A page from Beethoven's manuscript of the 9th Symphony.
The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 "Choral" is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven. Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best known works of the Western classical repertoire, and has been adapted for use as the European Anthem. It is considered[who?] one of Beethoven's masterpieces and one of the greatest musical compositions ever written.
The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony. The words are sung during the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the "Ode to Joy", a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by the composer.
Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven in 1820. Beethoven was completely deaf when he composed his ninth symphony.
The Philharmonic Society of London originally commissioned the symphony in 1817. Beethoven started the work in 1818 and finished early in 1824. However, both the words and notes of the symphony have sources dating from earlier in Beethoven's career.
The title of Schiller's poem "An die Freude" is literally translated as "To Joy", but is normally called the "Ode to Joy". It was written in 1785 and first published the following year in the poet's own literary journal, Thalia. Beethoven had made plans to set this poem to music as far back as 1793, when he was 22 years old.
Beethoven's sketchbooks show that bits of musical material that ultimately appeared in the symphony were written in 1811, and 1817.
In addition, the symphony also emerged from other pieces by Beethoven that, while completed works in their own right, are also in some sense sketches for the future symphony. The Choral Fantasy Opus. 80 (1808), basically a piano concerto movement, brings in a chorus and vocal soloists near the end to form the climax. As in the Ninth Symphony, the vocal forces sing a theme first played instrumentally, and this theme is highly reminiscent of the corresponding theme in the Ninth Symphony (for a detailed comparison, see Choral Fantasy). Going further back, an earlier version of the Choral Fantasy theme is found in the song "Gegenliebe" ("Returned Love"), for piano and high voice, which dates from before 1795.
The theme for the scherzo can be traced back to a fugue written in 1815.
The introduction for the vocal part of the symphony caused many difficulties for Beethoven. Beethoven's friend Anton Schindler, later said: "When he started working on the fourth movement the struggle began as never before. The aim was to find an appropriate way of introducing Schiller's ode. One day he [Beethoven] entered the room and shouted 'I got it, I just got it!' Then he showed me a sketchbook with the words 'let us sing the ode of the immortal Schiller'". However, Beethoven did not retain this version, and kept rewriting until he had found its final form, with the words "O Freunde, nicht diese Töne" ("O friends, not these sounds").
Beethoven was eager to have his work played in Berlin as soon as possible after finishing it, since he thought that musical taste in Vienna was dominated by Italian composers such as Rossini. When his friends and financiers heard this, they urged him to premiere the symphony in Vienna.
Although the performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf, the theatre's Kapellmeister, Beethoven shared the stage with him. However, two years earlier, Umlauf had watched as the composer's attempt to conduct a dress rehearsal of his opera Fidelio ended in disaster. So this time, he instructed the singers and musicians to ignore the totally deaf Beethoven. At the beginning of every part, Beethoven, who sat by the stage, gave the tempos. He was turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra he could not hear.
There are a number of anecdotes about the premiere of the Ninth. Based on the testimony of the participants, there are suggestions that it was under-rehearsed (there were only two full rehearsals) and rather scrappy in execution. On the other hand, the premiere was a great success. In any case, Beethoven was not to blame, as violinist Josef Böhm recalled: "Beethoven directed the piece himself; that is, he stood before the lectern and gesticulated furiously. At times he rose, at other times he shrank to the ground, he moved as if he wanted to play all the instruments himself and sing for the whole chorus. All the musicians minded his rhythm alone while playing".
When the audience applauded—testimonies differ over whether at the end of the scherzo or the whole symphony—Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience's cheers and applause. According to one witness, "the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them." The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation gestures. The theatre house had never seen such enthusiasm in applause.
At that time, it was customary that the Imperial couple be greeted with three ovations when they entered the hall. The fact that five ovations were received by a private person who was not even employed by the state, and moreover, was a musician (a class of people who had been perceived as lackeys at court), was in itself considered almost indecent. Police agents present at the concert had to break off this spontaneous explosion of ovations. Beethoven left the concert deeply moved.
The repeat performance on May 23 in the great hall of the Fort was, however, poorly attended.
While many of the modifications in the newer editions make minor alterations to dynamics and articulation, both editions change the orchestral lead-in to the final statement of the choral theme in the fourth movement (IV: m525 m542). The newer versions alter the articulation of the horn calls, creating syncopation that no longer relates to the previous motive. The new Breitkopf & Härtel and Bärenreiter make this alteration differently, but the result is a reading that is different from what was commonly accepted based on the 1864 Breitkopf edition. While both Breitkopf & Härtel and Bärenreiter consider their editions the most accurate versions available—labeling them Urtext editions—their conclusions are not universally accepted. In his monograph "Beethoven—the ninth symphony", Professor David Levy describes the rationale for these changes and the danger of calling the editions Urtext.
