Volume 15, Issue 6: Musica
Beethoven's well-known Fifth Symphony is a perfect example of how a composer can weave various musical
elements such as motive, theme, form, and timbre into a tapestry of dramatic tension and resolution that tells a story.
Amazingly, this is done simply with abstract soundno words, no sets, no costumesjust music.
Act Onethe first movementbegins with the immediate introduction of the hero, a four-note motive, which
is perhaps the most famous four-note pattern of all classical music. The fateful motive develops into the main
theme through sequential patterns and transformation, revealing the proud character of our hero. A horn call based on
the opening motive announces the entrance of theme twoa lyric theme with a completely different characterour
heroine. Theme one is in the key of c minor, theme two is in E= major. In light of the new character, the hero begins to
lose some of his tragic anxiety. The lyric mood of the heroine is beginning its transformation of the hero. The playing of
the two themes is called the exposition. It is our introduction to the characters. Beethoven has the exposition close in
the jubilation of the second theme but with the first motive rearing its anxious head. In order for us to become more
familiar and to identify more with the thematic characters, the exposition is repeated.
Although conflict is introduced simply by the advent of theme two, the real conflict begins with the
development section, which follows the repeat of the exposition. Ominous theme one makes us forget the glory of theme two,
but deep in the recesses of the hero's mind, the heroine's influence is working, causing greater and greater turmoil in
the hero. Beethoven uses imitation, modulation of keys, and sequential material to create the mood of instability in the
hero. The influential power of the heroine is so great that her theme is not even heard in the development although there
are hints of it in the sounding of the horn call motive in the violins. The theme of the hero begins to disintegrate into
two-note motives and whimpering chords of despondency with several sudden energetic outbursts. At first it seems that
the hero has been broken, but with an abrupt burst of strength, he seems to maintain his original proud character. Has
our heroine failed? It would seem so as the development section closes.
The restatement of the hero's theme begins the recapitulation. But the reiteration of this theme does not have
the braggadocio that was present in the exposition. There has been a change in his character, albeit not enough. This
will happen in the following movements. However, Beethoven uses even the recapitulation to work on our hero. In a
plaintive oboe cadenza, the hero seems to be brought out of his proud thoughts, which he tries to shake off with more
blustering. Then the horn call (in the bassoons) announces our heroine again, who arrives in C major this timea foreshadowing
of things to come. Her glorious theme brings the recapitulation to a close, and one would expect the movement to
finish after a short coda.
But no, the hero fights back. He is not willing to change. He argues with the heroine, who tries to respond (the
horn call motive) but is continually cut off by theme one. The hero puts in a final statement in which he seems to be
hardened in his prideful condition even further. This allows for a greater fall when the time comes. The coda and first
movement close with the hero seemingly entrenched in his condition. The first movement is in the conventional form
called Sonata Allegro form, which follows the pattern of ||introduction (optional)||: exposition :|| development ||
recapitulation || coda ||. Perhaps the most widely used formal structure since the middle of the
18th century, Sonata Allegro form gives the skilled composer the right tool to craft a good story.
The second movement is in a double theme and variations formtwo contrasting themes representing again the
hero and heroine. The hero is moody and contemplative in this movement (in A= Major) while the heroine answers
lovingly but firmly. At first her theme is in A= Major but she insistently reintroduces her ideas in C Major. The hero is
Movement three (a scherzo || A || B [trio] || A ||) is back in c minor. "I am not changing," says the
weakening hero. He broods with an ascending c minor arpeggio from the lower voices in the orchestra. A second theme
is derived from the hero's opening motive from movement one. In the trio, the heroine continues to press C major with
an energetic and dance-like theme. She has him convinced, and so she quietly finishes her statement. He bellows back,
but it is no good. She has won the argument. His argument is given in pizzicato strings showing its unconvincing reasoning.
The heroine is right. He sheds his sinful pride and soars into the final movement in a glorious theme in C major,
ready to conquer.
In the fourth movement
(Sonata-Allegro form) he does just that. There is only one moment of conflict where
we wonder if he will fall back into his old ways. The second theme from movement three returns just at the height
of conflict in the development section. However, the hero is not overcome and the recapitulation shows him
victorious40 measures of tonic-dominant harmonies.