Violin Online String Class: Classical Violin Music

PIECE: PASTORAL SYMPHONY NO. 6

SECTION 3.8
Pastoral Symphony No. 6
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Beethoven
Fig. 3.9 Beethoven

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) composed Symphony No. 6 in 1806. Scholars often describe Beethoven as a composer who bridged the Classical and Romantic style periods, because he extended the Viennese Classical style of composers such as Mozart and Haydn, and expanded it in new directions, ushering in the Romantic period. Beethoven was raised in Bonn, Germany. His father was a minor musician at the court of Bonn, and Beethoven's musical education began with his father. Beethoven also received musical training from Haydn (Beethoven traveled to Vienna to study with him); Johann Georg Albrechtsberger, a leading teacher of counterpoint and composition; and Antonio Salieri, an Italian opera composer.

Beethoven did not lead an easy life. He apparently was rather eccentric and strong-willed, and gradually began going deaf when he was in his late 20s. When none of the doctors he consulted for his hearing problems could help him, Beethoven became so despondent that he even considered suicide. The following quote comes from an unsent letter Beethoven wrote to his brothers in 1802. It is nicknamed the "Heiligenstadt Testament" because Beethoven wrote it while staying in the village of Heiligenstadt, just outside of Vienna:

I was yet obliged early in life to isolate myself, and to pass my existence in solitude…I found it impossible to say to others: Speak louder; shout! for I am deaf!…What humiliation when anyone beside me heard a flute in the far distance, while I heard nothing, or when others heard a shepherd singing, and I still heard nothing! Such things brought me to the verge of desperation, and well nigh caused me to put an end to my life. Art! art alone, deterred me. Ah! how could I possibly quit the world before bringing forth all that I felt it was my vocation to produce?…I joyfully hasten to meet Death. If he comes before I have the opportunity of developing all my artistic powers, then, notwithstanding my cruel fate, he will come too early for me, and I should wish for him at a more distant period; but even then I shall be content, for his advent will release me from a state of endless suffering. Come when he may, I shall meet him with courage. Farewell! [9]

Despite his gradual loss of hearing, Beethoven continued composing, and some of his greatest masterpieces were created while he struggled with increasing deafness (he eventually became completely deaf). Composing music was not effortless for Beethoven. It was a strenuous ordeal, and his manuscripts with their many markings illustrate how painstaking the process was for him. Because of this, he was not as prolific a composer as others; as an example of this, Beethoven composed a total of nine symphonies in his lifetime (Mozart composed 50 symphonies and Haydn composed 104). Beethoven actively composed music throughout his life, and although his musical output may not have been large, his compositions were highly regarded and acclaimed.

Many scholars regard Beethoven as one of the first musicians to have had a successful career as an independent, free-lance musician. Instead of having to rely solely on patrons, Beethoven composed on commission, sold his compositions to publishers, taught music, and gave private and public concerts (he was regarded as a piano virtuoso). Although he enjoyed his independent status as a musician, his lack of a stable income caused him to constantly worry about money, and in 1809, Beethoven sought and obtained a guaranteed annual yearly salary from the Archduke Rudolph (this salaried status did not inhibit Beethoven from continuing his entrepreneurial efforts). As long as he remained in Vienna, the Archduke guaranteed Beethoven an income of 4000 florins a year, not a huge amount, but it was enough help allay Beethoven's financial fears.

Beethoven composed his Symphony No. 6 in 1802, and titled it Pastoral Symphony. It is an example of program music: instrumental music which represents extra-musical concepts such as emotions, scenes or events through the music, not through words (another name for program music is descriptive music). At the time Beethoven wrote this piece, he was staying in the countryside of Vienna, and he immersed himself in nature, notebook in hand, to record his musical ideas. Beethoven provided a title to Symphony No. 6 that illustrates how the feelings of nature inspired him in writing this piece: "The Pastoral Symphony, more the expression of feeling than painting." Beethoven's musical score includes the following descriptive phrases for each of the five movements of his Pastoral Symphony: [10]

First Movement: "The awakening of joyful feelings upon arriving in the country."
Second Movement: "Scene by the brook."
Third Movement: "Merry gathering of country folk."
Fourth Movement: "Thunderstorm."
Fifth Movement: "Happy, thankful feelings after the storm: shepherd's song."
(movements 3, 4, and 5 are played continuously without the usual breaks between movements)

TECHNIQUE TIPS: This piece is an excerpt from the first and second movements of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony No. 6. Some of the instrumental techniques and musical elements found in this arrangement are slurs and meter changes. The first movement, "The awakening of joyful feelings upon arriving in the country," features a bright, lively melody. The second movement, "Scene by the brook" begins in measure 38, and has a 6/4 meter with a strong, triple pulse which depicts the sound of a flowing brook (ONE-two-three-FOUR-five-six). When you reach measures 88-89, note that although these notes are tied, a bow change is indicated (this is done so you'll end the piece on a down-bow). Try to change your bow as smoothly as possible so the notes sound like one, sustained note throughout the bow change. The great violin pedagogue Ivan Galamaian observed the following regarding how to achieve a smooth bow change:

There are several problems connected with the change of bow (from down to up and vice versa), but the one that is most important concerns the ability to make the change as smooth and as unnoticeable as possible. Many theories have been developed about this particular point. Some methods prescribe the use of the fingers alone, others the hand and wrist, still others the forearm or whole arm. Yet the essence of the matter does not lie in the particular muscles or joints that should participate, but instead in two factors: (1) the bow has to slow down shortly before the change, and (2) the pressure has to be lightened, with both of these elements delicately and precisely coordinated. Whether this is done by fingers, hand, or arm is, as a matter of principle, immaterial.[11]


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