Discovering music through listening
Discovering music through listening

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Discovering music through listening

1.4.1 Reflecting on small-scale musical structure

In Audios 10 and 11 you heard how a rhythmic pattern is used as a small-scale structural device in Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. The opening of the third movement demonstrates how Beethoven makes use of repetition, variation and contrast to construct melodic material.

Activity 4

Listen to Audio 11 twice. The first time you listen, close your eyes and try to identify instances of repetition, variation and contrast in the music. This might include musical material which is sounded over and over (repetition), musical material which is repeated with a small change (variation) or different musical material (contrast). Don’t worry if you cannot hear these aspects in the audio extract, as there will be additional help during your second listen of Audio 11.

The second time you listen to Audio 11, follow the Figure 7 which represents a very short extract of the opening melody (approximately the first eight seconds of the audio extract!). This will enable you to think about repetition, variation and contrast on a very small scale.

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Audio 11: Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, Third Movement, 15:49–16:19
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A coin representation of repetition, variation and contrast in the opening of the third movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony
Figure 7 A coin representation of repetition, variation and contrast in the opening of the third movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony


Figure 7 shows the short-short-short-long rhythmic motif from the opening of the third movement of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in various guises. The pattern is repeated exactly three times. It is then varied by being repeated at a higher pitch. Separating these repeats of the pattern is a groups of descending pitches. This material has been labelled as contrasting, and when listening to the audio, the rapid changes of pitch (which contrasts from the static pitch before and after this point) might lead us to conclude this. However, when visually represented, we can see that this material is built upon the rhythmic pattern and forms another variation (making use of descending pitches rather than static ones). So we might interpret this as a variation of the original motif rather than contrasting material. A particularly notable point of contrast is heard in the melody played by the cellos at c.00:14.


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