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Thursday, July 9, 2020


(Daniel Raskin)

This week, join the KZN Philharmonic on At home with the KZN Phil, as they present the video recording of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony with the KZN Philharmonic, conducted by acclaimed maestro, Daniel Raiskin.


Symphony No. 5 in c minor, Op. 67 (1804-1808)


I Allegro con brio

II Andante con moto

III Scherzo: Allegro

IV Allegro

This symphony invariably wields its power over men of every age like those great phenomena of nature …[it] … will be heard in future centuries, as long as music and the world exist.” ~ Robert Schumann on Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony

Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is arguably one of the most iconic pieces of classical music ever composed, as well as one of the most iconoclastic. It has also come to represent the very essence of classical music itself. Music lovers know it backwards and forwards, and even those who have never attended an orchestra concert nonetheless recognize the opening notes of Beethoven’s Fifth, as it is informally known, immediately.

Since the Fifth’s première on a cold December night in Vienna, it has become a lens through which we have viewed music, society, and culture. Early audiences heard in its notes an exhortation of victory and triumph, whether literal or of a more internal, personal kind. As the 19th century progressed, Beethoven’s music, particularly the symphonies, became the standard against which every subsequent composer’s music was measured. During World War II, the Allies used the famous four-note opening as a signal in radio broadcasts of victory over the Axis powers. The Fifth Symphony also became an unforgettable part of the 1970s with Walter Murphy and the Big Apple Band’s disco version, A Fifth of Beethoven.

Beethoven supposedly likened the four opening notes to the hand of Fate knocking at the door. In all likelihood, however, this description was fabricated by Anton Schindler, one of Beethoven’s early biographers, known both for his poor memory and his penchant for invention. Whether a representation of Fate or not, these four notes are the rhythmic seed from which the rest of the symphony develops. The short da-da-da-DA fragment recurs in each movement, as a unifying device. Beethoven, who left few clues as to his compositional process for the Fifth Symphony, did mention the creation of a theme that “begins in my head the working-out in breadth, height, and depth. Since I am aware of what I want, the fundamental idea never leaves me. It mounts, it grows. I see before my mind the picture in its whole extent, as if in a single grasp.”

Beethoven conducted the Fifth’s première on December 22, 1808, as part of a massive concert that also included the Sixth Symphony and the Piano Concerto No. 4. Count Franz von Oppersdorff commissioned the Fifth, as he had the Fourth Symphony, and paid Beethoven a substantial sum for each work. Despite Oppersdorff’s generous benefaction, Beethoven eventually dedicated the Fifth Symphony to Prince Franz Joseph Lobkowitz and Count Andreas Kyrillovitsch Razumovsky, patrons with whom he had a longer, more substantial relationship.

At the première, in addition to the two symphonies and the piano concerto, Beethoven also presented his Choral Fantasy, plus the concert aria Ah, perfido, and the Gloria and Sanctus sections from the Mass in C Major. The resulting four-hour concert challenged the endurance of even the most ardent Beethoven fans. To make matters worse, the orchestra was badly under-rehearsed and the hall spottily heated. Composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt, who attended the première, later wrote, “There we sat from 6:30 till 10:30, in the most bitter cold, and found by experience that one might have too much even of a good thing.”

The Fifth Symphony generated little comment at its première, but, 18 months later, composer and critic E T A Hoffmann wrote a lengthy review, in which he called it “one of the most important works of the master whose stature as a first-rate instrumental composer probably no one will now dispute … the instrumental music of Beethoven open[s] the realm of the colossal and the immeasurable for us.”

Listen to the performance by the KZN Philharmonic conducted by Maestro Daniel Raiskin here:

(To link direct to the KZN Philharmonic’s website click on the orchestra’s banner advert on the top of the page or visit