Variations on the Theme of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

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Beethoven’s symphonic work vividly reflects the human way of overcoming, where fate is in the hands of man. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is no exception. The emotional anguish and triumphant triumph of the lyrical hero over the fatal beginning is a real call sent by the creator through time, and has reached our days.

Ludwig van Beethoven paid a lot of attention in his work to the variational form – both in the form of individual compositions and in his cyclic forms. He wrote a lot of variations for piano (over two dozen works of variations). Beethoven loved this genre and turned to it throughout his career as a composer.

The predilection for variations is in direct connection with the desire inherent in Beethoven’s creative thought to develop the theme as fully and comprehensively as possible, to develop it, to modify it, to extract from it the maximum of the possibilities inherent in it.

The task of variations is to connect the old with the new, to use the new to enrich the old, to unite into one whole in music. A theme with variations is not the principle of the development of an idea or the principle of the disclosure of a philosophical thesis; it is the principle of displaying everyday life, its various sides.

Beethoven ‘s first known composition dates back to 1782 – piano variations on the theme of a march by the now – forgotten composer E. Dressler. Published in Mannheim thanks to the assistance of Nefe, show the ingenuity of the young author. This work breathes energy and at the same time it is full of deep feeling. There is no trace of fashionable gallantry in him. It can be considered a direct predecessor of the famous thirty-two variations.

Beethoven’s variations are not uniform in nature and are very different in difficulty. Some of them have the usual classical form of a number of variations written in the same key with one slow and one minor before the end. Along with variations of the usual type, there are variations in form that are very peculiar. For example, Op. 34 and Op. 35, written in 1802. Already in the sonata Op. 26, new features for this genre are outlined in the variations of the first movement: the theme undergoes very significant transformations.

But this principle was fully realized by Beethoven only in variations on his own themes Op. 34 and Op. 35. The composer highly appreciated both opuses and was fully aware of the novelty of their idea. He wrote to the publishers Breitkopf and Hertel: “The variations are processed really in a completely new manner, each in its own way… Usually you have to hear from others that I have new ideas while I don’t know it myself, but this time I must assure you that I have used a completely new manner in my works.

In the six variations of Op. 34, in F major, Beethoven boldly broke the tradition by applying an alternation of major keys in descending thirds, ending in a parallel minor from the last of these keys, that is, in C minor (fifth variation). The return from C minor to the main key – F major – is no less new. Nowhere else has Beethoven resorted to such an open application of tertial kinship. There are also genre changes of the theme: the fourth variation is a minuet, the fifth is a funeral march.

The variations Op. 35 (15 variations with fugue), in E–flat major, are written on the theme of the counterdance used in the finale of Beethoven’s ballet “The Works of Prometheus”. In variations, it appears in a new, original form: only the bass sounds of the theme sound. Pianissimo is replaced by sudden thunderclaps, after which silence comes again. This mysterious theme undergoes variational changes.

In terms of form, Op. 35 is constructed like a sonata, where the first movement extends up to and including the fourteenth variation, and the long adagio of the fifteenth variation forms, as it were, the second slow movement; the fugue and coda are the finale of the entire cycle. The mystery of the counterdance theme variant will be revealed in the finale of the Heroic Symphony, which will be based on variations of Op. 35. The first motif of this variant will play a big role for the entire symphony as a whole.

Beethoven’s last work for piano is variations on the theme of Diabelli’s rough waltz. In thirty-three variations (Op. 120, C major, 1823), the composer achieves the most daring techniques of variation. In terms of form, they lack obvious signs of unity, but a deep connection with the theme is present in each of these variations. Only the techniques of variation are often very complex and subtle.

The variety of genres represented in these variations is inexhaustible. There is a solemn march (1), and a light scherzo (2,9), and an etude (16,17,23), and a burlesque (13), and a major funeral march (14), and a “mood piece” (21), and a fugetta (24), and a sarabande (29), and an expressive Largo (31), followed by a fast fugue (32, as if the finale), and a minuet (33 codes of the finale: fugue and minuet like the fugue and the counterdance of the finale of variations Op. 35), and, finally, even the first aria of Leporello from Mozart’s “Don Juan” (22).

On the unpretentious basis of the Diabelli waltz, Beethoven showed almost all the small genres of his time, preserving the metrical structure of the simplest duality. The greatest art of variation is shown in a cycle of thirty-two piano variations in C minor (without opus designation), which are one of Beethoven’s most popular compositions.

