Bernard Haitink and Berlin Philharmonic perform Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F major op. 68, the “Pastoral,” at the Festspielhaus Baden Baden, 2015.

Beethoven composed his 6th Symphony about nature in 1807 and 1808. The Symphony No. 6 in F major, op. 68 has five movements, not four, and along with the usual tempo indications, Beethoven gave them descriptive headings too. The Sixth, known as the “Pastoral,” begins with “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside,” to be taken at an “Allegro ma non troppo” speed (fast but not exceedingly so).

But there are actually many tempos, moods, feelings and effects in the first movement of Beethoven’s Sixth. One thing is missing, though: that forward thrust so typical for Beethoven; the struggle and the passion in striving for a goal. Instead, the main theme is repeated, and in parts of the first movement, time seems to slow down and even stand still.

The Symphony No. 6 isn’t a graphic musical depiction of nature, though. As Ludwig van Beethoven personally wrote over the first movement: “More an expression of feeling than tone-painting.”
Use your imagination while listening to the second movement of Beethoven’s Sixth, and you can hear ripples on a creek and birds tweeting. To make it clear, Beethoven added a description, “Scene by the Brook,” to go with the tempo heading “Andante molto mosso” (as though walking, very moving).

Beethoven only rarely explained his music, but in this case, he added: “It’s left to the listener to figure out the situations. Anyone who has any idea of life in the countryside can discern the composer’s intent even without titles or headings.”

For the musicians, Beethoven goes into greater detail, writing in the score that the calls of the nightingale, the quail and the cuckoo are rendered by the flute, the oboe and two clarinets.
The triple-movement episode begins with a “Merry gathering of country folk,” with “Allegro” (rapid-action) the specified tempo.

Altogether, the Symphony No. 6 in F major, op. 68 anticipates what later went by the name of “program music:” music that describes a situation or tells a story. In the “merry gathering” we hear an oom-pah-pah village band that doesn’t quite play together but, for that, is all the more boisterous.
“My decree,” wrote Ludwig van Beethoven: “Stay in the countryside. My unfortunate hearing problem doesn’t plague me here. It’s as though, in the country, every tree was speaking to me. Holy, holy! Who can express it all? Sweet quietude of the forest!”

That sweet quietude comes to an abrupt end in the fourth movement of the Symphony No. 6 in F major, op. 68. It’s titled “Thunder, Storm,” and the composer specified it to be taken at a fast clip, “Allegro.”

It’s the shortest but most dramatic movement in Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony. Thunder, screeching wind and a downpour are all clearly audible, while images come to mind from Walt Disney’s 1940 animated film “Fantasia,” where the Greek god Jupiter gleefully hurtles bolts of lightning and makes terrified villagers flee for shelter.

After the merry gathering of the countryfolk and the storm comes the finale of Beethoven’s Sixth, titled “Shepherd’s song. Cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm,” with the Italian tempo mark “Allegretto” (slightly fast).

(00:00) Opening
(00:18) I. Allegro ma non troppo: Erwachen heiterer Empfindungen bei der Ankunft auf dem Lande / Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the countryside
(12:43) II. Andante molto mosso: Szene am Bach / Scene by the brook
(24:42) III. Allegro: Lustiges Zusammensein der Landleute / Merry gathering of the countryfolk
(30:15) IV. Allegro: Gewitter, Sturm / Thunderstorm
(34:16) V. Allegretto: Hirtengesang. Frohe und dankbare Gefühle nach dem Sturm / Shepherd’s song. Glad and grateful feelings after the storm

© EuroArts Music International

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