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Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

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Essay title: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

“He (Beethoven) was a pivotal figure in the transition from 18th century musical classicism to 19th century romanticism, and his influence on subsequent generations of composers was profound” Kerman and Tyson. Beethoven’s sixth symphony (also known as the pastoral symphony) has qualities of both the classical and romantic periods and illustrates Beethoven’s revolutionary ideas as well as highlights his classical influences. The programmatic nature of the piece is the dominant romantic feature although the use of brass and percussion as well as the dramatic dynamic changes are also characteristics from this era. However there are many classical influences in Beethoven’s work such as the balanced phrasing, the dominance of the strings in various movements and especially the use of the tonic and dominant throughout the entire piece (sub-dominants were a common attribute of romantic pieces). The various classical and romantic elements of Ludwig van Beethoven’s music are demonstrated throughout this symphony.

The first movement is titled “Awakening of Cheerful Feelings upon Arrival in the Country". It is in sonata form which is the typical first movement in a classical symphony. Beethoven’s work was often structured very classically and the sixth symphony supports this. The repetition of the various subjects is symbolic of the “infinite repetition in patterns of nature” (Yvonne Frindle). This feature is very programmatic and therefore a romantic trait. The bird calls made by the strings in bar 151 are also programmatic. The instrumentation of this movement is quite classical as for majority of the movement the strings play the melody, although they are often taken over in parts by solo flutes, clarinets or oboe. The melody is based mainly upon the tonic and dominant and is diatonic. It is pleasing to the ear and is quite classical. The harmony is concordant, also a classical feature.

The second movement, titled “By the Brook Side”, has both romantic and classical features. The movement is in sonata form which is the classical format for the second movement of a symphony. The instrumentation is also classical as the strings dominate throughout the movement. The melody contains both balanced phrasing and fragmented melodies. Balanced phrasing occurs in most of the movement which is a characteristic of music from the classical era. The use of a fragmented melody is a romantic feature of this movement. The harmony is concordant, a classical quality. The texture is homophonic which is also an example of Beethoven’s classical influences. However this movement exhibits many romantic traits as well as classical. This movement and the majority of the piece are very programmatic. The bird calls made by the flute, clarinet and oboe (in bars 129-136) are an imperative example of this feature. Also the flowing melody and runs suggest the trickling and flowing of the water through the brook. This movement is very expressive and the dynamics vary from pianissimo to fortissimo, a rare occurrence in classical music.

The third movement is titled “Merry Gathering of the Country Folk”. This movement incorporates features of both the classical and romantic eras, however it is mainly romantic. This movement is in the form of a scherzo and trio. The trio format was common during the classical era however scherzo form was much more of a rarity. The scherzo, despite being in a romantic format, is mostly classical. The themes are delicate and are in the tonic key of the symphony (F major). The melody is led mostly by the strings that are occasionally taken over by woodwind (classical instrumentation). It is a functional melody. Unlike in the scherzo, the brass (in particular trombone) is employed in the trio. The use of brass as anything more than a small accompanying role was uncommon during the classical era. The main thematic melodic material creates a dance-like gigue. This can be seen as both a classical and romantic feature. The minuet and trio/ scherzo and trio movement is classically a dance movement however Beethoven incorporates the dance as part of the story of the country and the folk living within it. He creates this dance-like feel in a variety of ways. Firstly,

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