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Through the remainder of his creative life, Beethoven explored the developmental potential of his material, not only in his formal "development" sections, but throughout entire works. Such a compositional process has been termed "continuous development," and it lends his music an organic quality, in which we hear ongoing subtle transformations of musical material.In his last four symphonies, these and other innovations are evident in varying degrees. The Sixth, Seventh, and Ninth Symphonies (like the Third and Fifth) each have special claims to recommend them. For our purposes, we will focus on the Sixth Symphony (1808), the "Pastoral" Symphony, in F major. It was composed at about the same time as the Fifth Symphony, and it provides a serene counterweight to the turbulent C minor symphony.The programmatic nature of the Sixth Symphony--this is an early example of Romantic program music--had considerable influence on the later direction of instrumental music in the nineteenth century. Our examination of the "Pastoral" Symphony also allows for a retrospective point of comparison with Vivaldi's "Spring" Concerto, which was, in fact, a piece of "program music," long before the term gained currency in the Romantic era.Symphony No. 6 (1808)Music has long had the capacity to establish a tempo, to accompany dance—even to inspirephysical motion. (This is arguably the reason that the fife and drum used to accompany men going into battle, and, more recently, that those doing aerobic workouts tend to listen to music while they’re exercising.)But music can do even more. The rise of program musicin the Romantic era corresponds to a growing awareness of the ability of music—of musical gesture—to convey physical gesture. This is the essence of “cartoon music,” and it’s no surprise that many of our children’s cartoons (and quite a few motion pictures) utilize Romantic music in their underscores.
Program musicis, first, instrumental music; and second, it is music imbued with some sort of extra-musical association. The music may be attempting to convey a story from a specific literary source, or it may simply be suggesting the feelings associated with a description or narrative. Generally speaking, program music describes through purely instrumental means those things we would normally associate with words.Beethoven did not invent program music, nor was he the first to understand the capacity of musicto convey physical gesture. His Sixth Symphony, though, is a magnificent and unsurpassed example of such musical attributes. The program is fairly simple. Each movement begins with a brief description of what the music is intended to convey: Movement I: “Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country”Movement II: “Scene by a brook”Movement III: “Merry gathering of the country people”Movement IV: “Thunderstorm”Movement V: “Shepherd’s song: Happy and thankful feelings after the storm”Symphonies at this time were normally four movements in length, but this one is five. An extra