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Bertrand de Billy & ORF Radio Symphonie Orchester Wien Ludwig van Beethoven: Sinfonien 5&6 OC 630 SACD
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FormatSuper Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 630
Release date04/07/2008
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Beethoven, Ludwig van

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      Ajewel of musical listening pleasure”, “Beethoven taken seriously”, “Not just any thousandth variant”, “Finally a Beethoven for music-lovers”: the international press was full of praise when Bertrand de Billy and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna presented Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony on OehmsClassics. With the Fifth and Sixth (“Pastorale”), two of Beethoven’s most popular symphonies have now been released. Bertrand de Billy’s fundamental premise is absolute fidelity to the score, which includes absolute observance of the original tempo markings in order to preserve the proportions of the works. While the Fifth Symphony is shaped by its famous four-note motive and develops from darkness into a final light, the Pastorale is considered to be among the most important pieces of program music ever written. Storm, birdcalls or brusque peasants’ dance – Beethoven’s score bubbles over with ideas.

      From the stars of freedom to the morals of emotion

      Remarks on Beethoven’s 5th and 6th Symphonies

      With the 5 th and 6 th Symphonies, we come straight to the center of Ludwig van Beethoven’s symphonic creations. The path chosen by Beethoven with his “Eroica” now manifests itself; the links, cross-connections, conflicts and thematically purposeful contrasts or cross-references within the individual works, and even the individual symphonies to each other, can hardly be unraveled. Beethoven made some first sketches for the 5th Symphony in C Minor while he was working on the “Eroica”. He interrupted this work to write the 4th Symphony in B-flat Major, finally returning to the 5th to complete it for its premiere in fall 1807. Parallel to this he composed the apparently so different 6th Symphony in F Major, which later became famous under the title “Pastorale”. The word ‘parallel’ must be taken literally: at the time of the “Pastorale’s” premiere it was even sometimes known as the “5th Symphony”.

      As a matter of fact, at the premiere of both works, which took place in that music-historically unique “Academy” on December 22, 1808 in the Theater an der Wien, the “Pastorale” was played first. Only at quite a late hour that evening did listeners hear Beethoven’s 5th as the penultimate work on the program. A great deal has been written and speculated about the flowing into one another of the composer’s essential works and about the various ‘pairs’ he created – particularly the 5th and 6th Symphonies on the one hand and the 7th and 8th immediately following this. It can likewise not be ignored that the “odd-numbered” symphonies 3, 5 and 7 – often described as having a heroic character – are followed by the “evennumbered” symphonies 4, 6 and 8, with their calmer, friendlier and to some extent more humorous characters. We will not philosophize further about this here, although such study does reveal essential information. At least in the case of the two symphonies at hand, however, we will make some concrete observations that touch upon these ideas again.

      Symphony No. 5

      We have already mentioned the key dates of this work: first sketches circa 1803, premiere 1808. The fact that even the “Eroica” sketches contain first drafts for the Symphony in C Minor (particularly the famous beginning motive) is significant. The similarity between the characters of the 5th Symphony and the “Eroica” is likewise evident; there is a connection between this and their temporal proximity. Viewing Beethoven’s overall symphonic output makes it obvious that it must have been more than coincidence that he created the buoyant and lyrical 4th Symphony in B-flat Major between the colossal 3rd and 5th symphonies. Similar to the “Bonaparte” cliché connected to the “Eroica”, we must confront another cliché found in connection with the 5th Symphony: the idea of it as a “Symphony of Fate”. That the first measures depict pitiless fate knocking on someone’s door is a matter of mystification and does not withstand any serious revision. Like the 3rd Symphony, the 5th is entirely conceived towards the Finale; this is accentuated even more in the 5 th Symphony due to the uninterrupted attacca connection between the fourth and fifth movement. Just as the Prometheustheme dominates and finds its fullest expression in the last movement of the “Eroica”, the ‘explanation’ of the 5th Symphony’s ‘sub-text’ cannot be found until the work’s Finale.

      Let us now look at the famous first motive of the 1st movement (Allegro con brio) – perhaps the most famous opening of any symphony ever. As mentioned above, the earliest sketches for this motive belong to Beethoven’s very first occupation with the symphony. Numerous interesting studies are dedicated to the development of the sketches and investigating the form of Beethoven’s motive. These studies clearly show the great degree to which Beethoven’s conception for the overall structure of the movement began with this motive, or conversely, how this motive in the end dictated the movement’s entire form. The second theme of the 1st movement is directly related to the main motive. It can even be asserted with some legitimacy that this first movement develops monothematically, which is shown by its lapidary brevity as well as tightness. An analysis of the movement makes the sonata form perfectly clear: exposition – development – recapitulation – coda. But Beethoven never lets form dictate content – on the contrary: form must serve substance at all levels. Sketches of the compositional process show how Beethoven systematically works in irregularities and irritations in the force and urgent character of this unique movement.

