Thursday, December 22, 2011

Beethoven’s 5th and 6th Symphonies performed for first time: December 22, 1808

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This is a special post because it is a shout out to Tania Morrison and her students who are writing papers on musical history. They found my website ( in their research and, in Ms. Morrison’s words, “Found it to be very helpful.” They also recommended another site,, and Ms. Morrison said, “It would be very encouraging for [her students] to see their suggestion being used.” Consequently, today’s blog references their source. I’m glad my site could be of value and good luck in your continued research!

In what All Music Guide’s Roger Dettmer called, “the most historic night in Western music,” RD and AMG cohort Michael Jameson dubbed “one of the most extraordinary concerts in history,” MJ Ludwig van Beethoven introduced his 5th and 6th symphonies. Also performed on that December 22, 1808 night were Piano Concerto No. 4 and parts of his Mass in C.

The performance began at 6:30pm in Vienna’s Theater an der Wien. While history has lifted up the performance as significant, it should be noted that the unheated hall and musicians who were “woefully under-prepared” MJ led to a less than desired initial reception. It has been noted that “The public was not endowed with the necessary degree of comprehension for such extraordinary music, and the performance left a great deal to be desired.’” MJ

As for the two significant symphonies, the fifth is “one of the most popular and best-known compositions in all of classical music, and one of the most often played symphonies.” AZ The poet and composer E.T.A. Hoffman called it “one of the most important works of the time.” AZ Beethoven toiled at the work for more than four years, starting work on the 6th symphony during the same time period, having made his first “specific notes for a ‘Sinfonia pastorale’ in 1806.” RD “If this had been an unlikely hatchery…for the fist-brandishing Fifth Symphony, it perfectly suited – as he noted in his sketchbook – ‘recollections of country life...more the expression of feeling than of painting’ in his ensuing woodwind-drenched symphony.” RD


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