The SIXTH, called the PASTORALE, is the only program symphony written by LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN, which not only bore its own title, but also had specific titles for each of its movements. And it is only in this work that the composer violates the hitherto strictly followed classical type of four-movement symphonic cycle – there are five movements, with the last three performed without interruption. The symphony originated in the mature and extremely prolific creative period between 1803 and 1812, when some of his most significant works from all genres were created, initiating a new era in the history of European music. The earliest preserved sketches of the Symphony date as early as 1802, and between 1806 and 1808 Beethoven worked simultaneously on three symphonies – the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth, the Violoncello Sonata in A Major Op. 69 and the two piano trios Opus 70. A particularly intensive work was done between March and August 1808, with the progress of the parallel composing of the Fifth and the Sixth symphonies, two works so different in character and imagery, although completed almost simultaneously. The F Major was even initially intended to appear under number five, while the C Minor – under number six, but the numbering was reversed upon their publication. The premiere performance of the Pastorale Symphony, or Recollections of Country Life („Pastoral- Sinfonie oder Erinnerungen an das Landleben”), as the title page of the autograph reads, took place on 22 December 1808 in the renowned Theater an der Wien, at that magnificent four- hour Beethoven Academy, when on the same evening were heard also the Fifth Symphony, the third Leonore Overture, parts of the C Major Mass and the Fantasy for piano, choir and orchestra. Like the Fifth Symphony, the Pastorale was also dedicated to Beethoven’s patrons, Viennese noblemen Prince Franz Joseph Maximilian von Lobkowitz and the Russian envoy in Vienna, Prince Andrei Kirilovich Razumovski (dedicated to him were also the three Quartets Opus 59, which became known as the Razumovski Quartets.)
This symphony occupies a special place not only in Beethoven’s music, but also in the entire genealogy of the symphonic genre. On the one hand, it seems to reflect Haydnesque pastorality, which is related to the philosophical ideas of Rousseau, and, on the other hand, paved the way for the new type of programmatic symphony of the nineteenth century and was highly appreciated by a number of romantic composers. In his journals and letters Beethoven more than once referred to his pantheistic veneration for „the shrine of nature” (as he wrote in 1815), where he felt calm, blessed and devoted to God, happy in the middle of the woods in which „the trees speak through you”. It was during his long solitary walks in the vicinity of Heiligenstadt (at a time when he was experiencing a great inner breakdown following the loss of his hearing and wrote the famous Heiligenstadt Testament) that he conceived the idea of the Pastoral Symphony, as a reflection of his experiences with nature. Although each of the five movements bears an explicit programmatic title, in his notes Beethoven emphasized that the Sinfonia pastorella was not a „tone painting” but rather “more an expression of feeling, which the delight in countryside evokes…” (“…keine Malerej sondern die Empfindungen ausgedrückt sind, welche der Genuß des Landes im Menschen hervorbringt…”). And yet the symphony abounds in sound allusions, which convey vibrant and picturesque scenes. The first part is permeated with pastoral intonations and folk music elements (Bella Bartok and other researchers detected in the initial theme the tune of a Croatian children’s song). Beethoven himself admitted that in the main theme in “Scene by the Brook” he depicted the voice of the oriole, and there is a remark on the score “murmur of the brook”. The third movement seemingly presents a picture of the village orchestra and one can make out the figures of the landler dance. There is an almost visible suggestion in the thunderstorm scene, which makes ample use of the extended wind instruments section, followed by the serene closing movement featuring the sounds of the shepherd’s pipe. The preoccupation with coloristics and the ornamental elements, the abundance of solo wind instruments and the special effects in the strings seem like Beethoven’s anticipation of the romantic orchestra of the future.