I. Cheerful impressions awakened by arrival in the country (Allegro ma non troppo)
II. Scene by the brook (Andante molto moto)
III. Merry gathering of country-folk (Allegro)
IV. Thunderstormtempest (Allegro)
V. Shepherds’ song; glad and grateful feelings after the storm (Allegretto)
There is often occasion to marvel at the fidelity and sensitiveness with which music, mirror of the human spirit, is affected by the slightest breath of feeling or sensation that passes over its surface, and re-cords with a truthfulness beyond the composer’s control the deepest secrets of his being. Beethoven calls his Sixth symphony “Pastoral,” which, indeed, it is. We would associate it with the country-side with-out any title. But-I think all Beethoven’s music of nature is the music of a man who never knew the sea. Only once in his life,as a boy of eleven, did he see the gray and tossing waters. Had he known them, as Wagner and Weber did, we would have had other music from him. But not greater music. The environment of a great spirit cannot constitute a limitation. Beethoven, in the geographical sense, lived in a restricted radius, principally that of Vienna and the beautiful surrounding country. It was from within and not from without that his music came. Had he lived in a prison cell, his vast spirit would have brooded gigantic over the universe. He needed of nature, in the words of Vincent d’Indy, no more than a little nook in a valley, a meadow, a tree. “So it must have been,” says d’Indy, “within the narrow limits of some eight or ten miles either to the north of Vienna, or at Baden or Hetzendorf, that there were conceived and written (or at least sketched) not a single `Pastoral’ symphony but ten Pastoral’ symphoniesthat is to say, ten great works, at the fewest, telling of Beethoven’s impressions face to face with nature.” In the valley of Wildgrube is the path known today as the “Beethovengang” (Beethoven path), which leads to the brook of the “Pastoral” symphony, “the placid and shady Schreiberbach.”
Beethoven listened to the monotonous sounds that rose from the fields, the murmur of the brook, the voices of birds and insects, and worshipped. He heard the voice of God in the thunder; he was drunk with the perfume exhaled from drenched earth, plant and flower. The “Pastoral” symphony is a hymn to Nature. It is also program music, arrant program music, although purists and opponents of this method of musical composition attempt to make light of the fact, and to palliate Beethoven’s incidental approaches to realism by repeating his oft-quoted words, “More an expression of feeling than portraiture.” The fact of a program, as Beethoven showed, is not the least guarantee for or against great music.
Beethoven’s descriptive notes for this symphony, published in the program of the first performance in Vienna, December 22, 1808, are fuller than those now printed in the published score. There are actually five movements in this work, but the last three are joined together, making only three separate movements. The first movement is intended to portray the “Pleasant feelings which awake in man on arriving in the country.” The second is the “Scene by the brook.” The third movement, or its componentin Beethoven’s word, “Piece”depicts the “Jovial assemblage of country-folk; interrupted by Fourth PieceThunder and Storm; to which succeeds Fifth PieceBeneficent feelings, associated with gratitude to the God-head after the Storm.”
It is said that Beethoven drew to a certain extent upon folksongs of the country-side for this symphony, but it is easier to make the claim than to prove it, although had he done so he would not have lessened the originality of the work. For it is not only the original theme that counts, but the shaping of the theme, the manner in which (the mighty blacksmith, Beethoven, pounds and welds his stubborn material into the proper shape to make the framework of the symphony. And it is not only the shaping but the development of the germinal phrases that makes the strength and glory of the great structure. The method adopted by Beethoven in his first movement, designed to portray the happy man’s impressions of the country-side, is a special one, bordering on impressionism.
He is deliberately monotonous. There are the stirrings of the idle breeze, the sounds of birds and insects, vague distant calls, absence of emotions or introspections of an individual. In the first movement one little pastoral motive is repeated for fifty-rwo measures, and it fascinates us. In the second movement the quiet and meaningless murmur of the brook gives us the respiration felt through all the themes a-id harmonies built upon it. These include the passages in which a flute impersonates the nightingale, an oboe the quail, a clarinet the cuckoo quasi-humorous details of the tonal picture. In the next part there is typical Beethoven humor in the dance played for the country-folk by some third-rate village band, which strikes the measure, while a bassoonist, who evidently is able co produce only four notes on his antique instrument, brings them in when he can, with an inspired lumpishness which jibes with the other parts! The dance has its middle part, more rude, vigorous, wooden-shoed the dances in the wood were ruder than those at the inn of the “Zwei Raben,” frequented by Beethoven. When the first part of this scherzo returns it is interrupted by the patter of raindrops, and presently the thunderstorm bursts in its fury. M. d’lndy calls attention to Beethoven’s scheme of tonality in this symphony. All the movements except this one are in the major. The darker tonality of F minor ‘s reserved for the storm. One hears the thunder and of course the wind. One almost sees, with sudden sharp chords of the orchestra; flashes of lightning. The storm departs in the distance, the. pipes of shepherds and thankful songs echo through the orchestra. The strings weave beautiful elaborations on these motives, and so the “Pastoral” symphony comes to an end.