The Twentieth Century Symphony

Sibelius: Symphony No. 5

The first movement opens with the brass and woodwind alone, the horns proclaiming the start of the piece.  When the strings enter they are playing tremolo, and rumblings in the timpani create some suspense.  The second movement features simple folk melodies – the flutes playing in thirds, answered by pizzicato violins also in a duet.  The final movement is more intense, and starts with subdued, measured tremolo in the strings.  The main theme is well known – a slow, dramatic motif which keeps returning to the fifth.  The piece ends in quite an unusual and surprising way; six very loud (fffz) detached chords with long rests in between.

Nielsen: Symphony No. 5

This symphony starts with a repeated motif in the strings based on a minor third.  This is used ambiguously – sometimes sounding in a minor key, and other times as the top half of a major triad.  A snare drum announces the start of a military sounding section; now the minor third reference can be heard in the basses and timpani, and the woodwind and string melodies are based on insistent, repeated notes with sudden crescendos.  The second, slow part to this movement has an intense string sound, and is quite chordal in texture with the major/minor ambiguity still present.  The movement fades out with the snare drum getting gradually quieter, leaving a solo clarinet.

The second movement is faster and more chaotic to start with.  The second section is based on a fugue, with the main theme using a repeated V-I interval, giving the feel of an announcement / something important happening.  The final part is dramatic – fast, detached passages in the strings and repeated notes on the timpani, closing with a grandiose major chord.


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