Beethoven’s sixth symphony in F major, op. 68, also called the “Pastoral-Symphony”, was composed between 1807 and 1808 and had its’ first performance in Vienna in the same year. The symphony involves five movements, which all have a title and illustrate scenes of the Austrian country life. The name or term “Pastoral” in combination with any form of art always refers to having or representing the traditional, pleasant features of the countryside. In the years composing the symphony, Beethoven was enjoying a measure of financial security through the support of several wealthy patrons.
Even though the genre was only introduced by Liszt and Wagner during the period of Romanticism, this symphony was later considered as one of the first symphonic poems. This was established through titles for every movement and how well Beethoven managed to represent them. He stated that he didn’t try to capture a landscape in different conditions but more the emotions people would feel, from looking at them. The only difference between a symphonic poem and his symphony was, that Beethoven’s piece wasn’t based on or inspired by literature, as symphonic poems normally are.
Not only the names of the movements are unusual, but also the amount. Beethoven uses five instead of the normal four movements whereas the last three ones are played without a break. Instead of focussing on harmonic or melodic change and creating tension, Beethoven uses changes in dynamics throughout the whole movement to create interesting colours of sound.
- First movement “Cheerful feelings aroused on arrival in the countryside”:
The movement is in Sonata Form.
Exposition: Within the first four bars the first theme of the first subject area is presented, already involving several short motifs, which are used again throughout the whole movement and can be seen especially often during the development.
The following 4 bars (b. 5 – 8) seem like an echo to the just presented theme, after which a completely new theme is presented.
The very last bar from the theme above (in the separate stave), is repeated in the exact same way for the next ten bars, the only alterations Beethoven makes, is created by the dynamics becoming louder towards the middle and quieter towards the end of the section. As already mentioned, dynamical change is a feature Beethoven uses exceptionally often throughout the whole symphony. The rhythmic pattern he uses for this repetitive bars can also be seen in the second bar of the first theme.
From bars 29 – 53 the first theme is repeated several times moving through different instruments. The lower voices, such as the violoncello and bass play a constant tremolo, again alternating between F and C. Even though Beethoven stated, that the whole symphony tries to put emotions into music rather than the scenery itself, some parts clearly represent physical flora and fauna. In bar 42 for example, and within a few following bars, one can clearly hear birds singing, produced by the flute. (left)
A short transition part starts in bar 54, which lasts for ten bars and involves solo parts from the violin, similar to the first four notes of the first theme. The key shifts from its tonic F to the dominant C.
The second subject area starts in bar 65. Instead of creating a contrast to the first theme, it seems to create similar, even stronger pictures of nature with its wavy, again very repetitive movement. The theme itself starts with the violoncello and is repeated several times, always from different instruments.
Within the following 28 bars the tension increases with the volume, even though the theme stays the same .The climax resolves in the subsidiary theme of the second movement, starting in bar 93. (left) This theme involving elements from the second bar of the first theme. It alternates with an echo, playing the rhythm with the doubled note values and in piano instead of forte or fortissimo.
For the last few bars of the exposition Beethoven uses a descending C-G interval especially often, which is the same interval played in the second half of the second bar and is therefore another element from the first theme. From bars 115 to 127 the viola, violoncello and bass have a pedal point on C. The second violin plays a gallop-like sounding theme, again using the rhythm from the second bar, which is taken over by the lower voices in bars 131 – 134. Even though the piece is technically still in C, the last bar involves a Bb again to create the V7 chord for the following repetition of the exposition as well as the development in F-major.
The development starts with the idea from the top, but shifts from F-major to Bb-major within 8 bars (b. 139 – 147). In bar 151 a sequence starts, which mainly focuses on the second bar of the first theme, this time not only on the rhythm but also on the notes. This motif is very repetitive again as it goes on for 36 bars and only ends in bar 186. The key makes a surprisingly direct jump from Bb- major to G-major. With a short transition part from bars 187 – 197, involving elements from the third bar of the first theme, the repetitive theme starts again for a further 35 bars. In bar 209 the key switches again without any transition from G to A.
The following transition part is similar to the previous one but develops to a new part, which is more focused on the third bar of the first subject. Another change of key to D-major takes place in bar 247, shortly before it changes again to G-minor. The melody alternates between several voices, and is especially refreshing to listening to between bars 247-254 where it can be heard from the violoncello and viola, before jumping into the minor part.
The key changes a few more times within the following bars, having already started with the previous two key shifts, they are always moving down a fifth, (A-D-Gmin-C-F) creating a half finished circle of fifths chord- progression. Nonetheless, coming back to a short phrase it stops with the key in F and a trill on G indicates the start of the recapitulation.
Normally within a sonata form composers create a lot of tension on the dominant, which can resolve in the tonic, for the transition between the development and recapitulation. It is therefore interesting to see, how Beethoven used simple IV-I movement, creating a rather smooth transition instead.
The whole part stays in the tonic key F-major. With a short intro from the first violin the theme moves back to the repetitive bar from the beginning and plays it ten times again, even tough the dynamics are reversed now; becoming quieter towards the middle and louder at the end of the phrase, where they climax in the main theme played in fortissimo by all voices. Apart from the intro, a few dynamic changes and the already mentioned key the recapitulation is a repetition of the exposition. The coda starts in bar 414 in a similar way to the development.
