Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 and Wordsworth’s The Prelude

by ttucker23 on October 7, 2006

The Culture Club has chosen for its next session to discuss Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and Wordsworth’s two-part Prelude of 1799, because both are related to the countryside. While reading around the subject, I came across this quote which reveals a deeper link between the two. This is from Richard Osborne’s chapter on Beethoven, from the book A Guide To The Symphony, edited by Robert Layton:

Beethoven summed up the impact he intended the [6th] symphony to have when he wrote: ‘The whole work can be perceived without description – it is feeling rather than tone-painting’. In other words, it is the spontaneous activity of the mind and the imagination in which Beethoven is interested; and in this he was at one with his contemporary, William Wordsworth. When Wordsworth revised his long autobiographical poem The Prelude, he saw more vividly than ever what Beethoven, writing his ‘Pastoral’ Symphony, was immediately aware of: that his art was not charting landscape or seasons or country happenings, but the interrelationship between landscape and the conscious mind. This is what Beethoven intends when he writes over the opening movement, ‘Awakening of cheerful feelings on arrival in the country’. Later, in the Finale, he becomes the shepherd sharing his sense of thanksgiving and even, perhaps, feeling a slight autumnal chill, the chill of dying life, as the muted horn winds into the distance on the symphony’s final page.
Richard Osborne, Chapter 4 – Beethoven, A Guide To The Symphony

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