Thanksgiving Music: Beethoven’s Pastorale

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Happy Thanksgiving! Hosting the holiday at your home this year? The stress can be a bit much. Perhaps you’re not ready for Christmas music yet, but wouldn’t you rather be able to listen to background music than listen to Aunt Mabel’s background gossip about how your sister isn’t married yet? Or how your stage actor cousin doesn’t have a real job? Well, allow me to present a piece for your dinner, and not only because it is so beautiful, but also because it is about Thankfulness: Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major (Pastorale). Here is a link to a lovely recording to play:

“Beethoven’s Symphony Number Six in F Major” may sound pretty fancy and get a few raised eyebrows from less musically knowledgeable acquaintances,  but it’s really not as impressive as they think. Just follow up its proper name and say “It’s the one that plays in Fantasia with the Cherubs and Pegasuses (Pegasi?)”. Ah yes, they know which one you’re talking about, and wasn’t that movie just the best thing. Grandpa remembers when it came out, back in his day when movies were quality, not like today…

blog-picsPerhaps now, your family will speak a little more quietly and try to hear the mellifluous sound of Beethoven. But wait! Your irritating Music Hipster Cousin, Eddie, isn’t impressed. Why would you bother playing such a dull, ‘mainstream’ symphony? He prefers Symphony No. 7, if he listens to Beethoven at all. He likes Rachmaninov and Ralph Vaughn Williams.

Well, enjoy the pleasure of one-upping Hipster Cousin Eddie by giving out interesting facts about the symphony. Inform him that this piece was specifically chosen by you to convey proper feelings for Thanksgiving. It was inspired by Beethoven’s own visits to the idyllic Black Forest of Southern Germany, and each movement is meant to represent a part of going there that he loved most.

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Peter Paul Rubens, Peasant Dance

The First Movement, energetic and hopeful, represents the joy of arriving in the country. The Second conveys the calm serenity of sitting by a babbling brook and listening to the bird songs in the forest. The Third Movement is a jolly country dance. Fourth Movement, a frightening thunder storm! The Fifth and final Movement meanwhile, is a moving and jubilant song of thanks meant to be played by shepherds.

But that’s not all! There is other interesting information. For instance, that the symphony was composed just as Beethoven’s hearing loss was really setting in, and that some speculate that its serene beauty was meant to symbolize his final acceptance of this terrible burden. You can also inform them that this version is being conducted by Herbert von Karajan, one of the greatest conductors of the 20th century. If you really want to lay it on thick, you can say something like “The tempo of the first movement is a little quick for my taste, but Karajan’s direction of Beethoven is too lush and rich to sacrifice for such a quibble.”

Of course, this is all a pleasant little fiction: As though the family is going to take a single breath from the moment someone mentions the Presidential Election to the time when they leave, possibly dragged away with new permanent rifts in the family. But, never mind that. You can still listen to Beethoven’s grand musical painting of his love for the countryside. And maybe, even if everyone else is getting bothered by political opinion, you can just sit on the couch, daydreaming about the Black Forest and all of the simple things that make life beautiful. So, forget about the politics and gossip. Instead, you can listen to the Shepherd’s Song and surely remember the real reason everyone is there today: Thanksgiving.

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Der schöne Schwarzwald (The beautiful Black Forest)

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