31 Days of Classical, Day 31: Ubiquity denies its genius

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
July 31, 2014

St. Paul, Minn. — Each day throughout July, I'll share with you a piece of classical music. Thirty-one days, thirty-one pieces.

The list is by no means definitive, nor is it necessarily a list of all of my favorite music from the classical world. Every morning, I start my day with music that inspires me in some way, whether I'm inspired by its happiness, its loneliness, the instrumentation, the harmony, the colors, the melody -- each piece is special in some way -- and offers an opportunity to either hear something you've never heard, or hear something new in a piece you've known your whole life.

Ludwig van Beethoven, Symphony No. 5 in C minor, 1st movement

If I could only listen to one symphony for the rest of my life, it would be this very symphony, no matter how much I love symphonies by Haydn, Brahms, Gorecki, Berlioz, Borodin, Glasunov, Sibelius, Mahler, Bruckner, Schubert, Schumann, and more — they all take a (very closely situated) backseat to Beethoven's Symphony No. 5.

In truth, I encourage you to set aside about 30 minutes and listen to it in its entirety. Here's the thing about Beethoven's Fifth Symphony: it's such recognizable music for such a large portion of the population — nearly everyone — has heard it in some context. Sometimes that ubiquity denies its genius, or at least that ubiquity enables us to overlook Beethoven's genius with ease. The more we've heard it, the less we tend to pay attention to it.

This symphony is as close to perfection as music can achieve while still being thrilling, engaging, innovative and adventurous. The entire first movement — in fact the entire 30 minute symphony — is based off of those first four notes you hear. Short-short-short-lonnnnng. I've included this particular YouTube video because the creator of it, Stephen Malinowski, makes a graphic representation of the music so you can literally watch those four notes fly by throughout the entire movement. If you're interested in picking up a set of all of Beethoven's symphonies (he wrote nine of them), I recommend John Eliot Gardiner and the Revolutionary and Romantic Symphony. That ensemble is a period orchestra that plays on instruments similar to what Beethoven would've heard. If you prefer a more "normal" orchestra, definitely listen to Osmo Vänskä's masterful recordings of the symphonies with the Minnesota Orchestra.

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