The symphony is scored for the following orchestra. These are by far the largest forces needed for any Beethoven symphony; at the premiere, Beethoven augmented them further by assigning two players to each wind part.
Adagio molto e cantabile - Andante Moderato - Tempo Primo - Andante Moderato - Adagio - Lo Stesso Tempo
Recitative: (Presto – Allegro ma non troppo – Vivace – Adagio cantabile – Allegro assai – Presto: O Freunde) – Allegro assai: Freude, schöner Götterfunken – Alla marcia – Allegro assai vivace: Froh, wie seine Sonnen – Andante maestoso: Seid umschlungen, Millionen! – Adagio ma non troppo, ma divoto: Ihr, stürzt nieder – Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato: (Freude, schöner Götterfunken – Seid umschlungen, Millionen!) – Allegro ma non tanto: Freude, Tochter aus Elysium! – Prestissimo, Maesteoso, Prestissimo: Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Beethoven changes the usual pattern of Classical symphonies in placing the scherzo movement before the slow movement (in symphonies, slow movements are usually placed before scherzi). This was the first time that he did this in a symphony, although he had done so in some previous works (including the quartets Op. 18 no. 5, the "Archduke" piano trio Op. 97, the "Hammerklavier" piano sonata Op. 106). Haydn, too, had used this arrangement in a number of works.
Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso. Duration approx. 15 mins.
The first movement is in sonata form, and the mood is often stormy. The opening theme, played pianissimo over string tremolos, so much resembles the sound of an orchestra tuning, many commentators have suggested that was Beethoven's inspiration. But from within that musical limbo emerges a theme of power and clarity which will drive the entire movement. Later, at the outset of the recapitulation section, it returns fortissimo in D major, rather than the opening's D minor. The introduction also employs the use of the mediant to tonic relationship which further distorts the tonic key until it is finally played by the bassoon in the lowest possible register.
Scherzo: Molto vivace - Presto. Duration approx. 10 mins.
The second movement, a scherzo, is also in D minor, with the opening theme bearing a passing resemblance to the opening theme of the first movement, a pattern also found in the Hammerklavier piano sonata, written a few years earlier. It uses propulsive rhythms and a timpani solo. At times during the piece Beethoven directs that the beat should be one downbeat every three bars, perhaps because of the very fast pace of the majority of the movement which is written in triple time, with the direction ritmo di tre battute ("rhythm of three bars"), and one beat every four bars with the direction ritmo di quattro battute ("rhythm of four bars").
Beethoven had been criticised before for failing to adhere to standard form for his compositions. He used this movement to answer his critics. Normally, scherzi are written in triple time. Beethoven wrote this piece in triple time, but it is punctuated in a way that, when coupled with the speed of the metre, makes it sound as though it is in quadruple time.
While adhering to the standard ternary design of a dance movement (scherzo-trio-scherzo, or minuet-trio-minuet), the scherzo section has an elaborate internal structure: it is a complete sonata form. Within this sonata form, the first group of the exposition starts out with a fugue.
The contrasting trio section is in D major and in duple (cut) time. The trio is the first time the trombones play in the work.
Adagio molto e cantabile - Andante Moderato - Tempo Primo - Andante Moderato - Adagio - Lo Stesso Tempo. Duration approx. 16 mins.
The lyrical slow movement, in B flat major, is in a loose variation form, with each pair of variations progressively elaborating the rhythm and melody. The first variation, like the theme, is in 4/4 time, the second in 12/8. The variations are separated by passages in 3/4, the first in D major, the second in G major. The final variation is twice interrupted by episodes in which loud fanfares for the full orchestra are answered by double-stopped octaves played by the first violins alone. A prominent horn solo is assigned to the fourth player. Trombones are tacet for the movement.
Presto; Allegro molto assai (Alla marcia); Andante maestoso; Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato. Duration approx. 24 mins.
The famous choral finale is Beethoven's musical representation of Universal Brotherhood. American pianist and music author Charles Rosen has characterized it as a symphony within a symphony, the view which will be followed below. It is important to note that many other writers have interpreted its form in different terms, including two of the greatest analysts of the twentieth century, Heinrich Schenker and Donald Tovey. In Rosen's view, it contains four movements played without interruption. This "inner symphony" follows the same overall pattern as the Ninth Symphony as a whole. The scheme is as follows:
First "movement": theme and variations with slow introduction. Main theme which first appears in the cellos and basses is later "recapitulated" with voices.
Second "movement": 6/8 scherzo in military style (begins at "Alla marcia," words "Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen"), in the "Turkish style". Concludes with 6/8 variation of the main theme with chorus.
