Beethoven 5th Symphony, final movement

(Apr 2, 2019)

Beethoven in the modern way…

If there is one symphony that is more famous than any other, this may be it. I’m linking to only the 4th movement. Movement’s are a bit like episodes, or different books in a serious that make a story. There are four movements in all, and this one actually starts at the end of the 3rd. You have to hear the whole symphony to understand.

I believe all of us – not just a few of us – get bored after a minute or two of anything new unless we instantly feel a connection that grabs our attention. At first, listening to a symphony may not seem like that, because symphonies are usually somewhere between 30 minutes long and an hour. Some are even longer. How does anyone listen to a symphony for the first time in a world where everything is packaged in short bursts?

The answer is probably that each important thing is about 3 minutes long. In this last movement the main section is about 3 minutes long. By that time you either know you are not interested, or you are. Then it repeats. If you liked it the first time, you probably want to hear it again. Why not? What follows is not new. It is the same idea, developed (actually called the development section), and that’s always when things get highly interesting, more dramatic, more intense. It’s like listening to what you now know a third time, but it’s different enough to catch your interest. That also lasts around 3 minutes. Then the first 3 minute section repeats again with small changes, which recaps the whole thing. And this is called the recapitulation. Finally there is an ending, called the “coda”, and of course you have to have an ending.

Try to start out first with the last movement. The first movement, if you get to it, is one of the most famous pieces of music ever written. Then after this I’ll give a link to the whole symphony. Usually people start out with one movement, then try another, and finally, if they like the feeling, the story feels more complete listening to “the whole story”.

As a contrast to the video above, what is below is a very different sound. Now the instruments are as close as humanly possible to what Beethoven wrote for.

These are the instruments Beethoven wrote for…

John Eliot Gardiner

He is a modern conductor who has worked his entire life to champion the music of Beethoven’s time (and earlier and a bit later) in the way it would have been heard in Beethoven’s time, a sound that had totally been forgotten. That sound was lost.

Did players play as well back then as the players in this amazing orchestra?


Today’s virtuosos players on all instruments perform with a technical perfection that was not known a couple centuries ago, and that includes modern players who specialize on these old instruments. It is questionable whether modern artists play more musically on their own, but when assembled under the greatest musical minds of our time so that we hear modern recordings or get to hear them live, we hear something that is frighteningly good.

This recording is deceptive, and perhaps a bit a bit unfair, because these older instruments are not as powerful as modern instruments. Live they are not as loud. They do not have the same overpowering intensity – although the flip side is that they are quieter.

BUT: when recorded, that difference disappears, and suddenly there is often a rawness and perhaps an element of danger that you will never hear from a modern orchestra. The reason? Because these older instruments are more difficult to play. For instance, hitting the right pitches on these old horns is about 10 times more difficult. They had a rougher sound, and in the right places it is edgier, harsher, more primitive sounding. When notes are missed, it sounds downright embarrassing, but when it all works, the effect is unbelievably exciting.

For me it suits Beethoven, who was untamed, unapologetic, unyielding, and a man whose emotions were in every way bigger than life. This is by far the best performance I’ve ever heard, and I’ve heard many.

I often wonder why Beethoven, right now, is not even more famous and more popular than he is, because in this modern era, when people insist on being heard and valued for being themselves, for “doing their own thing”, Beethoven is the very embodiment of that individualism. I often think of him as the “first rock star”.


14 thoughts on “Beethoven 5th Symphony, final movement

  1. I listened to all four movements and watched the symphony concert on my iPad. It was wonderful and mindful and passed the time of day. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  2. If anyone else needs to know, the same movement starts in the Gardener at about 22 minutes. It helps me to go back and forth since my ears are still developing. In comparison to the old instruments, the modern performance is like a meal with generous sprinklings of MSG, nice and homogenously combined. There is a texture and life to the Gardener. There’s an instrument – maybe a flute – that stands out, like a texture. The instruments have their own personality and quirks, again with this impression of texture. I wonder though, there would also be the positioning of microphones and such.

    1. No recorded performance ever sounds the same as a live performance. Gardiner’s group is not as powerful as a modern orchestra. But that should not matter, because this also means the quiet places will be quieter. The dynamic range should be about the same. I prefer modern instruments for some things but the old ones for others. The conductor is more important than modern vs old instruments. Gardiner’s musicians are spectacularly good, so the real genius is in his conducting and the amazing playing. For me the older, valveless brass instruments have a rawer sound, more primitive, which fits this music (for me.) In contrast, I much prefer the 6th Symphony, the “Pastoral”, with a modern sound. For that the old sound is a bit too abrasive.

    1. The choice of baton – or no baton – is personal. Any length can be use, or none at all. Almost everything conductors do is for show. Most conduct with no music. The idea is that you don’t really know the music if you need the score – which, by the way, is utter crap.

