The Maestro’s Corner: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

A Romp Through the Countryside

The Maestros Corner: Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony

Emma San Martin, Staff Writer

For this review, we’ve paired the article with a YouTube video of the Sixth Symphony itself, and time codes paired with each in depth description. This will help pair this review with the recording for a real time review. Play the video attached to the article to listen.)

During his lifetime, the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven loved the countryside more than any other place in the world.  Consequently, it is natural that he wished to dedicate a piece of music to it.  The result of this inspiration is one of the most enduring works in musical history: the Pastoral Symphony.  This masterpiece was composed at the same time as his legendary Fifth Symphony, but the two pieces could not be any more different.  Whereas the Fifth Symphony is a wild rampage of powerful chords and swelling fury, the Sixth is an enchanting adventure across Beethoven’s beloved countryside.

The first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, bounces cheerfully along, as we arrive in the country drawn in a pony cart. We can hear the pony’s hooves on the dusty road as the movement begins (0:22).  Then, we start to hear birds singing (0:36).  Slowly, the movement develops into a compelling expression of joy and freedom.  The rhythm is lively, but the smooth progression and masterful interweaving of harmonic melodies creates a peaceful, serene mood.  

The second movement, Andante molto mosso, is the gentlest and most pensive of the Symphony’s five movements (9:21).  It takes place sonically at the side of a small stream.  Besides the birds, we can also hear shallow water meandering over pebbles, tree leaves rustling softly, and a breeze playing through the cattails.  Briefly, a shepherd’s pipe sounds in the distance and is answered by another, farther away (15:17). The movement ends with the shepherds’ pipes playing in harmony.

The third movement, Allegro, delightfully contrasts the preceding movement.  It starts with a gathering at the center of a country village (21:30), which quickly evolves into a merry, rhythmic dance.  The ever-present pipes (22:28) allow the dance to accelerate into a jolly, fast-paced frolic.  Then, at the height of the revelry, and without a pause, the listener proceeds into the fourth movement.

This fourth movement, Allegro, remains to this day one of the most magnificent musical adaptations of a thunderstorm ever written.  It begins with an ominous tapping of raindrops (24:33), then a gust of wind begins to keen sharply through the trees (24:45).  Suddenly, the storm bursts furiously into full strength (25:00).  Thunder rumbles in the drums, lightning flashes in the brass, and the fearsome gale shrieks at us with the voice of all the strings and woodwinds.  Sheets of drenching rain pound down (26:14), gradually getting quieter, until the storm dies down into a gentle whisper, punctuated by the occasional thunderous drum roll (27:30).  Then, it transitions to the fifth and final movement.

The fifth movement “Allegretto”, begins with the sound of water dripping from the trees’ leaves (28:25), while the birds resume their songs.  The storm has passed, rendering the sky fresh and clear. Soon after, a rainbow appears (28:56).  The villagers slowly emerge from their houses, and the shepherds step out from under the trees, beneath which they had taken refuge during the tempest. The day is almost over, and the heavens turn a thousand shades of pink and orange as the sun begins to set (35:35).  Gradually, the sky darkens, until the stars have emerged and night has fallen over the countryside.

For the listeners of more modern music, who still need persuasion, The Sixth (or Pastoral) Symphony is a great example of perfect music to study and do homework to.  The music has a power tone subtle enough to keep the mind occupied and running, but will be very specific when you take the care to fully listen. Beethoven had the power to create stunning and beautiful images with sounds.  So sit back, relax, and enjoy this trip to the country side without ever leaving the comfort of your room.