This Magic Moment (one in a series)
Beethoven, Fifth Symphony, second movement, m. 225
The fact that this is my favorite single moment in the Beethoven Fifth is bound up with the fact that it comes during my least favorite movement. Not by a lot, I hasten to add — I'm not weird about it or anything, to quote Tom Waits — but I do always find myself getting slightly itchy as the Andante wears on. Even though the thrill of hearing Beethoven blast his way from A-flat to trumpet-and-drums C major never palls, the variation form feels somehow constrained here, in a way that it never does with Haydn. And most cloying of all is the falling-thirds gesture, which is so beautiful that it keeps coming back exactly, like a five-year-old who gets a laugh from the adults and repeats the same wisecrack in hopes of more.
Then, out of nowhere, comes this amazing rush of melodic liberation, as if the entire orchestra shared my sense of confinement and had decided to dispel it once and for all. That leap to the seventh degree is stirring enough in itself, but what's most stunning is the harmony — a stroke of unbelievable lushness that seems to presage the next 100 years of Romanticism in a single chord. It's as though Tchaikovsky had walked into the room, tipped his hat, and left again. Beethoven is so prophetic all the time in so many ways, but I don’t know another spot where he anticipates this particular aspect of the future. And precisely because the rest of the movement has felt (to me) so hemmed in and so formal, it feels like a hint of other, more bountiful worlds yet to come: "I have discovered a truly marvelous harmonic language, which this manuscript paper is too narrow to contain."