One of Beethoven’s best loved works, the Pastoral Symphony transports us to the Viennese countryside through hypnotic spirals of time and pattern, joyful motifs and sheer intensity. NFO Chair and Leader, Alan Ford, shares his view to help us better understand this majestic work.
“The Symphony is unusual in that Beethoven rarely wrote programmatic (descriptive) works. Beethoven himself however said “the music is more an expression of feeling than painting”. The movements are as follows:
1. Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside
2. Scene by the Brook
3. Merry gathering of country folk
4. Thunder, Storm
5. Shepherd's song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm
The Pastoral Symphony was composed by Beethoven in 1808 and given its first performance that year in Vienna with Beethoven himself conducting. Both the Pastoral and the Fifth Symphony, also composed that year, were included in a mammoth concert lasting four hours.
Beethoven used to walk in the countryside at Heligenstadt (then outside Vienna) enjoying the sights and sounds of nature but always carrying a notebook to jot down musical ideas.
The first movement in F major starts with a tune in the violins over a cello and bass drone. In the second movement, themes suggestive of the movement of water can definitely be discerned. In the coda towards the end of the movement there are birdcall motifs (nightingale, quail and cuckoo) played by woodwind instruments.
The remaining three movements follow each other without a break. The third movement in scherzo form depicts country folk revelling and dancing. It includes a parody of a village band playing.
Proceedings are interrupted by rumbles of thunder in the distance (cellos and basses), the first raindrops heard in violins and then an increasingly violent storm ensues. Eventually the clouds begin to break, the thunder fades into the distance and the melody from the first flute leads straight into the finale.
The main theme of the Shepherd’s Hymn introduced by the clarinet is taken up by the horns and finally realized fully by the first violins as it becomes a hymn of thanksgiving, which dominates the movement. Note the Shepherd’s pipe represented by the Flute. The movement and Symphony ends peacefully.”
NFO Chair and Leader – Alan Ford
New Forest Orchestra are performing Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony at St Thomas’ Church in Lymington at 7.30pm on Saturday 29 June. Tickets are available online and include an advance booking discount.