It's one of the most famous musical passages ever written. Ludwig van Beethoven starts his Fifth Symphony with four percussive notes, then spends the next four movements inventing new ways to make them sing.
Using four notes as the undercarriage of an entire symphony was a revolutionary idea when the piece premiered in 1808. So was the introspective writing that makes the music so indelible.
Watch a performance
Watch Daniel Barenboim conduct Beethoven's Fifth Symphony in 2012 at the BBC Proms:
Some of CPR Classical's favorite recordings of Symphony No. 5:
- Vienna Philharmonic; Carlos Kleiber, conductor
- Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela; Gustavo Dudamel, conductor
- Revolutionary and Romantic Orchestra; John Eliot Gardiner, conductor
- Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vanska, conductor
- Berlin Philharmonic; Herbert von Karajan, conductor
Host Monika Vischer on Symphony No. 5:
The power. The drive. The relentless determination.
Beethoven keeps those four notes in his back pocket and uses them again and again in different guises throughout the Fifth.
They weave into a larger fabric of emotional intensity that reflected a continent in upheaval when Beethoven composed them in 1807.
Read the full essay.
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The Beethoven 9 podcast offers an in-depth exploration of Ludwig van Beethoven's nine symphonies, featuring host Monika Vischer and Beethoven biographer Jan Swafford. Hear other episodes or subscribe to be notified when new installments are available.