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ClassicsOnline Home » BEETHOVEN, L. van: Symphony No. 9, "Choral" (Papian, Donose, M. Fink, Otelli, Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia, Drahos)
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 -1827)
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op. 125 'Choral'
Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, the first heralding the
new century, in
1800, and the last completed in 1824. Although he made
few changes to the composition of the orchestra itself, adding, when occasion
demanded, one or two instruments more normally found in the opera-house, he
expanded vastly the traditional form, developed in the time of Haydn and
Mozart, reflecting the personal and political struggles of a period of immense change
To his contemporaries he seemed an inimitable original,
but to a number of his successors he seemed to have expanded the symphony to an
In March, 1824, Beethoven completed his ninth symphony, a
summarises much of his achievement, but was, of course,
not intended as a final symphonic statement. Plans for a tenth symphony had
been sketched before the composer's death in 1827 and the first movement of
this projected symphony has recently been reconstructed.
Throughout his life Beethoven had shown a deep interest
in the work of Schiller, the former army doctor who had become one of the
leading writers of the German classical period. In particular the Ode to Joy,
with its message of universal brotherhood, had been set to music by him in the
1790s, although the setting is now lost. It was this poem that was to provide
the text for the great finale of the last symphony.
The idea of introducing voices into a symphony was one
that had been in Beethoven's mind for some time. He had written his Choral
Fantasia, a kind of piano concerto with voices, in 1808, and had always
shown a considerable interest, in any case, in the composition of songs, an
element in his work that is often underestimated. By 1818 he was planning a
choral symphony making use of what he described as a pious song in the ancient
modes as an introduction to a fugue, a celebration of the feast of Bacchus. In
the 1820s this was to become the recitative and the stirring setting of An die Freude
in the last movement of the Choral Symphony.
The first performance of the Symphony in D minor, Opus
125, took place at the
Karntnertor Theatre on 7th May, 1824, after a great deal
of wrangling over the whole matter, and was a tremendous success with a public
that Beethoven thought he had lost to Rossini. The composer, too deaf to direct
the performance, indicated the tempi of each movement, the real conductor Umlauf
having instructed singers and players to pay no attention to Beethoven, who
could hear nothing of the proceedings. The work is scored for pairs of flutes,
oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and drums, with four French horns and the
usual strings, to which the composer added three trombones, a double bassoon, a
piccolo, triangle, cymbals and bass drum. The symphony was commissioned and
paid for by the Philharmonic Society of London, but was dedicated by Beethoven
to the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III.
The last movement provides a necessary link between the
purely instrumental world of the rest of the symphony and the great setting of Schiller's
words. There is an abrupt outburst from the orchestra, now joined by the double
bassoon, followed at once by a baritone recitative, an abjuration of orchestral
convention and an exhortation to sing a song of joy. This is followed by the
famous theme, in fact structurally the principal theme of a rondo, that is to
be varied in so many ways. The baritone is joined by the chorus and then by the
other three soloists in its declaration of human brotherhood.
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