Exploring the Hidden Energies and Themes Within the “Fifth Symphony Family” – Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Bruckner, Mahler, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich and Sibelius

The association caused by the symphony number has always been a topic that music fans talk about. The most widely circulated one is naturally the famous “Ninth Symphony Curse” . Throughout the Romantic era from Beethoven to Mahler, the Ninth Symphony created by different composers without exception became their swan song, so much so that the entire Western music world talked about the Ninth Symphony until this day. The situation was broken by Shostakovich. Under the control of this magical spell, people are naturally accustomed to talking about these Ninth Symphony in parallel. What the “Ninth” has in common is obvious: they are the last important and highly completed symphonies left by the composers in their respective lives, and they also most concentratedly reflect the characteristics of his late style. Compared with other numbers, the existence of the “Ninth” family may be the most reasonable.

If the creation period is used as a criterion, it seems difficult for another number “Fifth” to be mentioned as frequently as the “Ninth” family. There is no regularity in the placement of the Fifth Symphony by different composers in their respective lives. The Fifth Symphony of Beethoven, Bruckner, and Mahler was a turning point in their composition techniques and styles, and represented their mid-term style; the Fifth Symphony of Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky fell into the late style; The Fifth Symphony of Schubert and Dvořák is still in the early exploration stage of composition. However, once we consider the energy contained in the music itself, “Fifth” may be more qualified than “Ninth” to be placed in the same collection for horizontal comparison. After the “Ninth” family has removed the label of “late works”, what is more striking is the vast difference in the ultimate pursuit of different composers: Beethoven’s Ninth sings about the unity of mankind in “Ode to Joy”; DeVoe Schack’s Ninth sounds the clarion call from the New World; Mahler’s Ninth is immersed in the repeated torn between life and death. Although the Fifth Symphony comes from different creative periods and backgrounds, they all gather together the most dramatic passages and highly tense moments in the composer’s life. This tension is clearly reflected in the respective outer movements, the first and last movements. In fact, in the composer’s respective creative sequence, the Fifth Symphony is an extremely high-energy existence, but it is rarely included in the same framing. This article provides readers with such a co-located perspective to re-gazing at these explosive moments in the Fifth Symphony.

Beethoven (1770-1827)

Symphony No. 5 in C minor “Destiny” (1808)


Beethoven Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, Carlos Kleiber

If you talk about the Fifth Symphony without mentioning the composer, the first reaction from passers-by to music fans will most likely fall on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The popularity brought by “The Knock of Destiny” has made this “Fifth” not only the representative of Beethoven, but also the most dazzling business card in the entire symphony world. Naturally, it is also the benchmark in the “Fifth Symphony” family. Regardless of the numbering sequence or the period of creation, “Bei Wu” has the typical characteristics of a mid-term work. Among the nine symphonies Beethoven composed throughout his life, the Fifth Symphony not only marked the maturity of his composition techniques, but also witnessed the moment when his composition style took a major turn.

So, where did the explosive energy of “Beiwu” come from? The anguish of broken love, the disillusionment of political ideals, the mental pain caused by deafness – these creative backgrounds have long been familiar to music fans and need no introduction. What needs special attention is that the huge energy of “Bei Wu” is not concentrated in the two outer movements, but is widely distributed throughout the whole song. This comes from the highly concentrated thematic nature of Beethoven’s creation. The theme of Destiny’s Knock on the Door firmly locks the listener’s thoughts in an extremely dense and varied form, and then creates a strong contrast, giving all listeners a thrilling experience like a roller coaster. “Bei Wu” is unprecedented in its concentration of themes and extreme dramatic tension, and has become a model for all later composers to follow.

Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Symphony No. 5 in D minor “Reformation” (1830)


Mendelssohn Symphony No. 5, London Symphony Orchestra, Sir John Eliot Gardiner

German-Austrian classical works have always been known for their speculative and serious nature, with Mendelssohn being the exception. In people’s impression, Mendelssohn was one of the few aristocratic children who lived a prosperous and prosperous life, and most of his musical works were singing and dancing. Not to mention those sweet concertos and wordless songs, his symphonies alone are filled with a cheerful traveling atmosphere. From Italy to Scotland, Mendelssohn wrote his travel diary on the staff.

