Beethoven's 5th Symphony

During World War II, the opening motif of Beethoven's 5th Symphony became a powerful symbol for the Allied forces. The short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern corresponded in Morse code to the letter 'V' for Victory, which was an acknowledged symbol of the war effort, most famously made by Winston Churchill forming a 'V' with the first and second fingers of his raised right hand. It was also adopted as the American national symbol after the war, along with the bald eagle.

Although it is perhaps ironic that a German piece of music became a source of solace, in particular to British troops during the bombings of England, many people relished the irony of German music providing a galvanizing force for the war effort. Beethoven was himself a champion of personal liberty and a symbol of resistance to dictatorship, turning away from Napoleon in 1804 when the latter named himself Emperor of the French.

The French, too, adopted Beethoven's 5th Symphony as an icon of solidarity and resistance. During the worst of the German blitz on London in the spring of 1941, Maurice van Moppes wrote lyrics to the opening bars of the symphony, calling it ‘La chanson des V’ (The song of V). The song was broadcast on Radio-Londres, most influentially on 1 June 1944, when the Allied forces sent the first messages to France to prepare for attack. It was also included in a pamphlet entitled Chansons de la BBC which was parachuted by the RAF into France in order to raise morale, encourage resistance, and demonstrate support for the British.

By Daisy Fancourt


Hamburger, Michael ed., Beethoven: Letters, Journals and Conversations (New York, 1960)

Van Moppes, Maurice Chansons de la BBC et images de Paris (Paris, 1945)

Il ne faut pas
On les aura.
Il ne faut pas
Vous arrêter
De résister.
N’oubliez pas
La lettre V
Ecrivez la chantonnez la VVVV.
Sur les murs et
Sur les paves
Faites des V
Mais vous pouvez
Faire endever
Les Doryphores
Et sans remords
Et sans danger
Vous sifflerez
Et chanterez

Do not
We will have them.
To resist
Don't forget
The letter V
Write the tune of VVVV.
On the walls and
On the pavements
Write the letter V
But you can
Colorado Beetles [a type of flesh hungry creature]
And without remorse
An without danger
You whistle
And sing