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give me five: a retrospective of the number 5

November 03, 2009

give me five: a retrospective of the number 5

painting Charles Demuth

High five. Take five. Give me five. In celebration of LACO’s Discover Beethoven 5 concert on Saturday, this blog post celebrates the number five in the past and the present with a few examples of its appearance in music, art, science and more.

Music
LACO is all about music, so I’ll start there. The most famous Fifth Symphony is undoubtedly Beethoven’s, although Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony gained much attention and popularity in its time. Even so, Beethoven’s Fifth endures as the most recognizable Symphony of all time. It’s powerful, magnificent, memorable. What makes Beethoven’s Fifth so majestic? So lasting? Find out on Saturday when Jeffrey Kahane discusses the power behind the iconic masterpiece, and the Orchestra performs the piece for the very first time. In the meantime, let’s explore the number five in music generally.

In written music, there are five lines on a music staff. The perfect fifth is the most consonant interval in the scale. The number five made its way into the names of famous bands including The Jackson 5, Ben Folds Five, Maroon 5 and the 5th Dimension. And who could forget the jazz standard Take Five, by Paul Desmond.

Art and Poetry
One of the most striking images of the number five is Charles Demuth’s The Figure 5 in Gold (1928) on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The image was inspired by the following William Carlos Williams’ poem:

The Great Figure

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
fire truck
moving
tense
unheeded
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

Science
Some of the most basic components of our bodies and our planet appear in sets of five. We have five fingers and toes, five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste) and five tastes (bitter, salty, sour, sweet and savory). There are Five Elements that comprise our natural world: water, fire, earth, wood and metal. Many flowers, including most species of the rose, have five petals. And, of course, five continents make up our planet.

Popular Culture
The number five also makes some interesting appearances in popular culture. The five rings on the Olympic flag signify the “union of the five continents and the meeting of athletes from throughout the world at the Olympic Games,” according to the Olympic Charter. And one of the most famous perfumes is Chanel No. 5, the first perfume from Coco Chanel which hit stores and perfumeries in 1921, and has been a best-seller since.

Obviously, these are just a few examples of the number five’s prevalence in our culture. But it’s everywhere. What is your favorite appearance or significance of the number five? Write in the comments field below! Then, enjoy Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony this Saturday with LACO.

1 comment

And don't forget the fifth dimension -- loved your blog!

  • —Marguerite, November 05, 2009 06:01 pm

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