Ludwig Van Beethoven’s 5th Symphony Essay Samples

Type of paper: Essay

Topic: Beethoven, Music, Classical Music, Time, Literature, Timpani, Deaf, Hearing

Pages: 7

Words: 1925

Published: 2020/11/14

Ludwig van Beethoven’s 5th Symphony

In order for one to grasp the sheer, immense talents of Ludwig van Beethoven, it must first be understood just how much of a musical genius he was. He is considered one of the greatest composers of our time. What makes Beethoven’s story so unique is the fact that he experienced hearing loss due to tinnitus and also brought on by a febrile illness. Although not formally diagnosed, Beethoven made this known in letters to close friends. His hearing loss was slowly progressive; giving him some measure of being able to still conduct and compose but remained a threat to him nonetheless. He became fully deaf in 1814.
Some of Beethoven’s greatest works were composed in the midst of his struggles with hearing loss. Deafness would come to play a significant role in all future compositions. Most composers’ musical histories of that era were generally divided into three periods and Beethoven was no exception. The 5th Symphony was composed during the middle period of his career. It was during this period that Beethoven’s hearing loss was in its initial stages and became progressive. It is also during the same period where some of his other greatest works such as Moonlight Sonata and his third, fourth, and sixth symphonies were composed.


Ludwig van Beethoven was born on December 15, 1770, to a life of tragedy. His alcoholic father died from alcohol abuse. His mother was inflicted with and died from tuberculosis. Beethoven had two younger brothers who died from tuberculosis and heart disease respectively; leaving him as the only remaining living member of his family.
He was not without his own troubles, however. He struggled with alcohol abuse which was derived in large part as a means to quell the ongoing pain he suffered from abdominal distress. He suffered from irritable bowel syndrome which was thought to have been brought on by typhoid fever. He would continue to suffer with this and a myriad of other ailments in addition to his hearing loss for the duration of his life. (Kubba, 1996).

