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Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Beethoven Symphony no. 5 is one of the most popular and known pieces in the history. Some of its success is due to Beethoven’s enigmatic character connected to this very beautiful and dramatic one motif symphony. A part of its success are also the lovely myths around it as the “destiny knocking on the door” motif, as the deaf Beethoven heard a knock on the door and suddenly heard this enigmatic rhythmical motif: Ta Ta Ta taaaaaaaam, Ta Ta Ta Taaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaam!!!!!
I would like to try and understand through Beethoven’s musical ways of developing this motif, whether he was a determinist or an indeterminist. I will explain, agreeing that this motif is really a destiny motif, what can we learn from Beethoven’s approach to it; in simple words did he except destiny or fate as a gods wrath or did he believe that we are creating our own destiny and able to change it by leading it according to our will?
As I hear the first movement, the development of the motif is very humble. Which does not mean this movement is not amazingly energized! It is just the motif does not change or having some kind of doubts, it is going ahead like a train. Destiny in its best! We join it, and flow with it, it does not seem in the music that any conflict is evident. The music is faster then time, what we say in other words, he speaks faster then he thinks. Does this mean expectance? Does this mean he left it to the hands of destiny? I have a feeling it is a bit so. Something with this movement always strikes me as a mythological thunder that has a high impact, so huge that from these first five bars, a whole movement is being born, in a way without any choice. This is where I was going to - Choice. Naturally the most important destiny’s way of illusion is the Choice we hope to have. In the first movement, it is clear that no choice is there. It is almost a platonic dialectic method: A hugh question - Ta Ta Ta Taaaaam….. - and an inevitable answer- the hole first movement.
After showing us the illusion of free choice, Beethoven starts to play with it. I think that this is the interesting point, he does not play with choice itself, he only plays with the illusion of the choice. Lets go on and it will get clearer. Second movement, in a beautiful and rather unusual rhythm of 3/8 bars. This movement starts in a beautiful viola and cello melody, apparently without any connection to first movement’s aguish rhythmical elements. The element that does have a connection to our discussion here, is the fact that this movement is in variation form. Melody, and variations. Variations is music way of developing and creating over something that is given. The connection between first and second movement is precisely that: After destiny’s illusion of free choice, man has the option to make variations.
In Jewish tradition there is a very enigmatic expression that illuminated the souls and brains for decades. “everything is written but the choice is given” . This is a very complex argument, everything is written (in god’s notebook-destiny) but the choice is yours. One can naturally ask if everything is already written what choice to do I have? I don’t need to tell you that this question has disturbed and is still disturbing the minds of the great philosophers, but I find it very relevant to our symphony. First movement’s storm is leading us into a very personal (variations) second movement. Everything is written? Yes, the choice is given? Also Yes! Now lets go a step ahead, think about us the musicians. We have a written score, but can we interpret it in our own personal way? Yes and Yes. Without even getting too “philosophic” we are seeing a solution to this enigmatic conflict without really understanding it. Isn’t it beautiful?!
Third movement is like a wake up call. Here Beethoven adds a very special musical element. Fermata. Which means that the note played under a Fermata can be held as long as the musician wants.
it is a very interesting musical thing, the composer leaves this note to the performer’s taste of feeling. In our case the third movement is full of this Fermatas, which brings to life even in a more evident way the choice argument, here the conductor, has an actual choice that reflects the music it self, its timing and length. It is an extreme development. After second movement’s variations, and the fact we can choose our interpretation here our choices has a direct impact of the music itself - more then that it cannot be. This is why it in not a surprise that Beethoven after only few bars, brings in the famous First movement’s motif, in order to “put us into order” to show us who is really in control. So is destiny already done or do we have a say on it?
The third movement continues with some very beautiful and interesting developments of the “destiny” motif, it is in 3/4 rhythm so the motif is know on the beat rather then a syncope as in the original first movement one, as Beethoven wants to stretch time, or show us that sometimes destiny really gets closer and closer.
The third movement has no end, it is transformed into the grand fanfare of the forth movement, after all the journey we have done, it is only reasonable that the victory is a transformation or a metamorphose of the choices we have made. The symphony, all three movements, destiny motif, fermatas, rhythms, all leads to the big fanfare of the forth movement. When listening to the forth movement, one must notice that the famous destiny motif is not quite present. It is well hidden.
Beethoven left only the “smell” of this motif, but decided not to put it in its original way again. This is a rather courageous thing to do. The transformation was so complete that we are in a new world, new life or new destiny. Naturally, it is still there, in the past, or even genetically inside the music, but different. This is even more then just decision making, Beethoven has transformed its destiny into a new one. Not only a variation on the old one, it is a brand new destiny based or built on the old one. This is a real process, not an artificial one.

Bernard Shaw once said that a fine artist imitates but a great artist steals! This is exactly what we are learning here. It is not only about imitating or changing, it is about making it ours, taking destiny into our own hands and touching it, stealing our own future from it! When listening to this symphony one must listen to the beauty of its inner transfiguration, the development of a motif into a new creation. It is a symphony about life, love and choices, in all three there aren’t any right or wrong only will and can. So was Beethoven e thief? I think yes. A thief of time.