“No one could love the countryside as much as I do”

As part of our “Nature in Music” series, today Georg Rudiger is taking a closer listen to Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, also known as the “Pastorale”.

“We can understand Beethoven better if we see him as a man in whom external nature was fully personified”, writes Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s secretary and first biographer. “It was not so much the laws of nature that fascinated him as its elemental power, and his true enjoyment of nature was encapsulated solely in his feelings.” Beethoven’s strong connection with nature is especially strikingly depicted in his Symphony No. 6, also known as the “Pastorale”. Even the title of the first movement – “Awakening of happy feelings on arriving in the country” – tells us that music was not the only influence for the symphony, which was conceived in the idyllic Heiligenstadt on the outskirts of Vienna. A friendly, open landscape unfolds in our mind’s eye.

In the second Andante con moto movement the strings are muted, creating a mysterious, almost unreal sound. The title of this movement is “Scene by the brook”. The sixteenth notes of the violins evoke the soft babbling of a brook. In the coda a nightingale (flute), a quail (oboe) and a cuckoo (clarinet) chirp for attention. The first mood change comes with the third movement “Joyful gathering of country folk”, which begins with tension-filled crotchets. The piece gains momentum with frenzied peasant dances and a powerful horn sound. This leads straight into the fourth movement (“Thunder. Storm”) with a sinister tremolo in the basses and frenetic eighth note passages in the second violins, which give way to a fear-inducing orchester tutti with heavy brass and drum rolls. Single drum beats create the effect of thunder, while the high grace notes in the woodwinds evoke lightening.

In the finale all tensions disappear. The title of the final movement is “Shepherd’s song. Happy and thankful feelings after the storm”. It begins with calm thanksgiving that builds to loud cheering. Nature becomes a source of deep joy. All dangers, all cares are forgotten. In a letter from 1810, Beethoven writes about the strength that he draws from nature: “How delighted I am to be able to walk through bushes, woods, under trees, over grass and rocks. No one could love the countryside as much as I do – for surely woods, trees and rocks produce the echo which man desires to hear.”

Distant Landscapes

Saturday, august 5, 7 pm, Concert Hall, Arena Klosters
Tarmo Peltokoski (conductor), Sharon Kam (clarinet),
Die Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (Concert Overture “The Hebrides”, op. 26)
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Concerto for Clarinet and Orchestra in A major, KV 622)
Ludwig van Beethoven (Symphony No. 6 in F major “Pastorale”, op. 68)