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Symphony No. 6 – Pastoral: Movement 1

Beethoven often escaped the considerable turmoil of his personal life by spending an invigorating day in the country. In a letter to a friend, he wrote, “How delighted I will be to ramble for a while through the bushes, woods, under trees, through grass, and around rocks. No one can love the country as much as I do. For surely woods, trees, and rocks produce the echo that man desires to hear. My bad hearing does not bother me here.” Beethoven wrote his Sixth Symphony to express these heartfelt sentiments.

The title given by Beethoven to this symphonic work is Pastoral Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life. He gave each of the five movements a descriptive headnote: (1) Awakening of Cheerful Feelings Upon Arriving in the Country, (2) Scene by the Brook, (3) Merry Gathering of Peasants, (4) Tempest, Storm, and (5) Shepard’s Song. Happy and Thankful Feelings after the Storm. He used the titles just to suggest settings, not to tell a story. He called his music “more an expression of feeling than painting.”

Using just six string instruments, Fischer perfectly captures the essence of Beethoven’s first movement, one of the most lyrical and contemplative he ever composed. The music is utterly relaxed and joyful. Beethoven’s music often is an expression of his state of mind. We can just see him strolling through the countryside, the weight of the world lifted from his shoulders, breathing in the cool fresh air, taking in the invigorating sights and sounds. There is even a skip in his rhythmic gait. Marvelous, a tonic for all ills.

So, sit back and relax as the Pastoral gently ushers us into a leisurely, comfortable, and serene world. Beethoven’s bucolic trek has none of the drama or the harmonic and rhythmic surprises that color his other symphonies, just reverential awe and cheerful wonder. Isn’t that enough?

Written by the Honorable Stephen S. Trott