Theory II Listening Assignment – Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany in 1770. His works are traditionally divided into three periods. In his early period, he focused on imitating classical style, although his personal characteristics of darker pieces, motivic development, and larger forms are already evident or foreshadowed. In his middle period, he is beginning to go deaf, and has realized that he cannot reverse the trend. His works express struggle and triumph. He stretches forms, with development sections becoming the bulk of his works. He is breaking from tradition and laying the groundwork for the romantic style period. In his late period, he breaks almost completely with classical forms, but ironically starts to study and use baroque forms and counterpoint. He is almost completely deaf, and his works become much more introspective with massive amounts of contrast between sections, ideas, and movements. He dies in Vienna in 1827.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 is the forerunner of the romantic symphony. It is programmatic, telling a story. It is based on nature, a common theme in the romantic era. While a typical romantic symphony still had four movements, Beethoven stretched this by adding a fifth movement.

Symphony No. 6 is one of Beethoven’s few programmatic works and describes a country scene. It is titled “Recollections of country life”. It has 5 movements, unusual for a classical symphony. The first movement is in sonata form and is titled “Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country”. It has two beautiful rustic themes. The second movement is titled “Scene at the brook” and depicts a bubbling stream on a calm day. It is also in sonata form with two flowing themes. The third movement is a scherzo and depicts a country dance being titled “Happy gathering of country folk”. It is an unusual scherzo with the scherzo section played only once before continuing to the trio. After the trio, instead of returning to the scherzo, a short section in 2/4 time interrupts. Then the scherzo is played, followed by the trio again. The 2/4 section appears a second time, followed by the scherzo one last time. The dancing in the third movement is interrupted by raindrops ushering in the fourth movement, titled “Thunderstorm”. The fourth movement is a huge, angry work with strings and timpani playing a sonic representation of a downpour with lightning and thunder. The storm finally subsides giving way to the fifth movement titled “Shepherd’s song: Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm.” The fifth movement is in sonata rondo form.

Joseph Kerman, e. a. (n.d.). Beethoven, Ludwig van. Retrieved April 5, 2010, from Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online:
Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. (2003, July 22). Symphony No. 6 (Beethoven). Retrieved April 5, 2010, from Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia:

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