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Symphony no. 5 and Symphony no. 6: The Yin Yang of Symphonies


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I have listened to Symphony no. 5 and Symphony no. 6 by Beethoven and I noticed that they are like Yin and Yang, polar opposites on the outside, but deeply connected on the inside.

Symphony no. 5: "Fate Symphony" - Yin

Symphony no. 5 is like the Yin in Yin and Yang, it is the darker of the two symphonies. It starts in C minor and a lot of the key areas, both tonicizations and modulations, can be traced back to C minor via close relations. D major? It is the dominant of the dominant. F minor? That's the subdominant. C major? That's the parallel major. The first movement alone has this feel to me of wanting to resolve to a major key, but every time it reaches a major key, it gets crushed by C minor yet again. Even the second movement, which is in a major key, still has this battle of dark vs light feeling to me, where Ab major is the darker of the 2 major keys and C major is the brighter of the 2 major keys. The Scherzo, like the first movement, is in C minor, but it is a more mysterious C minor than the powerful C minor of the first movement that crushed every instance of major keys in sight. Over the course of the Scherzo, C minor becomes less and less powerful until it barely even makes a ripple as it finally resolves to a major key like the first movement alone wanted to do. It is as though Beethoven said:


Let me keep the C minor key powerful for as long as possible by delaying the resolution to C major until the end of the third movement. Will I delay the presence of C major? No, I won't, this key will be in all the movements. I will just go back to C minor when there has been enough of the C major.

Symphony no. 6: "Pastoral Symphony" - Yang

This symphony is a far cry from the drama of the fifth symphony. Instead of minor being predominant, it is rare. More of the key areas in this symphony, minor ones included, are distantly related. For example, the Bb to D modulation in the development of the first movement is an example of chromatic mediants. D major is also distantly related to F major via the same relationship, chromatic mediants. E major, it too appears in this symphony and it is a chromatic mediant of C major, the dominant of F major. A major is also a chromatic mediant of C major and is a key area in this symphony. The only real drama that occurs in this symphony is the stormy fourth movement. And even then, it is very brief, lasting only about 4 minutes, the last minute of which is the transition back to major from the minor key of the fourth movement.

Deep connections between the 2 symphonies

Despite these 2 symphonies being polar opposites on the outside, there are multiple deep connections between these 2 symphonies. First off, these symphonies were composed around the same time as each other and around the same time as Beethoven's fourth piano concerto. These symphonies were also premiered on the same day as each other and the same day as the fourth piano concerto in a big concert that was 100% Beethoven works. But time is not the only connection here. There are other connections too. Another connection that these 2 symphonies have is that they are both primarily based on motives. The interval of a third is also a connection between these 2 symphonies. In the Fifth Symphony, this mainly presents itself as the Fate Motif, though a lot of the key areas of the symphony can also be related by thirds. In the Sixth Symphony, this interval of a third mainly presents itself as Chromatic mediant relationships between keys. The way the motives get developed in the Development sections of the first movement of these consecutive symphonies is also similar. In both symphonies, a motive gets developed for a while until it breaks down into 2 notes. In the Sixth Symphony, this development is mainly through repetition and imitation. In the Fifth Symphony, this development involves a lot more changing of direction, harmony, and orchestration. Also, in the Fifth Symphony, this breakdown proceeds further than it does in the Sixth Symphony. It goes from 2 notes to 1 note, almost spelling doom for the Fate Motif, before Beethoven brings back the energetic eighth notes and the rhythm of the original Fate Motif. Both symphonies also involve parallel key relations. In the case of the Sixth Symphony, this is between F major, the key of both the first and final movements and F minor, the key of the fourth movement and that is the only place where I really hear a parallel major/minor relationship. In the Fifth Symphony, this parallel key relation is between C minor and C major and it is present in all the movements as foreshadowing of the C major finale in the first, second, and third movements, and as a C minor Scherzo moment in the Finale.

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