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Dun dun dun duuun

Probably the most famous beginning to any piece of music for orchestra, the four notes that start Beethoven's Fifth Symphony - dun dun dun duuun - open the door to a whole world of incredible music that plays out over more than 30 minutes.


But did you know that the symphony actually starts with silence - a whole half-beat rest that makes it one of the hardest beginnings in all the repertoire?

This initial "sniff" sets the whole symphony off on a slight skip before the resolute "FF" (fortissimo - Italian for "really loud") notes come storming in. It means the whole orchestra has to work out how long that half-beat (a quaver in musical language) is, before they've even played a note. It's really hard to conduct too. Here's a whole video about how conductors have to make a thousand decisions just to get the piece going:




Then there's that hat symbol over the fourth note (the long "duun"). This is a pause (or fermata in Italian - think fermented, like a good beer). It tells us musicians to hold on "for a bit". It's not a strictly measured time duration like the other notes in the piece, so the conductor has to choose how long to hold it on. Beethoven is essentially saying "milk it". Any momentum the orchestra has built up in the first few notes is suspended.

Beethoven then repeats the theme - this time down one note - but doubles the length of the fourth note. So it's something like dun dun dun duuun .... dun dun dun duuuuuun:


Here's a brilliant video with no fewer than 42 different conductors' interpretations (and one pianist!):



If you listen to just a few of these you'll hear they vary from fast to slow, monumental to imposing, heavy and static to light and flowing. Some conductors have almost no difference in the length of time they hold the pauses, others have a really quite brief first one and just a little more on the second, others milk the second one a little too indulgently. It's all up for grabs.


So, how will Jack, our Music Director conduct the beginning of Beethoven's famous fifth when Stafford Sinfonia performs it on 22 and 30 June 2024? You'll have to grab a ticket to see!

In the meantime, you can listen to the album here with Sir Roger Norrington's version which is Jack's favourite recording, so probably a great bet for how he might do it.








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