      But there are also formal parallels to the “Eroica”. The recapitulation is shortened; the coda, however, is lengthened to such an extent that it almost takes on the character of a second development. A second moment in the movement may also have provided contemporaneous listeners with a problem: in measure 268, the oboe intones an almost plaintive motive whose Adagio tempo is in great contrast to the primary Allegro con brio tempo. This opposition between the pressing main tempo and a retarding element within the movement only achieves Beethoven’s intended effect when the movement is played in a very fast tempo, according to Beethoven’s wish, (and when the repeats for the exposition are taken seriously, particularly in the 4th movement, which is all too often neglected).

      After the nothing less than fanatical and stormy 1st movement expressivity, Beethoven introduces – at first glance – a calming element with his 2nd movement, an Andante, though with the postscript con moto. In contrast to the 1st movement, the 2nd is a theme and variations – here, a theme followed by three variations. But the fundamental character of the symphony is never departed from. As lyrically as the theme begins, the movement regains the symphony’s overall expression of determined energy at the latest with the fanfare in measure 29. It is not until the 4th movement, however, that we learn the meaning and resolution of this fanfare. Despite the theme-and-variation form of the 2nd movement, there are hints of sonata form. The symphony’s overall concept did not allow Beethoven to shape this movement in a simple and formal linear fashion, and the 2nd variation thus has a certain resemblance to a development.

      The 3rd movement, Allegro, single-mindedly continues its inexorable path to the finale. This recording presents a reading of the work that is different from (almost) every previous one. Nearly all scores available today show the 3rd movement as a tripartite form with a long transition that seamlessly moves into the Finale. Most analyses of the movement are based on this form. After a long period of study and many practical trials, however, Bertrand de Billy, the conductor of this recording, has decided to follow the version published by Peter Gülke in 1978, which lays out the 3rd movement in five parts. The confusion on this point was created by the composer himself, because the original manuscript provides evidence for a five-part form, as opposed to the parts used at the premiere and the first printed music – which, however, contained surplus measures remaining from the five-part layout. And as though these conflicting materials weren’t enough, an exchange of confusing letters between Beethoven and his publisher concerning the deletion or retention of these surplus measures also exists.

      Neither the existing music nor the exchange of letters has been able to clear up this question with all finality. It is thus up to the interpreter to decide which path to follow – if he or she seriously wishes to be the “composer’s advocate” (Erich Leinsdorf ) or act as the “double” of the composer (René Leibowitz). Bertrand de Billy has not only studied the material and all argumentation in depth, but tried out both versions in concert on many occasions as well, coming to the conclusion that the five-part layout must have been Beethoven’s actual intention. His performances of the five part form of the 3rd movement have showed him that this form is much more logical in regard to the symphony’s overall structure as well as the logic of the 3rd movement itself. In addition, all works that Beethoven wrote around the time of the 5th Symphony also show a five-part form (not only the 4th, 6th and 7th Symphonies, but practically all great chamber music works from that time).

      In the present form, the 3rd movement appears in the formal sequence A (minor)-B (major)-A-B-A’. This arrangement develops so: as of measure 239, the first part of the movement is repeated in its entirety, from measure five onwards. The movement begins in pianissimo with a phrase played unisono by the cellos and contrabasses. From measure 6 on, this phrase is continued by the remaining strings – also expressly in pianissimo – supported by the horn, bassoon and clarinet. The section ends with a fermata. The same motive begins again, stopping once more at the fermata as if hanging in mid-air, only to be interrupted by a boastful horn fanfare. The close relationship of this gesture in particular with the introductory motive of the 1st movement is unmistakable. In the Trio, Beethoven now counters the fanfare with a fugato that begins unisono in the lower strings and which at times simply bristles with rhythmic peculiarities. This continues the conscious unrest of the 1st and 2nd movements, which only resolves in the Finale.

      The movement does not close with a repetition of the A section. Instead, we find here one of Beethoven’s most exciting inspirations ever: a variation that directly transitions into the Finale, and which is known to have developed only at a very late stage in the master’s compositional process. To achieve this, however, Beethoven had to condense the movement much earlier than was conventional – in the second part of the Trio – in order to pave the way into the Finale instead of back to the Scherzo. The elaboration of the fifth part (in this version) can almost be seen as a reduction of the Scherzo material to its most basic form. First, one senses the change between bowed and plucked tones. The violins – in contrast to the violas – then retain the pizzicato until the rhythm, which is clearly reminiscent of the symphony’s opening motive, can only be perceived as a pianissimo in the tympani. Then come the long ppp tones in the strings until a vague movement develops that also warns of the opening motive. In the last eight measures, a crescendo develops that is brusquely interrupted with the first fortissimo attacca entry of the Finale.

