An Example of Emotional Insight (from Beethoven)

Vik RubenfeldMusicLeave a Comment

We’ve been talking about what art communicates – specifically, emotional insight: insight into a meaning that is other than intellectual.

Nowhere is this more apparent than it is in orchestral music.

You can’t find an intellectual meaning in it even if you want to. It doesn’t have any words. It portrays no objects.

While most agree that Beethoven wrote the first movement of the 5th Symphony on the subject of fate, anything beyond that is quite conjectural. For example, here is one discussion :

Just take the well-known “fate-knocks-at-the-door” theme alone. These aren’t Beethoven’s words, although he clearly organized the Fifth as a triumph over adversity by moving from dark C minor to sunny C major. (The minor-major transformation was a well-known general musical narrative at the time, one Beethoven may have specifically meant to represent his own battle with deafness.)

Over the first five measures of the work, the entire orchestra twice articulates the “fate” motif. However, Beethoven asks that, in its second statement, the orchestra play the fourth note of the motif — the low “DAH” — twice as long as it did the first time. He does this by adding an entire extra measure, not something he would do capriciously. Some theorists feel the addition builds purely musical drama, while some musicologists feel it signifies just how much of a struggle it will be to overcome the “problem” posed.

Either way, it would seem to be significant. Yet many conductors ignore that indication…

This is not much more than to say, hey, maybe it’s about fate. What is fate, anyway? It hasn’t been identified by science.

Yet all who appreciate this work agree that Beethoven’s 5th is tremendously meaningful to them. This is clearly a meaning of emotion, rather than one that is limited to the intellectual.

As noted here previously:

  • Art communicates something in addition to intellectual insight; art communicates emotional insight: insight into emotion and the meaning of emotion. It is other than intellectual insight.
  • It can only be grasped or apprehended by use of your emotional ability, rather than by use of your intellectual ability alone.
Check back here soon for more examples, coming up next!

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