I. Allegro con brio II. Andante con moto III. Allegro IV. Allegro
Beethoven’s odd number symphonies have generally proved more popular than the even numbered ones and are performed more frequently. Musicologists have certainly added to our awareness, often describing them in terms of contrasting pairs. For example, the first two are “Not yet the real Beethoven” (a debatable point, incidentally). The epoch making Eroica is used to demean the Fourth, which is seen as an intermezzo before the weighty Fifth. Such divisions exasperate more than illuminate, but there is no disputing the historical fact that the Fifth and Sixth were written at the same time in 1808, while the Seventh and Eighth were composed consecutively in 1812. Indeed, the C minor Fifth and F major Sixth were premiered at the same “mammoth” concert in Vienna on December 22nd 1808 (although on that day, the F major was the Fifth, and the C minor the Sixth.)
Often when Beethoven composes two works at the same time, the contrasts are more revealing than the similarities. The F major symphony can be viewed as a kind of ‘spiritual compensation’ for the C minor. But the reverse is true: just as the sixth is static and without conflict, the C minor is dynamic and confrontational.
The fifth symphony is commonly referred to as the “Fate” symphony. Most likely, this is due to Beethoven’s alleged description of the symphony’s famous opening bar as representing “Fate hammering on the door.” Sadly, this famous quotation derives from his voluntary amanuensis Anton Schindler’s notes, which scholars long ago judged as being a less than reliable source of information about Beethoven. On the other hand, if Beethoven didn’t say it, we suspect he would have had he thought of it: the symphony’s movements truly follow characteristic Beethovenian dramaturgy, moving from darkness to light. After the work’s glorious C major conclusion, it is hard not to interpret the symphony as depicting a triumphant victory over fate itself.