      “Per aspera ad astra” – literally: one achieves the stars through toil [hardness], or more freely: “through night to the light”. This could be the motto of the entire symphony, which now culminates in the C Major Finale. The previous instrumentation is now complemented by a piccolo, three trombones and a contrabassoon. Formally, the 4th movement is again a four-part sonata form. But in contrast to the almost monothematic severity and exceptional brevity of the first movement, Beethoven’s imagination now overflows. He takes all his time developing the themes: alone the exposition, with its main theme, secondary theme, second subject group and stretto close, take up 85 measures. This is followed in the development primarily by his treatment of the secondary theme. Before the recapitulation, however, Beethoven inserts a reminiscence of the horn motive and the transition of the Scherzo. The longest part of the movement is now taken up by the 110 measures of the recapitulation, which finally flow into the two-part coda with its famous, seemingly never-ending final chords.

      The sudden wealth of the material and extent of its treatment lead us into the subject of the relationship of this work to music of the French Revolution – a notion particularly advanced in Peter Gülke’s analysis. As early as the 1920s, Arnold Schmitz pointed out Beethoven’s ties to Cherubini, Gossec and other French composers of revolutionary times. Gülke shows that Beethoven directly composed the code word of the French Revolution, “La liberté!” into the 5th Symphony, taking this directly from Rouget de l’Isle’s (the composer of the Marseillaise) “Hymne dithyrambique”. It is not the place here to discuss the question whether or not Beethoven quoted this consciously or simply created it in the spirit of French revolutionary music (Gülke). The intent remains essential, and above all, the fact that the entire symphony rushes towards this Finale. In the 2nd movement there are already references to the music that will lead to the absolutely unrestrained frenzy of “la liberté” in the Finale: the dolce A-flat Major theme in the woodwinds is interrupted with fortissimo by the rest of the orchestra, which carries the movement to its vehement C Major end. This “liberté” fury begins building up for the first time from measure 4 on. It appears in the development completely unassumingly in the cellos, only little by little taking over the lead in order to dance into the conclusion with “dithyrambic joy” (Gülke).

      Symphony No. 6

      We know with relative certainty that Beethoven’s “Pastorale” was written from the summer months of 1807 until early 1808. Although the “Eroica” sketch-book from 1803 also contains individual sketches for this symphony, there are no notes referring to a concrete symphonic plan. This must have developed parallel to when Beethoven was working out the 5th Symphony. The designation “Pastorale” refers to the phenomenon of describing nature with musical means that was thoroughly prevalent in Beethoven’s time. Beethoven thus is yet another composer in a long tradition that can be traced back to the begin of the 17th century. And he was thoroughly conscious of examples from music history as well as in the works of his contemporaries. Many can be found, e.g. in the works of Telemann, Handel, Vivaldi or Bach, and of course in Haydn’s oratorios, which Beethoven certainly knew.

      But the composer’s subtitle to his 6 th Symphony: “more an expression of sensation than of painting”, emphasizes that he did not intend any naturalistic depiction of nature with musical means. However, the main title of this work, “Pastoral – Symphony or Recollections of Country Life”, as well as the titles Beethoven gave each individual movement contradict this. There are historical parallels to this practice as well. In 1791, for example, one finds an several-movement organ work by Justinus Heinrich Knecht entitled “The shepherds’ bliss, interrupted by a thunderstorm”, which has movements similar to Beethoven’s: “I. The shepherds’ bliss in pleasant, abundantly changing songs; II. The gradual approach of the thunderstorm, which announces itself with both thunder from afar as well as with humid air (expressed by drab harmonies) and which disturbs the happy songs of the shepherds; III. The intense outbreak of the thunderstorm itself, during which the shepherds’ songs can be heard with a wailing sound; IV. The slow departure of the same and the following clearing up of the air; V. The continuation and resolution of the previously interrupted happy shepherds’ songs.”

      One year before this, in 1784, Knecht had composed a five-movement orchestral work, a Grande Symphonie entitled “Portrait Musical de la Nature”, whose movement designations are even closer to those of the “Pastorale”. And other concrete models can be found in Beethoven’s time as well (like Georg Joseph Vogler, Leopold Mozart or the Mozart student Franz Jacob Freystädtler). With a person like Beethoven, of whom it is known that he not only read every available score, but carefully studied and excerpted many of these, one can assume that he knew many of these works.

