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Volume 10 • Number 1

Spring 2003


 

 

Unification in the Sixth Symphony: The Pastoral Mode

by Tilden Russell

Beethoven's Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, is commonly thought of as a complement to the Fifth. The two symphonies gestated like twins during the same creative period; they received their first performances at the same concert in 1808 at which, incidentally, their numbers were reversed; and they bear consecutive opus numbers. They epitomize the "perennial odd-even parsing of the Beethoven symphonies." The first member is characterized by emotional intensity, propulsive momentum, and an "ethical" message, while the second is characterized by relaxed lyricism, melodic expansion as opposed to motivic concentration, and humor. They both anticipate Romanticism, but in different ways: the Fifth with its heroic, demonic, and sublime aspects; the Sixth with its idealization of nature and the Volk: "in fact no one has ever heard the Pastoral as heroic, and for good reason," as Richard Will has recently written.3 For all these extrinsic reasons, as well as our intrinsic interest in Beethoven's compositional process, evidence of parallel or analogous—as opposed to complementary—procedures in the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies ought to be of great interest.

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