Musical Tones of Waterfalls

The "A. Heim" referred to below was the Swiss geographer Albert Heim. (Perhaps the E. Heim was his brother?) His studies of the musical tones of waterfalls led him to formulate the hypothesis that Beethoven wrote the sound of a waterfall into his "Pastoral" symphony. Details from

Heim concluded that if you listened closely enough to the running water, you could hear a C-major chord with an added F — the very harmony used in the opening bars of the symphony’s final movement. "It seems," Heim wrote, "that Beethoven had got this chord from listening — consciously or unconsciously — to the sound of water, which flowed away in large swaths after his storm [in the third movement]."

You can read Heim's article about the musical tones of waterfalls here (but it's in German).

Scribner's Monthly - Apr 1875

     Posted By: Alex - Sat Sep 30, 2023
     Category: Music | Science | Nineteenth Century

It's not that much of a stretch. The Sixth is, in any case, deeply inspired by nature and the countryside. And since he lived part of his life in Austria, a waterfall could certainly be part of his inspiration. The letter-details are silly, but the underlying idea is not.

(On a personal note, I love the sixth. In a lot of Beethoven's work, you can hear his struggles. In the Sixth, you can hear that for once, he was happy. It's such a relief!)
Posted by Richard Bos on 09/30/23 at 03:10 PM
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