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Reviewing Beethoven's Fifth

Let's go back to the Beethoven's Fifth Symphony theme and analyze the particulars of the melody as written in RTTTL. Here's the theme in RTTTL again:


Now that we have discussed the particulars of the RTTTL format, this string should have more meaning:

  • The name of the melody is fifth.

  • The defaults settings are as follows:

    • Quarter-note default duration (d=4).

    • Default octave of 5 (o=5).

    • Default tempo of 63 beats per minute (b=63).

Now let's look at the melody:


The melody begins with an eighth note rest (8P), followed by three eighth notes of the pitch G, in the fifth octave (8G5), and ending with a half note of E flat in the fifth octave (2D#5).


Wondering why I say that D# is E flat? Look again at the staff notation for the Fifth (see Figure 14). The pitch is written as E flat. The Fifth Symphony is composed in the key of C minor. In the key of C minor, the third pitch in the scale is E flat, not D sharp. In fact, theoretically there isn't any D sharp in the key of C minor. Thus, I use the RTTTL D# notation to generate the sound, but musically the note is E flat.

Figure 14Figure 14 Here's the opening theme from the Fifth again.


Yes, I agree that this is a confusing idea and only makes sense if you understand the theory behind keys and scales. And, as I said earlier, naming pitches according to the scale in which they occur has confused elementary music students since day one. After all, who cares what you call the pitches in "Whole Lotta Love"? The important thing is that it sounds cool, right?

With regard to starting the melody with an eighth-note rest (8P), such a beginning creates a question that has perplexed musical scholars since Beethoven wrote the piece. Why start a piece of music with a rest? Why not just start it? Beethoven was no dope, and certainly not sloppy when it came to publishing his music. He must have had a reason for doing this. But, sadly we will never really know. We can only imagine. Such is the virtue of great music: It makes you think every time that you get near it.

Anyway, back to RTTTL.

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