      But Beethoven never simply followed prevailing fashions, but changed them so radically that they changed music history forever. In one of his sketch-books he writes, “Every painting, as soon as it has been taken too far in instrumental music, loses.” Beethoven’s love of nature is not only sufficiently well known, it is a fundamental attitude that suffused his life and mentality, over and above the expression of his immediate well-being. We know something about what Beethoven read, and in addition to his constant examination of Homer or Goethe, we know for example which passages he underlined in one edition of the work Views on the Work of God in the World of Nature and Providence on All Days of the Year, edited by Evangelical minister Christoph Christian Sturm. In an essay, Rüdiger Heinze notes parallels with Immanuel Kant’s Universal Natural History, a work that Beethoven expressly mentions in a notebook he kept on conversations.

      “The moral law in us and the starry heavens above us” – this quote can be used in many contexts in regard to Beethoven’s thought and works. For the “Pastorale”, we must understand it as an overriding theme – over and above all titles and subtitles. If one says that of Beethoven’s symphonic works, the “Eroica” is the first that is clearly oriented towards the Finale, this must also be true for the “Pastorale” – not only formally and thematically, but particularly in regard to content. The hymn of praise by the shepherds in the 5th movement “Thanks to the divine being” is perhaps Beethoven’s most discussed expression for the consciousness of inner moral responsibility under the “starry heavens”, which he then expresses in song in his last symphonic work with Schiller’s words: “Brothers! Above the starry canopy a loving father must dwell. …Seek him above the starry canopy! He must dwell above the stars.”

      This is in fact no longer more “sensation than painting”, but much more a philosophy of life expressed in music. In his analysis, Peter Hauschild (Edition Peters) uses the sketches to show that the opening of the 5th movement – a shepherds’ theme – is the motivic nucleus for the entire “Pastorale”. We already find this theme in the first motive of the 1st movement as well as – in different forms – at the beginning of each other movement (concerning the 5th movement, this “introduction” is the chorale at the close of the 4th movement). In music history before Beethoven, the key of F major repeatedly stood for depictions of nature. At first glance, the 1st movement of the “Pastorale” with its tempo marking Allegro ma non troppo (Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country), just like its sister, the 5th Symphony, has no slow introduction, as do, for example, the 4th or 7th Symphonies. But one parallel to the 5th is entirely apparent: that the retarding element at the beginning is limited to a fermata. In the 5th Symphony, the listener is immediately confronted by the theme, the energy of whose last note is simply increased by the fermata. In the 6 th, however, the theme enters almost like a commonplace phrase, which takes pause at the end, held up by the fermata.

      Only in the next measures does it become clear that we – just as in the 5th Symphony – are already in the middle of thematic events. Beethoven first used this type of abbreviation in the “Eroica”. There, however, he presented us with the result of the entire work right at the beginning, i.e. with the two harsh E-flat Major chords, after which the rest of the symphony shows us how this result came to be. In the 5th and 6th Symphonies, on the other hand, the thematic material forms the immediate starting point for what follows. Overall, the formal parallels between the 5th and 6 th symphonies are much closer than we might assume, based on their different characters. In only four measures, Beethoven presents us with the essential thematic material of the “Pastorale”, then meditating on it in the following 508 measures. But he does this in a skillful development within the sonata form and with a unique web of major-key relationships that is exceptional even in his own oeuvre.

      In the 2nd movement, Andante molto moto (Scene at the Brook), Beethoven comes closest to a depiction of nature, e.g. in his representation of water at the beginning of the movement, or with the birdcalls at the end. Beethoven wrote the names of the three birdcalls into the score himself: nightingale, quail and cuckoo. Formally, the 2nd movement is also a sonata form that also integrates variations (similar to the 5 th, where the movement is laid out as a theme and variations with sonata form shimmering underneath). The birdcalls then form part of a fixed cadenza in the movement’s coda. Just as in the 1st movement, it is nearly impossible to completely detail the complexity of the movement’s structure and its finely chiseled details. The result, however, is a continuation of the basic mood of the 1st movement, both through the key relationships (e.g. the 2nd movement is in B-flat Major, just as is the beginning of the development of the 1st movement) as well as the treatment of the basic material.

