Composed 1804–08, premièred 1808
Dedicated to Prince Lobkowitz and Count Andrey Rasumovsky
1. Allegro con brio
2. Andante con moto
3. Scherzo: Allegro
Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan
Orchestre National de France, Kurt Masur
Beethoven Festival, Bonn, 2008
Beethoven worked on the Fifth Symphony for more than four years (themes for it began to apper in his sketch books in 1801 and 1802), completing it in 1808, and introducing it on December 22 of that year at what must have been one of the most extraordinary concerts in history. The marathon program included the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies; the Choral Fantasy, Op. 80; the Fourth Piano Concerto; and parts of the Mass in C. Vienna was in the grip of exceptionally cold weather, the hall was unheated, and the musicians woefully under-prepared. As Schindler noted, "the reception accorded to these works was not as desired, and probably no better than the author himself had expected. The public was not endowed with the necessary degree of comprehension for such extraordinary music, and the performance left a great deal to be desired."
Following early indifference, the public only gradually began to come to terms with the Fifth. One of its earliest proponents, the poet and composer E.T.A. Hoffmann wrote, "How this magnificent composition carries the listener on and on in a continually ascending climax into the ghostly world of infinity!...the human breast, squeezed by monstrous presentiments and destructive powers, seems to gasp for breath; soon a kindly figure approaches full of radiance, and illuminates the depths of terrifying night."