Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphony No. 5 in C minor ("Fate"), Op. 67

    Description by Michael Jameson

    Beethoven worked on the Fifth Symphony for more than four years, completing it in 1808, and introducing it on December 22 of that year at what must have been one of the most extraordinary concerts in history. The marathon program included the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies; the Choral Fantasy, Op. 80; the Fourth Piano Concerto; and parts of the Mass in C. Vienna was in the grip of exceptionally cold weather, the hall was unheated, and the musicians woefully under-prepared. As Schindler noted, "the reception accorded to these works was not as desired, and probably no better than the author himself had expected. The public was not endowed with the necessary degree of comprehension for such extraordinary music, and the performance left a great deal to be desired."

    Following early indifference, the public only gradually began to come to terms with the Fifth. One of its earliest proponents, the poet and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote, "How this magnificent composition carries the listener on and on in a continually ascending climax into the ghostly world of infinity!...the human breast, squeezed by monstrous presentiments and destructive powers, seems to gasp for breath; soon a kindly figure approaches full of radiance, and illuminates the depths of terrifying night." In his Howard's End, E.M. Forster writes of the work, suggesting that it satisfies "all sort and conditions." The characters of Helen and Tibby know the work well, the latter even describing "the transitional passage on the drum" before the finale. That Forster dwelt at such length on the work shows the extent to which it had become absorbed into the Romantic consciousness.

    Hermann Kretzschmar wrote of the "stirring dogged and desperate struggle" of the first movement, one of the most concentrated of all Beethoven's symphonic sonata movements. It is derived almost exclusively from the rhythmic cell of the opening, which is even felt in the accompaniment of the second subject group. There follows a variation movement in which cellos introduce the theme, increasingly elaborated and with shorter note values at every reappearance. A second, hymn-like motif is heard as its counterfoil.

    The tripartite scherzo follows; the main idea is based on an ominous arpeggio figure, but we hear also the omnipresent "Fate" rhythm, exactly as it is experienced in the first movement. The central section, which replaces the customary trio, is a pounding fugato beginning in the cellos and basses, and then running through the rest of the orchestra. Of particular structural interest is the inter-linking bridge passage which connects the last two movements. Over the drumbeat referred to by Forster's Tibby, the music climbs inexorably toward the tremendous assertion of C major triumph at the start of the finale. The epic grandeur of the music, now with martial trombones and piccolo added (the Fifth also calls for contrabassoon), has irresistible drive and sweep, though that eventual victory is still some way off is suggested by the return of the ominous scherzo figure during the extended development.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro con brio
    2. Andante con moto
    3. Allegro
    4. Allegro

    Appears On

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    2017 Nimbus Records NI 1713
    2016 BR Klassik 900907
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    Cascade Records 2204
    Philips 420540
    London 430218
    Amado Classics 03004
    BCI Music (Brentwood Communication) 226
    Disky 705252
    London 430701
    Albany Music Distribution 110
    Prism Leisure 1202
    Erato 45760
    D Classics 703762
    DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 7491382
    Classic Art
    RCA 60534
    Magic Master 37073
    Magic Talent CD 48056
    Pilz 1904
    Forlane 16674
    Pro-Arte Records 3010
    Stradivari 6102
    Music & Arts 886
    Sony Classical 89070
    Teldec 0630-18946-2
    Menuet 160019
    Decca 467892
    EMI Music Distribution 7474472
    Masters of the Millennium 2004
    DG Deutsche Grammophon 4100282
    Teldec
    RCA Victor Red Seal 60092
    Originals 859
    Russian Compact Disc (RCD) 25011
    Lys 070
    Lodia Compact Discs 781
    Quintessence 2025
    Telarc Distribution 80060
    Apex 89078
    DG Deutsche Grammophon 419051
    Theorema 121219
    Intersound 3086
    Musicbank 6005
    Virtuoso 2697042
    Onyx Classix 66522
    Aurophon Records 31433
    Supraphon 110719
    Originals 811
    Palladio 4189
    As Disc 616
    Legend 108
    CBS Records 36711
    Musique d'Or 1063
    RCA 5403
    EMI Music Distribution 47120