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Symphony No. 6 in F Major, “Pastorale”

Ludwig van Beethoven

  1. Allegro ma non troppo. "Awakening of joyful feelings on arrival in the country"
  2. Andante molto moto. "Scene at the brook"
  3. Allegro. "Peasants merrymaking"
  4. Allegro. “Thunderstorm"
  5. Allegretto. "Pastoral song. Feelings of happiness and gratitude after the storm."

Beethoven's attitude to the countryside was that of a person who really did love nature, without being in the least sentimental or romantic about it. Indeed, he went to considerable pains to set down his objectives for this symphony; anyone, he said, who has received an impression of life in the country will be able to imagine what the composer intended to convey. And, in the well known phrase with which he prefaced the manuscript, the symphony was "more the expression of feeling than painting". For the rest "the audience must discover for itself what the situations are". The realism thus resides not so much in the occasional allusions to natural phenomena as in the simple acceptance of a common emotional experience.

The first movement, "Awakening of joyful feelings on arrival in the country" is evolved almost entirely from the simple figures which constitute the first subject, and harmonically the movement is also very straightforward, with extensive use of basic triads and sevenths. Yet despite this apparent simplicity, a huge tonal range is explored with so perfect a sense of proportion that the long stretches of simple chords and little figures that repeat themselves like leaves on a tree create a form of sublime monotony that led Grove to say "when the sameness of fields and woods can become distasteful, then will the first movement of the Pastoral weary it's hearers".

The scoring of the second movement, "By the brook" is remarkable for its use throughout of two cellos as a permanent undertone to the gently flowing 12/8 rhythm of the brook. The movement is in full sonata form, and Beethoven stays as long as possible in the key of B flat, in order to minimize the use of the dominant key of F major, since this key was so extensively exploited in the opening movement. The calls of nightingale, quail and cuckoo (flute, oboe, and clarinet respectively) are the merest cadenzas just before the end of the movement.

The "Peasant's merrymaking" though not so marked is in fact a scherzo and trio. The music is thoroughly rustic in character and there is much more true realism than in either of the preceding movements. Beethoven has some mild fun at the expense of the local musicians; the mechanical repetition of the same few notes on the bassoon suggesting that the player is more asleep than awake, while the oboe misses his count and comes in on the wrong beat. The storm breaks suddenly, ushered in by the pattering of rain on the second violins, followed shortly by a colossal thunderclap (the only chord of F minor in the whole symphony). The way in which Beethoven holds his forces in reserve is remarkable; the first reinforcement of the normal orchestra is the tympani, unused in the previous three movements, later he introduces the shrill note of the piccolo, but not until bar 106 does he allow himself the added weight of trombones, their impact being all the greater for being so long delayed.

Despite these additions, the movement retains a certain formal logic; the pattering "raindrop" quavers are transformed at the end into minims, perhaps suggesting a rainbow, as the last mutterings of thunder die away and the atmosphere beings to clear.

The final song of thanksgiving is based on a simple C major hymn-like tune which is soon transformed into a paean of joy by the inclusion of the full brass section, complete with trombones, giving the theme a weight and majesty that could never have been suspected from its first disarming appearance. Right at the end Beethoven adds an inspired touch; a muted horn softly echoes the yodeling notes with which the movement opened.

The symphony received its first performance in Vienna late in 1808, by which time Beethoven's deafness was already well advanced.

By Richard Thompson. Used with permission of The Brandon Hill Chamber Orchestra of Bristol, UK

Submitted By Richard Thompson
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Last Updated May 11, 2021
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