      Beethoven entitled the 3rd movement (Allegro) Happy gathering of country folk. It is simultaneously the first part of the ending triptych, as it and the following two movements follow upon one another without pause. This movement is in the classical structure of a dance movement, which can easily lead us astray – Beethoven only entitles the 3rd movements of his 2nd and 3rd symphonies as “Scherzo”. But it is not in the least a minuet as in the 1st Symphony, because we are now confronted by – with no previous preparation – the Beethoven of the “German Dances”. In his analysis, Rudolf Bockhold convincingly argues that the 3rd movement is actually the symphony’s pivotal point, and would actually form a logical Finale to the two previous movements, if the power of the storm didn’t lastingly annihilate the pleasure. He thus suggests that the actual Finale is an “epilog”. In the 3rd movement, Beethoven now adds trumpets to the previous orchestration, and the reason for this is not entirely harmless. Although Beethoven’s humor does emerge in this movement – country village music is characterized by purposefully ‘false’ rhythmic entries – the trumpet thwarts more than supports the lighthearted fun, thus helping build up a premonition of what is to come.

      The 4th movement is an Allegro with the subtitle Thunderstorm, Storm. With the transition from the 3rd to the 4th movement, we experience the interruption of the Happy gathering of country folk, while towards the end of the waning storm, there is room again for general relief and thankfulness. With this movement, Beethoven, far eclipses all previous musical depictions of natural violence. After addition of the trumpet in the previous movement, tympani, trombone and piccolo now have their say. Beethoven takes advantage of the extreme ranges of the available instruments, in addition to using the complete dynamic range between pianissimo and fortissimo. For the first time in this symphony, we are confronted by a minor key – and with the greatest possible vehemence. Beethoven’s expression for threat (Egmont Overture, Florestan Aria) is F Minor. The movement builds menacingly from a pianissimo, intensifying in waves in the first two-thirds to a climax in measure 106. With the trombone entrance here, the movement now gradually calms, ending in a pianissimo.

      The Finale, entitled Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm is a moderate Allegretto in 6/8. At first, the form seems to be a typical, clear Rondo that matches the ‘calming’ character of the movement. But Beethoven would not be Beethoven if he didn’t include other formal elements – here, sonata form as well as variation. It must be remarked once again that Beethoven’s formal and compositional treatment goes far beyond any trite depiction of nature. Rudolf Bockholdt showed that the chorale-like final chords of the 4th movement can be found at the beginning of the movement in slightly different form, where they serve as a symbol for thoughts on nature and have been developed from the beginning motive. In exactly the same way, the introductory six-four chord has the closest possible relationship to the beginning motive of the work. The main theme of this movement develops from this chord after several measures, heard in the violin. Intensifying throughout the entire movement, it represents a hymn of praise to nature, creation and the creator.

      In the work by Christoph Christian Sturm cited above, Beethoven highlighted the following words: “By all rights, one can call nature a school for the heart, because it teaches us in a highly rational manner the responsibilities which we not only owe to God, but also to ourselves and to our fellow man.” Following this, one could even view the “Pastorale” less as a musical depiction of nature than as a resounding illustration of Beethoven’s principles of life: “The moral law in us and the starry heavens above us”.

      Michael Lewin
      Translation: Elizabeth Gahbler

      The following works provided the essential foundation for this essay: P. Gülke: Zur Neuausgabe der Sinfonie Nr. 5 v. Beethoven, Leipzig 1978. A. Sandberger: Zur Pastoralsymphonie in: Ausgewählte Aufsätze, München 1923. H. Schenker: Beethoven V. Symphonie in: Der Tonwille, Wien 1921. Peter Hauschild: Beethoven Sinfonie Nr. 6, Leipzig 1985. Rudolf Bockholdt: Beethoven VI. Symphonie F-Dur, München 1981. Martin Geck: V. Symphonie in: Die 9 Symphonien Beethovens, München 1994, Hg. v. R. Ulm. VI. Symphonie in: Die 9 Symphonien Beethovens, München 1994, Hg. v. R. Ulm, as well as the revision by Jonathan del Mar, 1998/99 Kassel.

      Tracklist hide

      SACD 1
      • Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1825)
        Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67
        • 1.Allegro con brio06:58
        • 2.Andante con moto08:36
        • 3.Allegro07:37
        • 4.Allegro10:07
      • Symphony No. 6 "Pastoral" in F Major, op. 68
        • 5.Angenehme, heitere Empfindungen, welche bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande im Menschen erwachen. – Allegro ma non troppo11:14
        • 6.Szene am Bach. – Andante molto moto11:36
        • 7.Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute. – Allegro05:11
        • 8.Donner. Sturm. – Allegro03:38
        • 9.Hirtengesang. Wohltätige, mit Dank an die Gottheit verbundene Gefühle nach dem Sturm. – Allegretto08:36
      • Total:01:13:33