We talked about Ludwig van Beethoven back in December 2009. Without question, this symphony is his most well-known work. In fact, I think it would be fair to say that in the entire classical music realm, there is no piece of music more recognized than the first few notes of this symphony.
A "symphony" is a piece of music that is usually written in three or four parts, called movements. When you're at a concert, and a symphony is being performed, it is not proper to start clapping until all of the movements of a particular symphony have been played. If you've ever been at a concert and wondered why no one was clapping after the music stopped, that's why. A symphony is usually written for an orchestra to play.
Beethoven composed nine symphonies before he died. His fifth symphony was written between 1804 and 1808. Most of the piece is in the key of C minor. A minor key usually sounds sad or angry. This piece is definitely more on the angry side.
Symphony No. 5 has four movements (thought it actually seems like three). The first movement is marked Allegro con brio, which is Italian for "fast with spirit or vigor". The second movement is marked Andante con moto. This is Italian, meaning "at a slower, walking pace with motion" (or "slower, but not too slow"). This movement has a more peaceful feel to it and is mostly in a major key. The third movement is marked Scherzo. Allegro. Like the first movement, "Allegro" means "fast". "Scherzo" is an Italian word that means "joke". In this sense, it's meant to be playful. You'll notice that it sounds kind of sneaky to start with, and then comes in with one of the loudest, and most awesome, French Horn parts ever. The fourth movement is marked, simply, Allegro ("fast"), and really brings it home. In fact, the fourth movement has a trademark ending for many Beethoven pieces. If you listen to it, try to decide when it ends. Beethoven has a remarkable ability to drag out the ending of some of his pieces far longer than most would feel he should. It's almost funny.
I was thinking about when I first heard this piece, and I really don't know. I know I've said this with some of the other pieces, but I really can't recall ever not knowing this piece.
I can remember listening to it every now and then in my teen years, and I definitely had a recording of this on my mission. I think it was really on my mission that I got to know it best. I had a tape (which, as I recall, I swiped from Dad) of Lorin Maazel conducting it (which still stands as one of my favorite recordings, though you'll hear the CD version later).
As I've meant to gear this to younger children, I'll only assign you to listen to the first movement. It's 8 minutes long, but it's pretty loud and exciting throughout. I don't think you'll have any trouble keeping interest. Enjoy!