Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, Op. 67, became a standard against which many other symphonies were measured. It is best known by the ominous four-note opening motif. Take a minute to get the scoop!
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In the mid-1970s, American musician Walter Murphy released “A Fifth of Beethoven,” a popular disco recording based on the signature motif and other elements of the symphony’s first movement. The “fate” figure has also been featured in many films and has been used in television commercials to promote a range of products and services from liquor to convenience stores to an Internet browser.
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Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor became a standard against which many other symphonies were measured. It is best known by the ominous four-note opening motif.
The symphony premiered on December 22, 1808, in Vienna—yet, music critics had little to say about it, but a year and a half later another performance of the work received a highly favourable review.
The first four notes of this work have drawn much attention. The pitches and rhythm of those notes—three Gs of equal duration followed by a sustained E-flat —partially outline a C minor chord and ultimately announce the home key of the symphony. Perhaps more significantly, they form the rhythmic and melodic anchor of the entire composition.
Beethoven himself allegedly described the figure as “fate knocking at the door.” This hallmark motif of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony has had tremendous appeal. During World War II, Allied forces used it to signal a victorious moment, as its rhythm—short, short, short, long—matched that of the letter V in Morse Code.