By nature and style, they belong to the middle period of the composer’s work. The theme and 32 variations are one complete whole, a slender construction; nothing can be inserted or thrown away. If we check the execution time of 32 variations by different performers, it turns out that all the accelerations and decelerations, the ratios of the parts will be the same: obviously, constructive principles are deeply embedded in human thinking…

The cycle reveals Beethoven’s natural genetic connection with the sonata form. This implies the division of the cycle into 4 sections: Theme and exposition (1-11b); Development (12-22); Reprise (23-30); Code (31-32). Each of the groups begins with a piano and contains a build-up, leading through contrasting juxtapositions to a climax. The interest of this cycle lies not in new techniques of variation, but in the variety of presentation based on the preservation of the same chromatically decreasing bass stroke.

These variations are written on a short eight-act theme and in their external structure are close to the ancient form of the chaconne. The cycle contains two types of variations: polyphonic, dominated by an ostinate chromatic bass, symbolize belonging to the old world. The second type of variations – homophonic-harmonic warehouse, in which the melody with tonic – dominant accompaniment dominates – turn out to be the personification of a new world.

The Contents of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5

Beethoven is not one of the composers who describe their own works in detail, giving them a clear and definite program plan. But Symphony No. 5 was an exception to the rule. In a letter to Schindler, he not only explained the program plan, but also pointed out specific musical themes that mark rock and a lyrical hero trying to fight fate.

The conflict is obvious and its initiation occurs even in the first bars. The composer himself wrote that this is how “fate knocks at the door.” He compared her to an unsolicited guest who destroys and cuts a wedge into the familiar world of dreams and dreams. The motif of fate permeates the composition from the first such and helps to make the cycle the most unified and cohesive. Since the work is written in the classical style, it has a structure of four parts:

  • Part I is composed in the form of a sonata allegro with a slow introduction.
  • Part II is a double variation.
  • Part III is a dramatic scherzo, which reflects the genre and everyday orientation.
  • Part IV is the finale, written in the form of a sonata allegro with a coda.

The genre of the work is an instrumental drama. Due to the presence of a program plan, it is customary to consider the content of the work from the point of view of dramaturgy. In this case, each part of the symphony represents a certain stage and performs a significant dramatic function:

  • In the first part, the direct action (the lyrical hero) and the counter-action (fate) are exposed, the drama begins and the conflict escalates. The predominance and dominance of fate over the hero.
  • The second part performs the function of discharging the forced counteraction, and also gives rise to the formation of the appearance of the triumphant finale.
  • In the third part, the conflict heats up and develops until the acute stage is reached. There is a reversal of the situation in favor of the lyrical hero. It is characterized by a dynamic increase.
  • The final clearly forms a positive key and implements the concept of “Through struggle to victory”.

Thus, the composition presented in this work is a standard not only of symphonic, but also of dramatic skill.

The first theme of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is a really bad choice for theme and variations. We do not know of another set of variations on a theme of this type. She is too strong, too distinctive, too motivated and too well known. Its main characteristics include rhythmic intensification and motivational perspective, which does not contribute to variational treatment.

32 Variations of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

The cycle “32 variations” vividly characterizes Beethoven as a thinker and philosopher: it is known that the composer enrolled in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Bonn in his youth, read books of great thinkers all his life, in particular, Kant, whose thesis “The moral law is in us, the starry sky above us” became his credo.

Beethoven puts a motif in all variations of the league, which always begins with the second quarter, and in the coda, when Beethoven gives a modified theme, he even puts a sforzando on the second quarter. He also makes much brighter and bolder moves on octaves (in bars 4 and 5): F –F-sharp, F-sharp – sol, tending to A-flat:

  • The first motif is basso ostinato. Chromatic descending motif in the chord presentation on the first parts of the bars. Acts as a symbol of the old world. Its textured design in the theme gives the impression of a solid monolithic wall. The semantics of the basso ostinato motif, tonal identity, achieve an almost quotable similarity to the descent of the bass in Mozart’s fantasy c-moll.
  • The second motif formation is a melody that embodies the young world. If the rhythmic springboard of the old world is the 1st part of the bars, then the young world, on the contrary, is based on the defiantly audacious accents of the 2nd parts, emphasized by impulsive takeoffs of tirades and unexpected jumps.