However, the seemingly carefree Mendelssohn also had rare serious moments, which were fully reflected in his Fifth Symphony. This Fifth Symphony, also known as the “Reformation”, was composed by Mendelssohn in 1830 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Reformation movement launched by Martin Luther. Mendelssohn, who was born in North Germany, was a loyal Protestant. In music, he strongly admired JS Bach, who was also a die-hard Lutheran Protestant. He was a key figure in promoting the Bach revival movement during the Romantic period. In 1829, Mendelssohn conducted the premiere of Bach’s “Matthew Passion” and it was a great success. It was a landmark historical event in Bach’s revival. In addition, Bach’s influence on Mendelssohn’s creation was also comprehensive. On the one hand, Mendelssohn once created a series of organ works with BACH as the theme. On the other hand, the style of his Fifth Symphony also showed many traces of imitating Bach.

In contemporary times, Mendelssohn’s Fifth Symphony is far less photographed than the other two travel works (Third Symphony “Scotland” and Fourth Symphony “Italy”), but this does not conceal the fact that the Fifth Symphony is one of them The fact that it is the most complex one . In terms of form, Mendelssohn applied a large number of Bach’s achievements to make the Fifth Symphony present an extremely mature form in terms of harmony and formal layout; in terms of content, Mendelssohn outlined a vivid religious for people. Reform . In the introduction of the first movement, the horns blown alternately by woodwinds and brass pipes vividly depict the dawn of the night before the Reformation. In the subsequent development, the fierce conflicts between the voices vividly told the historical process: Martin Luther promulgated the Ninety-five Theses, the Protestants and the Catholics fought fiercely, and gradually grew in strength during the struggle. In Mendelssohn’s case, the epic power of the Fifth Symphony is contained in these contents, achieving an isomorphism of equal weight.

Bruckner (1824-1896)

Symphony No. 5 in B flat major (1876)


Bruckner Symphony No. 5, Münchner Philharmoniker, Christian Thielemann

Among the entire Fifth Family, Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony is the most hard-core one. People try to guess the source of energy of this masterpiece in the composer’s life: either it is the composer’s decades of devout faith, or it is the blow from the premiere and failed creation of the Third and Fourth Symphonies, or it is It’s the frustration of being rejected for a professorship, or the depression of losing your job because you were falsely accused of harassing a girl.

However, these so-called creative backgrounds are of little help in listening to this masterpiece. Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony not only maintains a long distance from the world, but it is not entirely a symbol of the composer’s religious beliefs. Only by understanding it in pure musical form and experiencing it in a thorough physical auditory sense can the thrilling mystery of this work be revealed. First of all, similar to Beethoven, the theme of Bruckner’s Fifth Symphony is top-notch in the entire history of symphonic music: all musical ideas are derived and developed from the same theme in the introduction, and these homologous themes are in time An intricate counterpoint structure is generated on the axis; the two outer movements share the same introduction, and the two inner movements (the second and third movements) share a common main theme. Secondly, the energy of “Bu Wu” is concentrated in the two outer movements. The highly conflicting sonata form layout of the first movement was highly praised by musicologist Robert Simpson; the fourth movement witnessed the great moment of the perfect fusion of the two musical cultures, fugue form and sonata form. In the end, all the themes and images were unified in the triple climax at the end of the last movement, achieving the only exciting moment in the entire history of music that can be compared to a supernova explosion.

Mahler (1860-1911)

Symphony No. 5 in C sharp minor (1904)


Mahler Symphony No. 5, Berliner Philharmoniker, Claudio Abbado

“I am threefold homeless. The Austrians say I am a Bohemian, the Germans say I am an Austrian, and people elsewhere say I am a Jew. I am an outsider wherever I go, and I am never welcome. “Mahler’s definition of his own identity revealed his doomed tragic life. In Mahler’s nine symphonies, the tragedy begins in his Fifth Symphony, with the death-like trumpet theme in its first movement. Before the Fifth Symphony, Mahler’s symphonies more or less retained a certain kind of hope: in “Ma 1”, this hope was the rise of the Titans, in “Ma 2” it was the faith of resurrection, and in “Ma 3″ it was the resurrection of faith. ” is the theme of love, and in “Ma Si” it is a pastoral dream. However, all the good things were cut off by the funereal “horse five”. From then on, all that remains are the tragedy of “Ma Six”, the myth of “Ma Seven”, the magic of “Ma Eight” and the life and death of “Ma Nine”. In Mahler’s symphony world, “Ma Wu” has become the symbol and turning point of falling into the abyss.

Considering this background, it is not difficult for people to understand how heavy the power must be contained in “Ma Wu” to show the huge change in the composer’s attitude towards life. The focus of the whole piece is almost entirely on the first movement. This is a typical funeral march in which the tragedy is naked and restrained. Nakedness is reflected in the trumpet theme, which unabashedly introduces the image of death; restraint runs through the slow funeral pace of the entire movement, and suppresses the uncontrollable outbursts time and time again. Judging from the layout of the whole song, “Ma Wu” is a rare “unfinished” piece of Mahler’s symphony, but the tragic musical thoughts have not stopped and reappeared again and again in subsequent works.

Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Symphony No. 5 in E minor (1888)


Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 5, Leningrad Philharmonic Orchestra, Yevgeny Mravinsky

In addition to the German and Austrian works, the Fifth Symphony is also a formidable force among the vast Russian works. The one that bears the brunt is naturally Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony. Among Lao Chai’s famous late trilogy (the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Symphonies), “Chai Wu” is the only untitled work. It also has the strongest theme and the most complete musical structure. In Lao Chai’s Fourth Symphony, the composer seems to have not yet fully grasped the inherent power of the music. The whole work is like a wild horse running wild, extremely explosive; and in his Sixth Symphony, the great pain and hatred are deep. The “pathos” emotion occupies the entire article again, and is expressed in an unabashedly straightforward manner. Only “Chai Wu” is condensed under the same theme throughout, and the ups and downs of dramatic tension are cleverly constructed in the classic symphony layout. The inherent tragedy in the work is highly restrained, making it particularly touching.

Although there is no title, the composer recorded his conception of the content of this work in his creative notes: “This work changes from completely obeying fate, to doubting fate, and finally resolves to overcome the tragic fate through struggle, thus showing affirmation. Thoughts of Life” . However, if “Chai Wu” is placed in the context of the late trilogy, we have reason to believe that the triumphant ending of its finale may be just an illusion. After the gloomy setting of the first movement, the contemplation of the second movement, the forced smile of the third movement, and the furious rush of the fourth movement, the core theme has not been completely liberated. In the unison at the end of the last movement, the theme only changes from E minor at the beginning to E major, but it does not eliminate the descending lamentation of the theme melody itself. The beautiful expectations Tchaikovsky placed in this work are destined to hint at the despair later in “Pathétique”.

Shostakovich (1906-1975)

Symphony No. 5 in D minor (1937)


Shostakovich Symphony No. 5, Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra Kirill Kondrashin

As one of the few composers not affected by the curse of the Ninth Symphony, Shostakovich composed a total of fifteen symphonies in his lifetime. But this does not mean that his Fifth Symphony is still limited to early exploration. The precocious Lao Xiao has already formed a mature musical style in this work. If all of Lao Xiao’s works are more or less repressed and deformed in a political context, then “Xiao Wu” may be the most prominent one among them. As a “Xiao Wu” that also concentrates energy in the first and last movements, the first and fourth movements are located at the two extremes of emotion. As depressing as the first movement is, the fourth movement explodes into madness. The most impressive part of the whole piece is at the end of the finale. For the first time, Lao Xiao continued the violin tremolo in the high range until the end. Without any suspense, it became the most tense and high-energy final section of all the Fifth Symphony. , which has attracted countless master conductors to use various rhythmic patterns to show the sharpness, high pressure and magic.

Sibelius (1865-1957)

Symphony No. 5 in E flat major (1915)


Sibelius Symphonies Nos. 5 & 6, erliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan

The German-Austrian-Russian School does not cover all of the great Fifth Symphony. In the inaccessible northern Europe, there is still a unique Fifth Symphony, which belongs to the name of Finnish composer Sibelius. Compared with the other Fifth Symphony, Sibelius’s work is special in every sense of the word. First of all, the work only contains three movements , which is rare in the symphony world of late Romanticism; secondly, in the category of the Fifth Symphony, “Western Fifth” is also one of the few works in a major key. From this point of view, Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony incorporated more of the frigidity and minimalism with Nordic regional characteristics , and is unlikely to be as sonorous and powerful as other “Fifths”. In the first two movements and the first half of the third movement, the composer seems to be using a brisk tone to describe his favorite of the swan soaring freely in the sky.

However, the score of “West Five” bears witness to the completely opposite truth. As an admirer of Bruckner, Sibelius knew the secret of plotting and constructing dramatic conflicts in symphonies. As with the other Fifth Symphony, Sibelius also postponed all energy until the explosion at the end of the final movement. The difference is that in this astonishing coda, Sibelius uses extremely entangled and mysterious chant harmony to sublimate the swan image that has been throughout the composer’s life to its highest point. In front of such music, all language seems pale and powerless. Only the composer’s own words can explain it: “About ten to eleven o’clock today, I saw sixteen swans. Oh my God. ! How beautiful! They surrounded me for a long time, disappeared in the clear sky, and turned into a silver ribbon. Their singing was like a wooden pipe like a crane, but without vibrato, and very similar to a trumpet… but with a lower range, like a child The cry is the mystery of nature and the tragedy of life.”

error: Content is protected !!