Beethoven wrote his Sixth Symphony while still at work on his Fifth and premièred it at the same concert; the two works are a symphonic couple that could hardly look less alike, despite some matching details. The “Pastoral” has no fate to defy, no fight to win, and so no triumph to celebrate. There is a thunderstorm, which cannot be “conquered”; instead, those who come through it are grateful for their deliverance – no trace of conflict here. The music makes an uncannily perfect fit with its title; the scenes from nature in the first two movements, especially the second, conjure up such a peaceful idyll that they seem to have no aim other than to rest and enjoy the countryside. Time stands still in them, and if you have no time to stand and stare, the music is not for you. It is fascinating to see that the themes are as fully developed as usual – but, like a natural process of organic growth, the structure takes shape almost unnoticed. The merry dance is cut short by the approaching storm, so vividly orchestrated that even the flashes of lightning are audible. As the last rumble of thunder dies away, it is replaced by an Arcadian hymn of pure ecstasy – the return to Nature at peace with itself. As before, nothing develops, nothing is driven forward; on the contrary, the music could go on like this indefinitely. It is a time to enjoy the moment, a musical wish for things always to be as they are now.
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