Beethoven’s 5th: The Music

Beethoven’s 5th symphony is the most popular of all his symphony compositions. No other symphony has been more remixed and rerecorded than this one. Perhaps the most well-known version of our time was recorded and released by Walter Murphy in 1976 and simply entitled, A Fifth of Beethoven. The recording made the disco circuit and became a big hit. It eventually rose to the top of the music charts where it remained at number one for a week.
This is a testament to the impact Beethoven’s 5th symphony had on generations long after it made history. It has been hailed by many as not just Beethoven’s best work, but one of the greatest classical compositions of our time and certainly the most recognizable. For music aficionados the world over who do not consider themselves classical music fans, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is most likely their first taste of classical music in all its splendor.
This was a composition like no other. Beethoven being the perfectionist he was, took his time writing this particular piece. He began its initial stages of the piece in 1804 and continued to flesh it out and tweak it until 1808 to his satisfaction ( He debuted the piece in Vienna that same year during a concert featuring many of his famed compositions. He saved the 5th Symphony for last and it was not met with the expected accolades he had hoped. The audience had grown weary from sitting through his entire concert and many were not up for an additional thirty minutes of what would later become his most famous work.
It was not until a distinguished author of that day named, E. T. A. Hoffman, drew attention to the work for his adulatory review of the piece, that people began to sit up and take notice of it. He hailed the piece as a “masterwork of a genius” (
The composition itself has a long and short version. The long version lasts approximately thirty minutes while the shortened version lasts just under ten minutes. The complete version includes all four movements. Each movement has a story to tell. The first movement grabs the listener with a powerful intro and lead into the piece with unrivaled flair. The second movement is calmer and allows the listener to regroup and relax into it in preparation for the third movement. The next phase is darker and pulls the listener back in and gives them a sense of apprehension of what is to come. The third transitions into the fourth movement where it bursts into a grand finale that encompasses the entire piece leaving the listener with a sense that the story being told ended on a happy, successful note.
In the composition a variety of stringed and wind instruments can be heard. These include violins, viola, flute, clarinet, oboe, bassoon, French horn, trombone, timpani, and string bass (, 2007). Combined, the instruments offer a piece that is poignant, resounding, and completely in sync with one another. There is distinctive definition among instruments. One can clearly distinguish violins and violas from flutes, French horns and timpani. The instrumentation provides a musical blend that is powerful and overwhelming. It can only be inferred that the musicians were exhausted and dripping with sweat after performing Beethoven’s 5th.
One of the instruments featured in Beethoven’s 5th was the timpani. The instrument was not new in the sense of its use in previous musical compilations. Its earliest beginnings date back to 1702 when it was used as part of ceremonial occasions resigned for kings and other regal members of society. The timpani was constantly refined to achieve the sound that is heard today. Animal skins were used for the head of the drum, giving off a thud-like sound when struck. This would require tightening and loosening of the drum head to compensate for climate conditions. As performances were later move indoor, this alleviated this need.
Another aspect of the timpani that needed consistent work was that of finding the right stick coverings. Early adaptations of sticks consisted of experimentation with various coverings such as chamois, a type of cloth made out of wool, and leather. Sponge was later incorporated in 1825 and would become the covering of choice as it provided the perfect sound that resonated throughout the entire span of the drum head versus the thud previously generated from the drum’s center.
The timpani really gained ground in musical compositions during the 19th and 20th centuries. It was not until Beethoven began using it in his works that the instrument took on a whole new meaning. Beethoven set a precedence as he so often did by his use of the timpani in the 5th Symphony and his other works following it. He often “used timpani for solo passages and also chords, a technique he learned from his teacher Salieri, and utilised this feature in his 9th Symphony” (Sibson, n.d.). Suffice it to say, Beethoven was instrumental in highlighting instruments such as the timpani that normally did not receive such focus. Given the big sound of Beethoven’s 5th, it is no mystery as to how and why the timpani was given such an integral role within the composition.
The mystery surrounding Beethoven’s 5th Symphony has been part of music pop culture for ages. When compared to great composers such as Mozart and Handel, Beethoven has received more interest and curiosity over any other. His music was rarely lyrical, if ever, leaving his compositions to the imaginations of its listeners. He had the ability to connect the dots between musical logic and the procedural forms of sonatas. Beethoven’s music “inspired listeners, including his own contemporaries, to attach story lines, ideas, and specific emotions” (Botstein, 2011), giving them a musical journey only found in his music. In terms of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, “one encounters the compression and intensification of time” (Botstein, 2011). His music holds great meaning for listeners in ways beyond compare to other works by similar composers.
