It’s been an artistically fulfilling weekend. First there was the play (I’m sure readers are tired of reading about it) in which I performed. After three successful performances, my girlfriend and I took in the South Carolina Philharmonic‘s Sunday matinee performance of their popular Beethoven and Blue Jeans concert. Classical music is even more enjoyable when you get to wear jeans.
The SC Philharmonic’s energetic conductor, Morihiko Nakahara (a show in himself), didn’t pull any punches with this year’s B&BJ program. It was, essentially, “Beethoven’s Greatest Hits,” as I remarked to my girlfriend. Morihiko always tosses in one piece of weird modern classical music, but after enduring young composer Jessie Montgomery‘s 2016 tone poem “Records from a Vanishing City,” it was straight into the classics: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, the so-called Pastoral, rounded out the first half of the concert. Then it was into the thundering “DUHN DUHN DUHN DUUUUUUH, DUHN DUHN DUHN DUUUUUUUUUUUUUUH” of the Symphony No. 5 in C Minor after the break.
Everyone loves the Fifth Symphony, with its iconic opening theme (the first in symphonic music to make a rhythmic idea the theme, not a melodic one). But for my money, the bucolic beauty of the Sixth takes the cake.
The Philharmonic performed it beautifully. The glorious first movement, which Beethoven entitled “Awakening of happy feelings on arriving in the country,” brought tears of joy to my eyes. That’s hard to achieve in instrumental music. The symphony is a sort of musical counterpoint to the intensity of the Fifth, which broods through the minor mode before resolving to C major in a glorious finale.
The Sixth, on the other hand, is a largely untroubled trip through the countryside, which Beethoven apparently loved. He wrote more in his sketchbooks about the Sixth Symphony than any other, as he attempted to (and succeeded in) conveying musically the feel of rurality.
The symphony is a celebration of country life, without being overly romantic (though it is Romantic, to an extent). It rises above programmatic music, in which the composer says, “Here is what this music is supposed to be about”: the music speaks for itself. It has programmatic elements, of course: the last three movements, which all blend into one another, depict a peasant dance, which is then broken up by a powerful thunderstorm, which is followed by a celebration once the tension of the storm is released.
I honestly can’t say much more about the music (partially because I’m running out of time to get this post done)—but the music speaks for itself. Listen to the recording above, or seek one out yourself. Better yet, try to hear it live.
Regardless, tune out everything else. Turn down the lights, put on your headphones, and just drink in the music. Beethoven may not be my personal favorite composer, but the Sixth Symphony is transcendent.
As I remarked to my girlfriend after the concert, “That’s what music sounded like when Western Civilization still believed in itself.” Listen yourself—I think you’ll agree.
6 thoughts on “Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony”
Your last paragraph is spot on, especially probably compared to what I suspect is the badly fit Tone poem.
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There were elements of the tone poem that were quite effective, but they were rare. For the most part it was an aimless piece; my girlfriend asked, “What was the point?” It didn’t seem to go anywhere.
I do appreciate the conductor putting in something different and challenging, but I don’t get why a modern classical composer can’t produce something akin to the works of Mozart, et. al. (or Beethoven, in this case). I have theories, of course—the infestation of SJW identity politics, for example, which seemed to be a feature, not a bug, of the tone poem—but it seems like someone should be able to compose musically pleasing classical music in the 21st century.
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I see no reason either, except perhaps the times themselves. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Music is supposed to tell a story – to have a point, even 60s-early 70s rock does, most these days doesn’t. We’re the poorer for it.
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