The Fifth Symphony

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

E.T.A. Hoffman, German Music Critic

It was a just another Monday morning. I took a seat in the bus and plugged in my earphones. I scrolled down to find a track to start the day. My thumbs stopped at Beethoven’s fifth symphony. I was perhaps half sleepy. But the music woke me up from the slumber. By the end of the piece I felt something similar to what Hoffman has said in the quote above. I played it once more and felt different. I formed my own interpretation of the piece. Then, I felt that I should sit down and write a post about the same thought.

But one is not allowed to blurt out random stuff while talking about bigwigs like Beethoven. So I sat down and read some tedious articles talking about the first, second, third and fourth movements of the piece. Complex terms like Allegro Con Brio, Andante Con Moto, Scherzo Allegro and Allegro flashed in front of my eyes. I have always believed that music is beyond technicalities. So , I happily ignored that stuff. 

However, I learned about the association of victory or the ‘V’ symbol with the fifth symphony during the second world war. The Morse code for V (dit-dit-dit-dah) is apparently similar to the opening rhythm of fifth symphony. It was also amusing to know that the sixth and the fifth symphony premiered in the same performance. The sixth symphony was performed before the fifth!

My Interpretation
I feel that the course of Beethoven’s fifth symphony is pretty much like life itself. It starts off with a bang. The noise, violence, wails pretty much resembles the initial rumblings in the symphony. It moves slowly and grows steadily, exploring the contours of music like a child exploring the world. It becomes more interesting and energetic in the next two minutes. That chunk of the piece is very similar to youthful energy of a young man. Somehow the musician faces a dilemma, like a mathematician struck in the middle of a tricky problem. At the end of the first half, there is a bit of struggle followed by a slump, somewhat resembling a mid-life crisis. The composer creates a bit of suspense, challenging the listener to guess the future course of the piece. And then it bounces back, like a triumphant warrior asserting his place on the battlefield. As it moves towards the end it becomes more contemplative and nostalgic. It waltzes with past memories, preferably the good ones (it might even have a few sad ones on the boundaries). It celebrates life and finally concludes gracefully with a sense of completion. 

Music can carry a story or a narrative within itself. Sometimes you can weave a narrative around a piece of music. You can build your own narrative around the fifth symphony. I think now would be a great time to sit back and enjoy this masterpiece again. 

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