If Beethoven had had access to valved instruments when he wrote the piece, the fanfare in the beginning of the last movement might very well have continued on as a brass and winds line, instead of a string and winds line. Also, even though the string instruments were essentially perfected, they still were not quite the instruments they are today.

Where now all of them use metal strings, in that period they used gut strings, which were a lot less articulate and not as loud. This was particularly challenging for the double bass, which was essentially a great muddy sound when played with the bow. One solution Beethoven presented to this was pairing them with the contrabassoon in the fourth movement for greater clarity of sound. There were technical advances that assisted the realization of the work; arguably the greatest among them was the Tourte bow.

Before the new bow, bows were remarkably similar to the kind of bow that fired arrows: very curved. Such a bow would naturally be difficult to initiate sound with, and the arch-like motion that was used to play was relatively sluggish. The efficient construction of the Tourte bow allowed for greater power in the draw and control, which made it possible for the strings to speak on a more equal level with a wind tutti that included trombones in the fourth movement.

Also, all the particular articulations, from slurs to staccatos, would not have been possibly at the prescribed tempos for the original bow, but the Tourte bow gave the players a greater ease in achieving such maneuvers. When considering the size of the string section for a performance of this piece, one must consider the great strength in the winds that is achieved at various points throughout, and try to balance them without making the string so large and cumbersome for the more delicate parts of the piece. To that end I would recommend fourteen violins I’s, twelve violin II’s, ten violas, ten cellos, and eight double basses.

Cite this Timbral Analysis of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C Minor

Timbral Analysis of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony in C Minor. (2016, Sep 17). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/timbral-analysis-of-beethovens-5th-symphony-in-c-minor/

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