The popularity of Symphony No. 6 is doubtless due in part to the vividness of its evocation of nature. Beethoven offered explicit clues to the extra-musical meanings of the five movements, but he also emphasized that the symphony constituted “more the expression of feeling than painting”, and the picturesque touches – birdsong and rippling water in the second movement, thunder and torrential rain in the fourth, shepherds’ pipes in the finale – should not be allowed to divert all our attention from the sheer musical skill shown here by a great composer at the peak of his powers. In strong contrast with the sudden thematic jabs and cataclysms of its predecessor in the Fifth Symphony, the first movement of the Sixth proceeds in broad, sustained paragraphs, cumulative rather than histrionically convulsive in effect. These grand stretches of music tend to be repeated several times at different pitches, like the changing vistas of a countryside scene, say, from varying angles as we climb a hill. Such is the inner strength of these quiet processes that it is surprising to note, in retrospect, how lightly most of the symphony is scored. Beethoven, indeed, marshals his orchestral forces with unfailing care for the long line of the work. In the first two movements, apart from the regular woodwinds (and with the embellishment of two muted solo cellos in the Scene by the brook), the strings are reinforced only by the horns. To these modest resources, even the lusty peasants’ dance of the third movement adds no more than a pair of trumpets. It is not until the Storm requires them that piccolo, trombones, and timpani make their delayed and thus highly dramatic appearance in the symphony; and of these additions, only the trombones (this time for solemn rather than vehement purposes) are retained in the concluding Shepherds’ hymn.