Motif | Southbank Sinfonia


Watch this video for about 20 seconds and follow the score if you can:

Did you recognise the opening to Beethoven’s very famous 5th symphony? It has those distinctive and forceful four notes: three short and one long.

Southbank Sinfonia | Beethoven 5









Then it has that again … and again … and … why don’t you watch again and this time see if you can count the number of times you hear those four notes in that distinctive sequence.

Would we say that this opening to Beethoven 5 has a melody?

Well, it is a melody of sorts with notes following one after the other, but it is not exactly a tune we can whistle as we walk down the street is it?

What we find in Beethoven Symphony No.5 is called a motif which is then developed. A motif is a snippet of music, in this case just those first four notes: three short and one long. Beethoven then takes that and he uses it again, and again, he shares it around the orchestra giving different instruments a turn. Beethoven has taken this tiny musical motif and developed it into a melodic structure with a beginning, a middle and an end, similar to Mozart’s opening to Mozart No.40.

So, we now know that melody is often the tune in music, but it can also be a musical theme which is then developed. It can even be something as small as a four-note motif which is developed into a whole movement of a symphony.

Finally, when we think melody, we generally think horizontally – one note after another, if you remember back to a little bit earlier. But what do we get when we think about music notes on top of another?

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