In the coda Beethoven comes back to the main theme to show once again that the whole movement is more about small motifs harmonizing rather than creating big contrasts. With a long crescendo and a repetitive motif more tension is created until the music reaches a climax in bar 458 and then slowly fades away before it ends in a clear V-I cadence.
One aspect which comes up several times throughout the whole movement, is the F and C held for three bars at the beginning of the movement. This interval can often be found as a tremolo, or simple chord underlying several motifs. The longest section of such a pedal point starts in bar 460 and ends in bar 468.
- Second movement: “Scene by the brook”
The rhythmic motion of this movement reminds the audience of a small brook. Interestingly, the movement could be read as sonata form. Beethoven introduces a few small themes at the beginning and develops them throughout the movement.
The first theme has the following opening in a very slow pace:
The following theme is introduced by the first violin in bar 13.
After a third short theme, which is introduced by the flute and taken over by the oboe, follows a short transition part, which leads back to a varied version of the first theme. The rest of the movement consists only of variations of the introduced themes.
The most interesting part of this movement comes towards the end of the movement, where the flow of the brook comes to a stop and one can hear birds singing, which are even marked in the score as “Nightingale”; “Quail” and “Cuckoo”. This also creates another contrast to the statement Beethoven made about the whole symphony reflecting only impressions about a landscape.
At the end of the movement the music moves back to the first theme to create a short coda.
- Third movement: “Merry gathering of the country folk”
This movement has a scherzo form, whereas a trio in the middle is played twice in the exact same way, with another scherzo part at the centre and a varied scherzo part at the end, overall the form could also be seen as a rondo: A – B – A – B – A’.
The first theme has a quick 3/4 rhythm.
Nevertheless, as the volume and tension increases, the music starts sounding more serious rather rapidly. Even though it still has a steady rhythm and majestic sounding themes, the scene seems to slightly change until the music moves to a second, lighter theme, introduced by the flute:
The trio section is introduced in bar 165 with a change of rhythm and pace. The rhythmic movement, always with a sforzato on the first beat reminds of an Austrian/German folk-dance.
Afterwards, the scherzo and the trio are repeated in the exact same way. When the scherzo comes back for the third time, the theme suddenly stops before it comes to an end and plays a short minor section which leads into the coda, already introducing the theme for the following movement.
- Fourth movement: Thunder,Storm
A short intro reflects with disharmonic chords the fear of the coming thunderstorm, which arrives with a fortissimo in bar 21.
The whole movement id filled with tension, varying volumes and unlike the previous movements, it reflects Beethoven’s musical style, which often has a stormy character. The timpani and trombones are used for the first time within the symphony. Compared to the other movements, this one is rather short. Even though it isn’t written in the score, Beethoven commented on this movement, that the instrument reflect a certain part of the storm:
Rain – Staccato movement from the violins
Thunder – Ascending quintuplet – movement from the violoncelli and basses
Lightning – Arpeggio from the first violin
Winds – created by the piccolo flute
Strike of a lightning – by a tremolo from the timpani.
- Fifth movement:
Towards the end, the music becomes quieter, indicating that the storm has moved on and a new, calmer theme starts leading to the last movement, which is slightly similar to the theme from the second movement.
Movement 5: “Sheperd’s song – Happy and grateful feelings after the storm”
After an introduction by the clarinets and horns, reflecting the shepherds, a warm theme can be heard, which again, illustrates a landscape. The main theme is made of an F – major arpeggio, first introduced by the first violins and then taken over by the other string instruments.
A short transition part from bars 31 to 39 Beethoven creates a bit of tension with a counter-rhythm.
Within a development, the theme from the beginning of the movement can be heard several times in varied ways, played by different instruments, the most interesting variation was probably the second violins playing it in pizzicato:
The mood of the movement seems majestic and thankful throughout, it reaches several peak-points towards the end and then slowly fades away.
Over this part of the course I discovered several ways of analysing pieces of music. Especially focusing on the first movement, started with finding the beginning and ending parts of the three main sections of a sonata form and then look more closely into these parts, trying to find themes, variations and repetitions of them.
The change of keys weren’t always to easy to spot, but using the technique from exercise 5.5, I tried to put several sections into a more simplistic form, so that it could be played on a piano. This allowed me to play through sections myself and I discovered themes and changes of keys more easily.
Due to all the repetition one can find throughout the whole symphony, I would have thought, that it might become boring to listen to after a while and was positively surprised how Beethoven managed to keep the piece interesting by simply playing with dynamic changes.
The first theme from the symphony seemed very common to me, although I wouldn’t have considered it as one of Beethoven’s works due to the calmness of most of the movements. I really enjoyed having had a closer look into it and am surprised at how well Beethoven managed to reflect scenes of a landscape.
(1), (2), (3)
1 Charles, R. (1971). The classical style – Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven. London: Farber and Farber Limited, pp. 401-402, 404
2 Durfourcq, N; Hindley, G; Green, B; Helm, E; Paine,D; Smalley, and Walsh, S. (1983) The Larousse encyclopedia of music. p. 265
3 Ardley, N; Arthur, D; Chapmanth, H; Perry, J; Clarke, M; Crisp, C; Cruden, R; Gelly, D; Grigson, L; Sturrock, S. (1977) The bookof music. London: Macdonald Educational Ltd, p. 42