Beethoven - Symphony No. 5 in C minor

Composed between 1804 and 1808, Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 is one of the most famous pieces by the composer - and in classical music as a whole.

Beethoven

The opening of Ludwig Van Beethoven's Fifth Symphony has become classical music's greatest calling-card. Simply, it is what people think of when they think of classical music. But why? Could that famous opening 'duh-duh-duh-duuuh' be Fate knocking at the door? Many critics seem to think it could be the case. But, aside from an assertion to that effect by Beethoven’s friend Schiller, there’s very little evidence to suggest that it was the composer’s intention. Instead, could it simply be the case that Beethoven’s musical genius led him to write an outstanding, gripping melody? His creative juices were certainly flowing in the early 1800s: work on Symphony No. 5 began shortly after the premiere of his mighty 'Eroica' – a symphony similarly imbued with thrilling melodic lines from start to finish.

Vienna must have been an incredibly exciting city to live in at this time. Just imagine being at the premiere of Beethoven’s Fifth in 1808: a concert where the warm-up material was the premiere of the Pastoral . By the time Beethoven stepped up to the podium to conduct Symphony No.5, the audience must have wondered how any composer could come up with another tune to match what they had just heard. And yet, as this four-movement symphony amply proves, this composer was only too ready to share more extraordinary music with the world.

Ultimately, it comes down to those four notes of the opening. Nothing says 'classical music' quite like that one phrase - it's tied up with drama and darkness, shot through with Beethoven's peculiar brand of depression, but he makes something miraculous out of it. Few symphonies cover so much ground and remain completely accessible. So if you think you know the fifth just because you've heard those four notes a thousand times, think again.

Leonard Bernstein conducts - Video

Beethoven's Fifth Symphony – a guide

Beethoven: Symphony No.5 in C minor recordings