da-da-da-DUM… da-da-da-DUM

by Érika Judith Herrera Jiménez 

Erika Judith Herrera Jiménez, PhD candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in Metallurgical Engineering. 

Erika Judith Herrera Jiménez, PhD candidate at Polytechnique School of Montreal in Metallurgical Engineering. 

When Beethoven wrote the fifth symphony, one of his two most famous symphonies, he was already reaching the age of 40. His personal life was marked by the anguish caused by the increasing of his deafness. He had already entered into an unstoppable process of "creative fury". Europe was overwhelmed by wars, political upheaval in Austria and the occupation of Vienna by Napoleon's troops in 1805. The fifth symphony of Beethoven is said to represent his life, his struggle against his fate; it smites him where it can affect him the most — that is why strong and defining initial motive is the key of the symphony. It is also overcoming his frustrated love for Teresa, for which he interrupted the writing of the symphony, to make way for the bright "Fourth".

There are many theories about this rhythmic motif known as "fate knocking at the door". Some say it was the sound that the collectors made by knocking on the door to collect all his debts; others say that it is the inspiration of a birdsong... In any case, this rhythmic motif is universal, one of the most famous in the world and gained much more popularity during World War II when broadcasts of the BBC, introduced an "opening" with this theme in their newsletters. To this we must add that, in reality, the messages in Morse code are used as were used during the conflict, the "V" for victory used by the allies represented "da-da-dum" and sounded just like the melody.

The symphony was premiered in Vienna on 1808 in a gigantic concert. The reviews were not very good due to the length of the concert that ended up exhausting the public and out-of-sync orchestra.

Some of the innovations of this symphony is the use of "cyclicity". It means the same themes or motifs present in several movements. The symphony can be understood as the journey or the evolution of the destiny idea throughout the whole drama of the work to its triumphant climax. The use of cyclic form or idea of symphonic unit is also observed in the act of uniting in one great movement the last two, cancelling the pause between them letting the music of the scherzo bind to the finale. It is also credited with being the first symphony requiring trombones in an orchestra. This might not be true as Mozart or Haydn, among others, had used previously. But we can't deny that Beethoven gets to extend the registration of the orchestra using trombones and it give even more strongly to the idea of the work.

Over the time, the symphony and the composer are known worldwide. The elements of this symphony have resurfaced several times in popular culture, with new interpretations in other genres, to appearance in movies and television. Beethoven challenges the fate that left him deaf and all the obstacles that were presented, making them his inspiration for his greatest creation.