Joy & elation: Beethoven

joy |joi| – noun – a feeling of great pleasure and happiness

elation |iˈlāSHən| – noun – great happiness and exhilaration

When I thought about which words I would use to describe this week’s emotion in Classical music, happiness didn’t seem to cut it. The music I’ve selected is not just happy, it is exhilarating. It expresses great pleasure and excitement. It brings to mind some of my most wonderful memories.

Beethoven‘s Symphony No. 6 “Pastoral” expresses sheer delight throughout the symphony. It is another great example of programmatic music where the music is written to tell a specific story. The subtitles of the five movements are as follows:

1. Awakening of cheerful feelings upon arrival in the country
2. Scene at the brook
3. Happy gathering of country folk
4. Thunderstorm
5. Shepherds’ song; cheerful and thankful feelings after the storm

Of course for the sake of contrast, Beethoven had to put in that thunderstorm so we could better appreciate the happy moments.

Today’s clip is from the third movement. The happy gathering of country folk brings images of villagers dancing and being merry, children playing, and birds chirping. The whole atmosphere here is playful and carefree. The birthday party in The Fellowship of the Ring comes to mind.

Elation is depicted by a fast tempo (speed), major chords, and notes that are played in a staccato style (short, light and bouncy). The light, high, pure-sounding oboe is delightful. It reminds me of the sound of a person’s voice in a conversation who is expressing how excited she is to be reunited with her good friend at a party. The strings in the background represent the activity of the gathering with interjections by the bassoon and clarinet. Finally, the clarinet says back how delighted she is and seems to bubble over with joy. At the end of this clip, the horn joins the conversation and the excitement builds.

If you feel weighed down, I recommend listening to all of Symphony No. 6. It is incredibly therapeutic. It seems to characterize all that is good, right, innocent, and beautiful in the world. Happy Monday!

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Simple contentment: Larsson

Today’s clip depicting contentment comes from Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson (1908-1986). The title, Pastoral, is indicative of a lifestyle in the countryside herding animals and living simply. Art, literature, and music have characterized it for centuries. Famous examples of this are Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6, “Pastoral” and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. If you’ve never heard these pieces, I recommend them. Much too charming to pass up.

I have often heard that the people who live the most fulfilling lives live the most simple ones. That is captured in Larsson’s Pastoral. The flute solo in the beginning of this clip has a playful innocence that, when joined with the warmth of the strings, is absolutely delightful. Larsson helps us feel at ease with simple melodies and harmonies, major chords, and a softer dynamic. There is very little dissonance, and when there is, it is to foster an even greater relaxed feeling. It is hard to feel anything but content when listening to this music. Enjoy!