Celebrating the classics


The four forceful notes at the start of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony may be the most recognizable motive of music ever written. Three short notes on the same pitch plummets into that final note, kickstarting one of Beethoven’s masterworks.

That introduction gets all of the attention. But behind the dynamic flourish is an intricate, complicated and beautiful composition that forever changed classical music.

Now, audiences in Johnson County will have the opportunity to hear the symphony performed by the area’s best classical musicians.

The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra will perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 on Sunday at Center Grove High School. Led by conductor Krzysztof Urbański, the orchestra will hit every raucous horn and lilting string in the first concert of the 317 Series.

The series is in its second year, and it was designed to take the orchestra out of its downtown Indianapolis home and bring it to communities around central Indiana.

In addition to the Center Grove concert, the series will include stops at Mount Pleasant Christian Church and Mallow Run Winery.

“Normally in the past, we’ve done all of our concerts here at Hilbert Circle Theatre, but for us it’s a great opportunity to share our passion and love of classical music with all of the people who are so close to downtown,” Urbański said.

The Center Grove program also will include Concerto in B minor by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák. But the true centerpiece will be Symphony No. 5, Urbański said.

To give concertgoers a glimpse into this famous piece of music, Urbański took some time to talk to the Daily Journal about the upcoming concert.

Is this Beethoven’s most important symphony?

It’s not in fact. It’s just very popular, but it’s not the most important of Beethoven’s symphonies. No. 3 is the milestone of the musical history, No. 5 is not.

Why has it endured for so long?

Because it is a brilliant piece, of course. This is because of the energy, and what makes the symphony so intense. That is what has made it the audience’s favorite.

What is the joy of performing this symphony?

The joy is enormous. This music is written so beautifully. I particularly love the second movement of this, it is probably my favorite. There is so much tension, so much love. The first movement is the most popular. It is a brilliant piece of music. But the second movement is what makes the symphony so great.

What makes that movement stand out?

There are so many different aspects. First of all, the color changes. Never before in the history of music has someone dared to go from such soft pianissimos to such loud fortissimos. It happens so suddenly. We have this grandiose trumpet and timpani and horn passages followed by just a shimmer coming from the strings. It creates an illusion of emotional instability, and that really relates Beethoven’s state of mind.

How is the symphony built to capture the audience?

The architecture of the piece has such variation, but Beethoven points us in different dimensions. The first 49 bars are almost completely repeated, but with some changes, a mixture of instrumentation. Then, he puts the music on a different track and it goes to completely unpredictable places. If you would imagine, when you hear it for the first time, and really focus on it, it’s magical.

How do you as a conductor approach such a well-known piece of music?

I approach it exactly the same way I approach any other piece: I try to forget that it was ever performed before. I’m trying to create an illusion for myself, of my work, that I’m going to make a world-premier of that piece. I’m going to try to find my own way of doing it.

What was behind the decision to pair this with Dvořák’s Concerto in B minor?

I can tell you honestly, this is my wife’s favorite concerto of all concertos ever written. I respect my wife’s artistic taste. I have a few concertos I like the best, but this one is really beautiful. Of all of Dvořák’s concertos, this is a different level.

What sets it apart?

It has this beautiful quality and simplicity that exists in folk music. He was so inspired by original Czech music, and how he uses those folk motives and puts them in a great form of a concerto. It’s one of the longest concertos — almost 50 minutes. But it has good feeling, because it just flows, it has the beauty of simple phrases.

How do these two pieces of music fit together?

The first reason, Dvořák’s music would never have been written if Beethoven would never have written his Third Symphony. Dvořák’s orchestration skills were very great, and his way of using different colors and creating and modulating colors in the orchestra was really amazing. I’m referring to the second movement in the Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony: There may be a link between that movement and the way Dvořák developed it few years later.

If you go

Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

The 317 Series

When: 3 p.m. Sunday; doors open at 2.

Where: Center Grove High School, 2717 S. Morgantown Road, Greenwood

What: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5; Antonin Dvořák’s Concerto in B minor

Conductor: Krzysztof Urbański

Principal cellist: Austin Huntington

Tickets: $20 for adults, $10 for children and students; seating is general admission.

Information: indianapolissymphony.org/event-detail/beethoven-greenwood

Upcoming 317 Series concerts:

March 10: 8 p.m., Mount Pleasant Christian Church; Spanish passion featuring “Don Quixote.”

July 7: 8 p.m., Mallow Run Winery; program to be announced.

Guide to Symphony No. 5

Composer: Ludwig Van Beethoven

Debut: Dec. 22, 1808

Performed by: An orchestra with strings, pairs of flutes, oboes, clarinets, bassoons, horns, trumpets and timpani.

Rhythm: Allegro con brio, or “fast with spirit”

  • Though the symphony was written in 1808, rough outlines and sketches of it appear as early as 1800.
  • Beethoven was going through a turbulent time of life when he wrote the symphony, including going increasingly deaf, the invasion of Austria by Napoleon and the lack of money. His struggles are reflected in the symphony.
  • The famous opening notes are three quick Gs followed by a long E flat. Momentum generated by the repetition of the first three notes is dramatically halted in an extended fourth tone.
  • The second movement spins a series of four variations on two main ideas. Violas and cellos first sing a rich song before clarinets, flute and bassoons break out a sturdier, more assertive idea.
  • The third movement features ominously, hushed cellos and basses before French horns emerge with a strong theme, again referencing the opening motto. A dramatic pianissimo section, underscored by muttering timpani, charges the atmosphere before an extended crescendo moves directly to the finale.
  • The fourth movement ratchets up instrumental color by the addition of piccolo, contrabassoon and three trombones. This was the first time trombones appeared in a symphony orchestra.

— Information provided by the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and Marianne Williams Tobias, program note annotator chair for the symphony.

Author photo
Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.