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

Topics: Orchestra, String instrument, Violin Pages: 6 (2260 words) Published: May 1, 2013
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.

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 the 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. 196 – 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...
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