      For instance:

      Poor old man obviously needed music, right? He was around 90. Except this is Stokowsky, who wrote the music he is conducting, his own arrangement of Bach. Apparently he still had keen sight at that age.

      Here is another video of him rehearsing.

      Orchestra members don’t care about the hands, the best, the baton, all the waving. 97% of everything is planned out and rehearsed. Everyone knows what everyone else has to do by the time they all get on stage. Conducting from memory is pure vanity.

      In other words, Bernstein was not a great conductor BECAUSE of his dramatics. He was a great conductor IN SPITE of them.

      1. Thank you for answering my question and going a step further by posting the Stokowski videos. I like the way he gives directions to the orchestra. The part where he talks about the composers marks on paper and the conductor’s duty to bring it alive to the audience was of particular interest to me.

        After doing a bit of research I discovered that he conducted the orchestra for the music in Disney’s Fantasia. I believe it was a way to get youngsters interested in some of the classics.

        Happy 137th birthday, (April 18), Leopold.

        1. Stokowski is a perfect example of what I believe in. No nonsense. You can hear it in rehearsal. He went right to facts, notes, directions. No touchy-feely nonsense. No yelling. No drama. He always had the score, also in performances. His beat was very easy to see. He was excellent with young players and with less experienced players. He was one of the first to fully explore recordings, and he was a wizard with instrumentation, seating, microphone placement, and so on – a rule-breaker and pioneer right up to his last year on the planet.

  3. Second, Gary. The Second rock star. I will posit that Wolfie was the first one to break the bonds of Government Employ and do it his own way. (he still took Colloredo’s money, gladly.)

    What Ludwig here is… he’s punk. He was the first punk rocker. Even when mad Woflie’s music was somewhat polite. Nuh-uh. Not Beethoven. His stuff was raw, angry music of pain and suffering. But have you noticed, how it almost always ends peaceful-like? No matter how stormy the beginning and how deeply slit-your-throat the 2nd movement is… the ends of his music tend to speak of joyous redemption, release, forgiveness. Or at least.. that’s how I feel it.

    But then, go listen to Bach’s 2nd violin partita, the one he wrote after Maria Barbara died. It’s raw pain, encased in the four delicate strings of the violin. Just one violin. I swear, it’s his crying I hear during the Chaconne movement.

    They all felt it. Some of them were more adept at yelling it out. Beethoven did it better than most. Maybe Tchaikovsky can top him. Dunno.

    And boy howdy, what an unfair fight you’ve set up here. Bernstein vs. Gardiner?

    My money’s on gardiner, and you know why ;o)~ I enjoy the more raw barely-controlled-trainwreck of these old orchestras. I wish I could hear him live. I’ve heard a fair bit of modern orchestras doing Mozart and Beethoven, but never heard one using instruments of the period.

    I have to say, though, the wood-stick kettledrums are so much more brutal and war-like than the later copper kettledrum with fuzzy heads on the sticks.

    And what did Gardiner call his orchestra? Revolutionaire et Romantique.

    Imma just gonna leave this here..

    Chaconne’s about 11:20 into it. Think about it. He goes on a trip, comes back, dead wife, no one told him. This is what he wrote. o.O All these guys, they could emote without words. No banal, shallow lyrics. Just notes wrested from the depths of where we feel.

    1. Louie, when I said “first rock star” of course I was being a bit humorous. The whole matter of declaring independence from stuffy employers was a gradual thing. Mozart, at least at times, had to pay more lip service to the people he worked for. Beethoven was younger, and things were changing. We forget how young these people were when the died. Beethoven was dead at 56, Bach at 65, and I think Mozart only lived to age 35. Chopin died at 39. Schubert barely made it past 30.

      In order to compare Mozart and Beethoven you have to be fair. You have to find music written in the same year. Mozart completed his last symphony, the Jupiter, in 1788. Beethoven finished his 5th Symphony in 1808. Not only was he born almost 15 years later, he also lived much longer, so when you compare masterpieces, there is that difference in time. If you compare what Beethoven was writing in 1888, and remember he was born in December of 1770 (closer to 1771), Beethoven was around 17 when Mozart wrote his last and perhaps greatest symphony.

      If we assume Beethoven’s 9th Symphony was finished in 1824, that means a 36 year difference between the final symphonies of both. Now think about how much music changed between 1940 and 1976.

      From everything I’ve read Beethoven’s viewed himself as superior to the aristocray, and I’m not sure Mozart did quite the same thing. He “played the game” more, probably because he had to. Beethoven was more openly rebellious. Now, if Mozart had lived another 35 years, we might have seen more of the same open rebellion, because there was a total shift in mindset between the Classical and Romantic eras.

      1. I *will* comment about the Bach. I’ve never heard the whole suite, and I have never heard the Chaconne played that way before: I thought I knew it. Wow. Nor did I know what was going on in Bach’s life at that time. It made my day to listen to that today, and it was the right day to do so.


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