A research study was conducted to determine how Beethoven’s 5th Symphony aroused emotions within listeners. This work was selected because of its familiarity and to produce the most efficient responses to make accurate determinations. The study included 19 participants and were asked to sit through Beethoven’s 5th two continuous times. The first time they were asked to close their eyes and listen to the piece to take it all in without any distractions. The second time they sat through it with their eyes open. They recorded those instances when the music sparked increased inner tension. The findings of the research indicated that participants experienced changes in brain functions throughout the course of listening to the music. The brain functions monitored were “associated with arousal and emotions” (Mikutta, Altorfer, Strik, & Koenig, 2012). These processes were determined to be controlled in the region of the brain by the “frontal asymmetry in the lower alpha-band” (Mikutta, et al, 2012). Final conclusions showed that by virtue of the research alone, music is a powerful force for controlling emotions.
It is little surprise that music can be such a powerful, emotional force. In Beethoven’s 5th Symphony it is a piece that I liked from the first time I ever heard it. It begins with a powerful bang that captures the listener’s attention and quickly ushers them inside it. Even as the piece takes a detour from its aggressive crescendos and towering melodies, it settles into a softer side of it during the first movement and then again into the second.
There is a flow to the piece that takes the listener on a journey through time. Time is not defined in terms of a specific span of existence, but rather, each moment that unfolds within the piece itself. The composition is one that evokes a great deal of emotion from the listener throughout. At times the listener feels as though they are forging ahead in the midst of battle, prepared to meet their foe and just in the nick of time, the enemy is swathed down in one fell swoop. Just as the listener believes the battle is over and sits down to take a rest, the next wave of battle begins. This time it is harder, darker, and at times there is great uncertainty as to how it will all unfold and end. It climaxes to a perfect ending where the music swells to great proportions and reassures the listener that all is well. Perhaps Beethoven purposely did this to give listeners and his musicians’ alike time to catch their breath and recharge for what would follow in movements three and four. No matter the reason behind Beethoven’s musical philosophy within the 5th Symphony, it makes sense and the listener comes away with a new appreciation for classical music like never before.
Beethoven’s works have all been considered some of the greatest in classical music history. What one determines to be historic in nature over another piece can have everything to do with the complexity of the piece to its sustainability in the memories and minds of avid music connoisseurs. The more simplistic a piece may be, regardless of who composed it, the more it hinges on not being taken seriously. One study compared Beethoven’s works with that of modern pop artists, Kylie Minogue. Beethoven is considered a musical genius, while Minogue is seen as anything but. The question becomes how complex does a musical piece have to become in order to be considered relevant in terms of its artistic appeal. Oftentimes art is viewed as a beautiful expression of one’s own inner desires and a means for connecting on a spiritual level. One might consider the artistry of Minogue to be irrelevant or only appealing to a certain genre as opposed to Beethoven who find his compositions to be a beautiful illustration of the inner soul attempting to find its melodic way. While Minogue’s music artistry may be beautiful in its own way, the listener may find Beethoven’s Symphony “represents a higher level of beauty than a range of “less sophisticated” compositions” (Hudson, 2011). One can hardly argue with that theory.
The relationship between classical music and nationalism has had cross-cultural effects. Its integration of two styles of music to reach listeners on many levels is a unique experience. In one way, music can have distinguishing characteristics that link it to a particular cultural group and yet not linked to any given nationality. In another, a music’s style can be related to a certain nationality. The earliest musical stylings of the twentieth century took on a modernist approach. In this way it was “often perceived as ‘international’ and in juxtaposition to a local, allegedly ‘authetic’ expression” (Brincker, 2014). This particular style was often seen in classical music of this era and stood in stark contrast to the romantic musical expressions so often found in nineteenth century music.
Classical music had much influence in the construction of nationalism. There is no greater composer to make an impact than Beethoven. Even today, his compositions are recognized the world over. The aforementioned example of Beethoven’s 5th not being well received upon its debut in Vienna is one that shows us that until attention was drawn to it outside of the concert hall setting, this world-famous composition stood little chance of becoming what it is today.
Beethoven, in and of himself, is a great mystery. He has been coined eccentric, difficult, contentious, and a rebel of his time. He refused to succumb to the status quo as he was too busy establishing new ground rules through his music for what would take shape in his future compositions that would make history. The mere fact he spent most of his musical career being unable to hear well and eventually go deaf, is mind-boggling, on its own. His latter compositions were created without ever hearing the first note. Yet, he penned these works that would forever remain etched in his memory and be music to our ears.


Beethoven's 5th - The Great Fifth Symphony. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Botstein, L. (2011). Why Beethoven? The Musical Quarterly, 93(3-4), 361-365. DOI: 10.1093/musqtl/gdq023
Follow what each instrument does in Beethoven’s 5th on a scrolling graph. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Hudson, N. J. (2011). Musical beauty and informton compression: Complex to the ear but simple to the mind? BMC Research Notes, 4(9), 1-9. DOI: 10.1186/1756-0500-4-9
Kubba, A. K. (1996). Ludwig van Beethoven: A medical biography. Lancet, 347(8995), 167. Retrieved from
Mikutta, C., Altorfer, A., Strik, W., & Koenig, T. (2012). Emotions, arousal, and frontal alpha rhythm asymmetry during beethoven's 5th symphony. Brain Topography, 25(4), 423-430. doi:
Sibson, J. (n.d.) Development of percussion in the orchestra 1700 to 1850. Retrieved from

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