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Music

Beethoven Symphony Cycle (pt. 5 of 8)

Having reached roughly the half-way point in the marathon of all nine Beethoven symphonies, we arrive this hour at the one that evokes storms and peace in nature and in the psyche, the Sixth.

Deutschland Komponist Ludwig van Beethoven Schwarze Kreide auf getöntem Papier

Beethoven's "Pastoral" is different from his other eight symphonies in that its movements have descriptive titles like "Scene by the Brook." But the composer didn't want them to be taken literally. "It is left to the listener to find the situation," said Beethoven. "The overall effect, more feeling than tone painting, is clear without verbal description."

Adds our featured conductor, Andris Nelsons: "As Beethoven wrote, the Sixth Symphony is about nature, but I think it's a metaphor. It’s not simply the illustration of the storm. Or the scene by the brook isn't just fifteen minutes of water running. It's about his inside world. And the storm is actually the storm of his life."

Beethoven score. AP Photo/Michel Lipchitz)

This 1808 single-page draft score by Beethoven, believed to show the early stage of the Pastorale Symphony, was auctioned in 2001 at a price of $41,000.

The symphony begins with the movement headed "Cheerful feelings awaken upon arrival in the country." The second movement, "Scene By the Brook," is quite graphic; along with the peaceful flow of water, you can hear birdsong: a nightingale, a quail (in the oboes) and a cuckoo (the clarinet). The third, fourth and fifth movements are performed without interruption. Sounds of a village band sound out in "Merry Gathering of the Countryfolk." Then comes the "Storm," with rapid notes in the double basses and cellos sounding like thunder, a piccolo flute screeching like the wind and staccato strings suggesting the downpour. The inclement weather gives way to "Happy and Grateful feelings after the storm." And it all ends with a hymn of gratitude.

The Beethovenfest 2014 presented not only Beethoven's complete symphonies but also all of his violin sonatas and piano concertos. We'll hear the latter in coming weeks of Concert Hour. Also, a cycle of Beethoven's string quartets concluded a three-year project in 2014; a sample of that as well this hour.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 (Pastoral)
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Conductor: Andris Nelsons
Recorded by West German Radio, Cologne (WDR) in the Beethoven Hall, Bonn on September 9, 2014

Ludwig van Beethoven
4th movement from the String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, op. 130
Borodin Quartet
Recorded by DW in the City Museum, Siegburg on September 11, 2014

Rebroadcasting rights: one broadcast before December 12, 2015

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