Brussels Philharmonic | Festival Musiq'3: Beethoven 5

Festival Musiq'3: Beethoven 5



Johann Strauss Jr. Die Fledermaus: Ouverture (1874)
Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 5 in C minor, Op. 67 (1804-08)

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[all programme notes]


30.06.2024 FLAGEY

Struggle and Optimism

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony was created during one of the most productive periods of his career. The very first sketches date back to 1803, but it wasn't until 1807 that he picked up the thread again—meanwhile, he completed his Violin Concerto and Fourth Symphony. One year later, he finished the Fifth Symphony along with the Sixth, and premiered them together on December 22, 1808, at the Theater an der Wien, during a marathon concert that he organized himself. The entire concert lasted more than four hours, featuring only his own repertoire: the debut of his Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, a fragment from his Choral Fantasy, parts of his Mass in C major, his complete Fourth Piano Concerto, an aria from Fidelio, and finally, a piano improvisation.

In the meantime, the opening motif of the Fifth Symphony has become ingrained in everyone's memory. Not surprisingly, it exudes enormous power. It recurs throughout the entire symphony: as the building block of the first movement, where it appears in almost every measure, but also in all the other movements. Beethoven transforms and places it in different contexts each time, like a character undergoing a development. This rhythmic motif propels the entire symphony forward. Two years after the premiere, the famous critic E.T.A. Hoffmann described this energy and coherence aptly:

"Thus Beethoven's instrumental music opens up for us the realm of the monstrous and the immeasurable. Glowing rays shoot through the deep night of this realm, and we become aware of giant shadows that wave up and down, close us in more and more narrowly, and annihilate everything in us except for the pain of infinite yearning, in which every pleasure ... sinks down and founders, and only in this pain, which, consuming within itself, but not destroying, love, hope, and joy, wants to burst open our breast with a full-voiced harmony of all passions, do we live on, enchanted spirit-seers."

Beethoven himself did not give his Fifth Symphony a subtitle; his biographer Anton Schindler did so by linking the theme of the first movement to Beethoven’s remark: “This is how fate knocks at the door.” It is far from certain that the composer referred to the first movement of the symphony with these words, but due to Schindler’s influence, the 'Fate Symphony' is often read as an autobiographical depiction of Beethoven’s resignation to fate—his increasing deafness. More likely, the work reflects Beethoven's resistance against that fate. The combative nature of the opening motif runs through the entire symphony and is reinforced towards the end by the transition from the key of C minor to the triumphant C major—a deliberate move by the composer.