BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” | 1 Ludwig van

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Ludwig van BEETHOVEN
(1770 – 1827)
Symphony No.6 in F Major, opus 68 “Pastoral”
Allegro ma non troppo
[Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande (Awakening of
cheerful feelings upon arrival in the countryside)]
Andante molto mosso
[Szene am Bach (Scene by the brook)]
[Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute (Merry gathering of country folk)]
[Gewitter, Sturm (Thunder. Storm)]
[Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm (Shepherd's song;
cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm)]
Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major Pastoral has often been cited as the starting
point of 19th-century “program music.” Program music refers to music that attempts to musically
render an extra-musical narrative. The narrative itself might be offered to the audience in the
form of program notes or movement titles which invite imaginative correlations with the music.
Absolute music, in contrast, is intended to be appreciated without any particular reference to
the outside world. There is an important distinction to be made between Beethoven’s “program
music” and the programmatic works of Romantic Era composers such as Hector Berlioz (18031869), Franz Liszt (1811-1886), and Robert Schumann. In the works of the latter, it was often a
literary program that motivated the musical structure whereas with Beethoven the extra-musical
elements were typically derived from his life experiences and, in the process, became another
element of the musical structure rather than creating the structure.
Beethoven enjoyed long walks in the countryside surrounding Vienna and he spent his summers
in country towns such as Heiligenstadt, Döbling, and Gneixendorf. He was a great admirer of
Nature and was a disciple of the Swiss philosopher, writer, and composer Jean-Jacques
Rousseau (1712-1778).
As early as 1803, Beethoven became fascinated with the musical recreation of sounds and even
notated a musical rendition of the sound of water in a stream in one of his composition
notebooks. In his Heiligenstadt Testament (1802), the tragic document in which he first wrote
about his encroaching deafness, he wrote "What a humiliation for me when someone standing
next to me heard a flute in the distance and I heard nothing, or someone heard a shepherd
singing and again I heard nothing." His love for the sounds of Nature became inseparable from
the pain that he felt at not being able to hear them, and it is his personal drama that receives
musical treatment in the Sixth Symphony. In this sense, each movement is symbolic of both
nature and of Beethoven’s emotional state as he reconciles himself with his ever-increasing loss
of hearing.
Although Beethoven gave each movement a precise descriptive title and even noted the types
of birds the woodwinds represented, he also admonished that “The listener should be allowed to
discover the situation. All painting in instrumental music, if pushed too far, is a failure."
The Symphony No. 6 was premiered on a program at the Theater an der Wien on December 22,
1808 that included the Symphony No. 5 in c minor, the Piano Concerto No. 4, the Choral
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” | 1
Fantasy, two movements of his Mass in C Major, the concert aria Ah! perfido, and one of his wellknown solo improvisations at the piano. By the time the finale (the Chorale Fantasy) was
performed, the under-rehearsed musicians were exhausted, the audience was ready to leave
(undoubtedly, in part, due to the fact that the heating in the building was not functioning), and
the performance, by all reports, had completely fallen apart. Hence, Beethoven’s Sixth
Symphony was not initially met with the critical praise that it so justly deserved.
BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” | 2

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