Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 in F major, Op. 68, known as the Pastoral Symphony, was completed in 1808. One of Beethoven's few works of program music, the symphony was labeled at its first performance with the title "Recollections of Country Life".
Portrait of Beethoven in 1804, by which point he had been working on the 6th Symphony for two years.
Beethoven was a lover of nature who spent a great deal of his time on walks in the country. He frequently left Vienna to work in rural locales. He was, however, not the first composer of his time to depict nature symphonically; for example, Joseph Haydn's oratorioThe Seasons, premiered in 1802, likewise portrayed the loveliness of nature, peasant dance, a thunderstorm, bird song, and other 'pastoral' imagery. Beethoven did not write another oratorio, but a symphony, and thus escaped from the overly-literal character that a libretto would have imposed. As the composer said, the Sixth Symphony is "more the expression of feeling than painting", and the same point is made in the title he attached to the first movement (see below).
The first sketches of this symphony appeared in 1802. The symphony has programmatic titles; Beethoven remarked, "It is left to the listener to find out the situations ... Anyone that has formed any idea of rural life does not need titles to imagine the composer’s intentions."
The Pastoral Symphony was composed simultaneously with Beethoven's more famous—and more fiery—Fifth Symphony. It was premiered along with the Fifth in a long and somewhat under-rehearsed concert in the Theater an der Wien in Vienna, on December 22, 1808. There was little critical response to the premiere performance, but eventually the work has become one of the central works of the symphonic repertoire. It is a favorite of many listeners and is frequently performed and recorded today.
Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute (Happy gathering of country folk): Allegro
Gewitter, Sturm (Thunderstorm; Storm): Allegro
Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm (Shepherds' song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm): Allegretto
A performance of the work lasts about 40 minutes. The last three movements are performed together without pause.
Description of movements
I. Allegro ma non troppo
The symphony begins with a placid and cheerful movement depicting the composer's feelings as he arrives in the country. The work is in sonata form, and makes use of seven distinct motifs, each of which is extensively developed and transformed.
An unusual aspect of the movement is the use of a microscopic texture, obtained by multiple repetitions of very short motifs. As Yvonne Frindle [dead link] has said, "the infinite repetition of pattern in nature [is] conveyed through rhythmic cells, its immensity through sustained pure harmonies."
II. Andante molto mosso
This movement, titled by Beethoven "By the brook," is held[by whom?] to be one of Beethoven's most beautiful and serene compositions. It is in a 12/8 meter and the key is B flat major, the subdominant of the main key of the work, and is in sonata form.
At the opening the strings play a motif that clearly imitates flowing water. The cello section is divided, with just two players playing the flowing-water notes on muted instruments, with the remaining cellos playing mostly pizzicato notes together with the double basses.
Toward the end of the movement, in the coda that begins at measure 124, there is a cadenza for three woodwind instruments that imitates bird calls at measure 130. Beethoven helpfully identified the bird species in the score: nightingale (flute), quail (oboe), and cuckoo (clarinet).
This is the scherzo movement of the symphony, which depicts the country folk dancing and reveling. It is in F major, returning to the main key of the symphony.
The form of the movement is an altered version of the usual form for scherzi:
In other words, the trio appears twice rather than just once, and each time it appears it is interrupted by a boisterous passage in 2/4 time (a similar 2/4 eruption is found in Beethoven's Hammerklavier sonata for piano). Perhaps to accommodate this rather spacious arrangement, Beethoven left out the normally observed repeats of the second parts of the scherzo and the trio. Theodor Adorno identifies this particular scherzo as the model for the scherzos by Anton Bruckner.
The final return of Scherzo conveys a riotous atmosphere with a faster tempo. The movement ends abruptly when the country folk notice that raindrops are starting to fall.
The fourth movement, in F minor, depicts a violent thunderstorm with painstaking realism, starting with just a few drops of rain and building to a great climax. There is, of course, thunder, as well as lightning, high winds, and sheets of rain.
The storm eventually spends itself, with an occasional peal of thunder still heard in the distance. There is a seamless transition into the final movement, including a theme that could be interpreted as depicting a rainbow.
Since the fourth movement does not resolve in a final cadence, and by the pattern of Classical symphonies would count as the "extra" movement among the five, critics[who?] have described it structurally as an extended introduction to the final movement, rather than an independent movement in itself. A precedent for Beethoven's procedure is found in an earlier work (1787), Mozart's String Quintet in G minor K. 516, which likewise prefaces a serene final movement with a long, emotionally stormy introduction.
The finale is in F major and is in 6/8 time. The first eight bars form a continuation of the introduction of which the storm was the main part; the finale proper begins in the ninth bar. The movement is written in sonata rondo form, meaning that the main theme appears in the tonic key at the beginning of the development as well as the exposition and the recapitulation.
Like many classical finales, this movement emphasizes a symmetrical eight-bar theme, in this case representing the shepherds' song of thanksgiving. The mood throughout is unmistakably joyful.
The coda, which Antony Hopkins has called "arguably the finest music of the whole symphony," starts quietly and gradually builds to an ecstatic culmination for the full orchestra (minus "storm instruments"), with the first violins playing very rapid dotted semi-quavers at the top of their range. There follows a fervent passage suggestive of prayer, marked by Beethoven "pianissimo, sotto voce"; most conductors slow the tempo for this passage. After a brief period of afterglow, the work ends with two emphatic chords.
^ The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, ed., Stanley Sadie (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), vol. 20, p. 396.
^ Theodor W. Adorno, Beethoven: The Philosophy of Music, edited by Rolf Tiedemann, translated by Edmund Jephcott. Stanford: Stanford University Press (1998): 111. "The Scherzo is, no doubt, the model for Bruckner's scherzi. ... The caricatured dance with the famous syncopation is practically as independent of the Scherzo itself as a trio, and is also in the same key. The movement is self-contained like a suite of three dances."