Having thus realized the idea of the struggle of opposites, the composer also shows their unity. The ascending line of melodic peaks, as well as its mirror symmetrical reflection in the descending bass line, diverge from one common point and, having reached the common sound – salt – after all, in the 6th bar “Rubik” confrontations.

As a result, in the 6th bar of the theme, a post-climactic fracture is formed, which is a characteristic technique for the entire cycle and is implemented in its own way in all variations. The theme, therefore, represents the concentrated core of the composition, during which the contradictions between the antipodes steadily increase until the climactic explosion in the 6th bar.

When playing with two hands, this fingering turns out to be symmetrical and very convenient. At first it seems difficult, but then, when you get used to it, it gives a great result.

This is followed by three variations, each of which, on the contrary, differs from the other, but they are united by the fact that the first and third have a triol movement, and in the middle there is a variation with a duol movement; thus, these three variations again represent, as it were, a complete group. In the fourth variation, a new motif is added for the composition, but highly characteristic of Beethoven – the rhythm formula of fate.

The variation is entirely based on staccato, but in the middle voice in the second quarter, each time it is necessary to emphasize the auxiliary note somewhat. This underlining applies only to the middle voice and should not be reflected in the bass and upper voices. The fifth variation brings the personification of a new motif.

For the first time, the chromatic bass is replaced by a tonic dominant and the rhythmic support is moved from the 1st to the 2nd lobe. In this variation, it is very important to establish the correct nature of the pedalization. Goldenweiser believes that pedaling should be done by pressing the pedal immediately after the bass, removing it in the third quarter, replacing the finger on the octave in the right hand from the first to the second and in no case removing the sustained chord in the left hand.

Under these conditions, pedal and at the same time pure sonority is provided. At the end of the variation there is a compression marked by Beethoven with the sforzando; further, when the sforzando stops, the first sound still needs to be slightly marked.

The sixth variation opens with a loud proclamation of the motif of fate. The ostinate bass returns again. She has a courageous and bright character. In this variation, you should not accentuate all four first chords. You need to select only the first of them, and the rest should be like a reflection of it. In the first bars of the variation, Beethoven writes sforzando, and then makes a note: sempre staccato e sforzando. By the end, compression occurs: first marcato for every quarter, in the sixth measure for every two three-eighth, and in the seventh for every eighth.

Then there is a group of five variations (7-11), which forms a special sequence that is of great importance for the development of this cycle and will be repeated (not literally). Its name is a characteristic row. At the beginning of the characteristic series there is a subgroup of two variations, – (7,8) where the same idea develops, in the middle there is one variation of a different type, and then again two variations having the same content and the same construction. In general, all this is like an exposition of the whole work.

The seventh variation needs to be played Legato. The principles of the new order outlined in the fifth variation are shown here even more clearly: the positive ideal of the young world is formulated for the first time. In the foreground, the melody in octave presentation reigns supreme; the figures of the accompaniment create a transparent sound color. In the upper voice, the central and slightly distinguished is the second sound.

It is important that in the first five bars the last note is not delayed, but gently removed. The bass voice should be performed very smoothly, so that the figuration does not break due to jumps, which is quite difficult. Here, as in similar cases, it is necessary to increase the sonority to A-flat in the sixth bar.

The eighth variation is of the same type, but it is constructed differently: in the previous one, the motif was one–stroke, here the construction is two-stroke, going to a strong fraction of the second measure. At the climax, a mistake is usually made here – both octaves of A-flat are played equally strongly, meanwhile, with such a performance, the syncopation available here disappears; the second A-flat should not be emphasized.

A similar pair of variations is repeated once again on the movement of the thirty–second (tenth and eleventh), and in the middle between these pairs is a variation of a different nature (ninth). It conveys a state of pre–thunder calm, in which the antipodes balance – ostinate bass and melodic motifs-sighs in soprano.

It has a background in the form of a precisely written trill, which sets off the mournful upper voice. The first sound of a melodic voice should be highlighted each time by dipping your finger into the key, and the second one should be gently removed. In this variation, it is also necessary to make a gradual amplification to the sound of A flat. At the end of the variation, the trill turns into an unmeasured one; in many editions, a nachschlag is added to it; it should not be done in any case. There is a misconception that the trills of the classics should be played with a full house. Composers almost always, when they need it, write out a full house themselves, and you have to do what is written by the composer.

