Symphony No. 5 (Beethoven)  

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"Music discloses to man an unknown kingdom, a world having nothing in common with the external sensual world which surrounds him and in which he leaves behind him all definite feelings in order to abandon himself to an inexpressible longing."--"Beethoven's Instrumental-Musik" (1813) by E. T. A. Hoffmann

Beethoven's Fifth is said to be "Mona Lisa" of classical music Illustration: Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.
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Beethoven's Fifth is said to be "Mona Lisa" of classical music
Illustration: Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The Symphony No. 5 in C minor of Ludwig van Beethoven, Op. 67, was written in 1804–1808. It Is one of the most popular and best-known compositions in classical music, and one of the most frequently played symphonies. First performed in Vienna's Theater an der Wien in 1808, the work achieved its prodigious reputation soon afterwards. E. T. A. Hoffmann described the symphony as "one of the most important works of the time".

The symphony, and the four-note opening motif in particular, are well known worldwide, with the motif appearing frequently in popular culture, from disco to rock and roll, to appearances in film and television.

Hoffmann's praise

E. T. A. Hoffmann described the symphony as "one of the most important works of the time". As is typical of symphonies in the classical period, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is in four movements.

A year and a half later, publication of the score resulted in a rapturous unsigned review (actually by music critic E. T. A. Hoffmann) in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung. He described the music with dramatic imagery:

Radiant beams shoot through this region's deep night, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy everything within us except the pain of endless longing—a longing in which every pleasure that rose up in jubilant tones sinks and succumbs, and only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with full-voiced harmonies of all the passions, we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits.--"Recension: Sinfonie ... composée et dediée etc. par Louis van Beethoven. à Leipsic, chez Breitkopf et Härtel, Oeuvre 67. No. 5. des Sinfonies", Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung 12, nos. 40 and 41 (4 & 11 July 1810)

Apart from the extravagant praise, Hoffmann devoted by far the largest part of his review to a detailed analysis of the symphony, in order to show his readers the devices Beethoven used to arouse particular affects in the listener. In an essay titled "Beethoven's Instrumental Music", compiled from this 1810 review and another one from 1813 on the op. 70 string trios, published in three installments in December 1813, E.T.A. Hoffmann further praised the "indescribably profound, magnificent symphony in C minor":

How this wonderful composition, in a climax that climbs on and on, leads the listener imperiously forward into the spirit world of the infinite!... No doubt the whole rushes like an ingenious rhapsody past many a man, but the soul of each thoughtful listener is assuredly stirred, deeply and intimately, by a feeling that is none other than that unutterable portentous longing, and until the final chord—indeed, even in the moments that follow it—he will be powerless to step out of that wondrous spirit realm where grief and joy embrace him in the form of sound...."--Published anonymously, "Beethovens Instrumental-Musik", Zeitung für die elegante Welt, nos. 245–47 (9, 10, and 11 December 1813). Also published anonymously as part of Hoffmann's collection titled Fantasiestücke in Callots Manier, 4 vols. Bamberg, 1814. English edition, as Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann, Fantasy Pieces in Callot's Manner: Pages from the Diary of a Traveling Romantic, translated by Joseph M Hayse. Schenectady: Union College Press, 1996




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