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!

Hindemith: Mathis der Maler – Temptation of St. Anthony

This final movement of Mathis Der Maler by Paul Hindemith is an exciting one filled with suspense, aggression, loss, and majesty. The title of this movement (“Temptation of St. Anthony”) illustrates one of the panels of the Isenheim Altarpiece (1515) and suggests a certain storyline. In this case, however, I have chosen to make up my own. Though much of Classical music was written for various events, or to tell a specific story (this is called programmatic music), a listener’s experience of the music does not have to be limited to the piece’s subject. Even vocal music can invoke different meanings from what the lyrics suggest.

The story this music tells me is one of heroes, sinister villains, battle, defeat and triumph.

The introduction begins with many stops and starts, like an approaching thunderstorm. This clip depicts flashes of lightning and thunder.

Shortly after, there is a sinister sounding theme that is repeated many times in this movement. The picture I get is of the villain arriving on the scene, hell-bent on our hero’s destruction. And for some reason, I picture him riding a chariot. I suppose it is because of the driving rhythmic pattern, something Hindemith is well known for.

I have memories of my clarinet teacher in my undergraduate, Dan Silver, making absolutely sure that I didn’t cheat this rhythm, but made it exact: the dotted-eighth sixteenth. Can you hear the “dot da-dot da-dot da-dot da-dot” in the background?

As I imagine this battle progressing, one side of the conflict scores some pretty big blows. These come in the form of lethal punches or stabbings. It reminds me of the music in one of my favorite comedies of all time, The Princess Bride, when the six-fingered man stabs Inigo Montoya during an epic sword fight.

I never got into heavy metal, hardcore punk, or screamo as a teenager, but I do enjoy music that displays pure aggression. I have always appreciated fast, loud, and scary when it comes to symphonic music. I have moods where the more brass and percussion, the better. That is why I am such a big Drum & Bugle Corps junkie. Even within Classical or symphonic music there are moments where the music refuses to be tamed. It takes on a life of its own as a snarling monster, a daredevil, a nuclear explosion, and goes on a murderous rampage. I will be sure to include examples of aggression when I do my series on emotion. Since ‘aggression’ isn’t a direct emotion, I imagine I will call it ‘anger’ or ‘fury’. Fury sounds more dramatic.

This next clip is another great example of mounting aggression. In the chaos, we see our hero revealed at just the right moment to score a major blow on the enemy.

Because of the episodic nature of this movement, I will not take you through each moment in the piece. You should just buy it on Amazon or iTunes or listen to it on Spotify (NEW!)
spotify:track:4KCBEuyDTl2JCx51sjhTSD
There is a slow section that proceeds this minor victory that is more subdued, mournful, and disillusioned. It is an excellent reminder of the fact that people die in wars. That there is a great cost that comes with victory. That there is an undertone of death and loss of innocence.

The end of the piece is a brass fanfare. Hindemith’s orchestration here sounds like a pipe organ. The feel here is grandiose. Majestic. I get the sense that our hero has won the war, returned home victorious, and has been summoned to the king’s throne room to be given the highest honor for bravery.

Thanks for reading about these three unique movements. Help me out – go to Facebook and vote on what I should write about next. I have a couple of ideas and I’d appreciate your input. Also, if you are reading, feel free to leave comments here as well. Thanks!