The following two variations are identical in structure to the seventh and eighth, but they have a different character. They represent a single wave. It says sempre forte here, and they need to be played brightly. In the tenth variation, the left hand plays the crescendo each time to the first fraction of the next measure, and the right, on the contrary, weakens downwards from the first octave.

The same is true in the following variation, in which the movement of the thirty-second is transferred to the right-hand party, and the main voice is moved down to the left-hand party. In the tenth variation, it is very important that because of the emphasis on syncope, there is no accent in the lower voice. It is quite difficult to achieve this.

This is followed by the middle episode in C-dur to which the gammon-like move leads. Here we have an example on which it is worth paying some attention. Passages should be played in such a way that the performer feels that he slows them down somewhat by the end.

Usually, when passages are performed, on the contrary, they are hurried to the end. Composers often, writing out passages with an uneven number of sounds, leave extra notes at the end of the passage. In Beethoven, on the contrary, in the Fifth Concerto, in the Sonata Op. 81 and in a number of other cases, a smaller number of notes are written out by the end of the passage: if, for example, at the beginning there were eight notes for each quarter and seven remained, then he writes these seven notes at the very end.

In this variation we also see that for the last two quarters Beethoven wrote seven notes instead of eight. This is reflected in the instinct of Beethoven, the performer, suggesting that it is not necessary to rush the end of the passage.

The twelfth variation presents the theme in C-dur. The chromatic ostinate bass, which has habitually started a downward movement, suddenly changes it to an ascending one. The melody is of a different character here – more calm, somewhat choral in contrast to the nervous, dramatic character at the beginning of the composition. There is a small subtlety here, which, however, is audible if it is done.

In the last bar in the right hand up to the eighth, after which there is an eighth pause; at this time in the left there is a merged octave of salt and then one voice mi and do. A. Goldenweiser believes that the lower salt in the left hand should be removed, imagining it as the eighth, then the upper salt will appear and the voice will sound: sol-mi–do. But if you play all this on the pedal, then, of course, this detail will not be heard.

The following four variations are grouped into groups of two variations. The fourteenth variation repeats the thirteenth, only the movement in it and the melody are double notes, and the fifteenth and sixteenth variations are again of the same character.

The thirteenth variation has a very light, dispassionate character, as if in the upper manual of the organ. This variation is better played without a pedal and can even be played on the left pedal.

FAQ for Variations on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

What is the story behind Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?

The story behind Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is a complex one. It has been the subject of many theories and interpretations.

One interpretation that is common among music scholars is that the work was written as an attack on Napoleon Bonaparte, who had just taken over the throne of France. Another common theory is that it was written in response to Napoleon’s occupation of Vienna and his support for Beethoven’s rival, Mozart.

What other pieces have been written in variations of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has been remixed and re-arranged by many artists over the years. Here are some examples:

  • Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by Daft Punk
  • Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by The Beatles

Which variation of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is considered to be the most famous?

The most well-known version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is the one with the first movement in D major, which was recorded by conductor Arturo Toscanini.

What are the differences between the different versions of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?

There are many different versions of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Some of the differences include the addition of a chorus, shorter length, and additional instruments.

How long did it take Beethoven to write his Fifth Symphony?

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was composed in 1824, but it took him a long time to create it. He wrote the music first and then the words. Beethoven originally planned on composing the symphony in his early twenties, but he didn’t finish until his death.

How long does it take to perform a symphony like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?

For Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, it takes a little over three hours to perform.

What is the difference between conducting and performing a symphony like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony?

Conducting is the act of directing a musical performance, usually from a podium or stage. Performing is the act of giving live performance to an audience.

The difference between conducting and performing a symphony like Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is that conducting takes place in front of an audience whereas performing takes place in front of other musicians.

Which variation of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is most popular in America and in Europe?

The most popular variation of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in America and in Europe is the 1812 Overture.

The 1812 Overture is the most popular version of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in America and in Europe. It was first performed in 1814, during a performance of the Fifth Symphony conducted by Franz Liszt. This version has been used on film, television, and radio many times over the years.

Which variation of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is most popular in Asia and in Africa?

There are two variations of the Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. One is the original version, which was composed by Ludwig van Beethoven in 1824. The other is a variation that was composed by Anton Bruckner in 1873.

The answer is that Bruckner’s version has been performed more often than the original version. This is because it was later discovered and became famous during the 20th century, when it was used as a symbol for Austria’s fight for freedom against Nazi Germany during World War II.

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