The distinctive opening “dun dun dun dunnnnnn, dun dun dun duunnnnn” of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony is enough to give anyone goosebumps. There’s something deeply unnerving about those opening notes, but why are they so alarming?
Charles Hazlewood is conducting a forensic dissection of the German composer’s fifth symphony, deconstructing each section to reveal the person behind the music. Beethoven had a difficult childhood – he grew up with an alcoholic father who would wake him in the middle of the night to force him to play piano, then beat him. Unsurprisingly, young Ludwig then grew up to develop a personality disorder, obsessing over his music, which lead him to create the instantly recognisable and universally celebrated music we know him for.
And conductor Hazlewood can hear the frustration in every note. Whilst discussing Beethoven’s personal turmoil, he reflects on his own – he talks frankly about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child and the lasting impact it had on him, exploring how the turbulent emotions of the Fifth Symphony resonate with his own struggles. It’s a deeply emotional study, full to the brim with candour and minute details about one of the most famous pieces of music of all time.
The Times’s James Jackson gave this Sky Arts doc four stars, saying Hazlewood’s “articulacy about such trauma was as impressive as his disinclination to get lachrymose for the cameras,” making a documentary that gives “BBC Four a run for its money.” In an interview with Fiona Maddocks of The Guardian, Hazlewood mentioned how important it was for him to discuss his abuse publically. He said: “So many of us are carrying around this dark sump oil buried somewhere within, like a slick, a reservoir. It needs to be talked about, brought out in the open.”
And we couldn’t agree more. So, when you feel the lockdown low-mood building, why not channel it into some music? Or maybe, for your neighbour’s sake, try listening to some Beethoven.
First shown February 2021.