Third "movement": slow meditation with a new theme on the text "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" (begins at "Andante maestoso")
Fourth "movement": fugato finale on the themes of the first and third "movements" (begins at "Allegro energico")
The movement has a thematic unity, in which every part may be shown to be based on either the main theme, the "Seid umschlungen" theme, or some combination of the two.
The first "movement within a movement" itself is organized into sections:
An introduction, which starts with a stormy Presto passage. It then briefly quotes all three of the previous movements in order, each dismissed by the cellos and basses which then play in an instrumental foreshadowing of the vocal recitative. At the introduction of the main theme, the cellos and basses take it up and play it through.
The main theme forms the basis of a series of variations for orchestra alone.
The introduction is then repeated from the Presto passage, this time with the bass soloist singing the recitatives previously suggested by cellos and basses.
The main theme again undergoes variations, this time for vocal soloists and chorus.
Words written by Beethoven (not Schiller) are shown in italics.
The full libretto including repetitions can be found on German Wikisource.
In the near ending, it is, "Freude, Tochter aus Elysium", and also in the near ending, "Wir betreten feuertrunken, Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!", is omitted, then the choir sings the last four lines of the main theme, where they stop at, "Alle Menschen", before the slow part when the soloists sing for one last time the song of joy.
In the ending climax, the chorus softens quietly on the word "Götterfunken". Then, the orchestra descends chords in arpeggio form, and in slow maestoso tempo, the full chorus sings, "Tochter aus Elysium, Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Götterfunken!". The symphony ends with the orchestra playing the final section in prestissimo tempo.
The vocal part of Beethoven's 9th Symphony thus ends with the final word "Götterfunken" (literally, "Godly-spark").
Many later composers of the Romantic period and beyond were influenced specifically by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
At Easter 1831 Richard Wagner completed a piano arrangement of Beethoven's 9th symphony. Wagner had to decide which instrumental lines in the original had to be omitted since the pianist cannot play all the orchestral parts, thus giving his reduction a personal signature.
An important theme in the finale of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor is related to the "Ode to Joy" theme from the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth symphony. When this was pointed out to Brahms, he is reputed to have retorted "Any ass can see that!", which suggests the imitation was intentional. Brahms's first symphony was, at times, both praised and derided as "Beethoven's Tenth".
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony was an influence on the development of the compact disc. Philips, the company that had started the work on the new audio format, originally planned for a CD to have a diameter of 11.5 cm, the width of the then popular compact cassette, while Sony planned a 10 cm diameter, even more compact but enough for one hour of music. However, according to a Philips website, Norio Ohga insisted in 1979 that the CD be able to contain a complete performance of the Ninth Symphony:
The longest known performance lasted 74 minutes. This was a mono recording made during the Bayreuther Festspiele in 1951 and conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler. This therefore became the playing time of a CD. A diameter of 12 centimeters was required for this playing time.
That said, the true story might have been less romantic: Kees Immink, Philips' chief engineer, who developed the CD, recalls that a commercial tug-of-war between the development partners led to a settlement in a neutral 12-cm diameter format. The 1951 performance of the Ninth Symphony by Furtwängler was brought forward as the perfect excuse for the change.
Lasting more than an hour, the Ninth was an exceptionally long symphony for its time. Like much of Beethoven's later music, his Ninth Symphony is demanding for all the performers, including the choir and soloists.
As with all of his symphonies, Beethoven has provided his own metronome markings for the Ninth Symphony, and as with all of his metronome markings, there is controversy among conductors regarding the degree to which they should be followed. Historically, conductors have tended to take a slower tempo than Beethoven marked for the slow movement, and a faster tempo for the military march section of the finale. Conductors in the historically informed performance movement, notably Roger Norrington, have used Beethoven's suggested tempos, to mixed reviews.
Ritard/a tempo at the end of the first movement
Many conductors move the "a tempo" in m.511 of the first movement to measure m.513 to coincide with the "Funeral March".
Re-orchestrations and alterations
A number of conductors have made alterations in the instrumentation of the symphony.
Gustav Mahler revised the orchestration of the Ninth to make it sound like what he believed Beethoven would have wanted if given a modern orchestra. For example, since the modern orchestra has larger string sections than in Beethoven's time, Mahler doubled various wind and brass parts to preserve the balance between strings on the one hand and winds and brass on the other.
Horn and trumpet alterations
Beethoven's writing for horns and trumpets throughout the symphony (mostly the 2nd horn and 2nd trumpet) is often altered by performers to avoid large leaps (those of a 12th or more).
Flute and first violin alterations
In the first movement, at times the first violins and flute have ascending 7th leaps within mostly descending melodic phrases. Many conductors alter the register of these passages to create a single descending scale (examples: measure 143 in the flute, m. 501 in the first violins).
2nd bassoon doubling basses in the finale
Beethoven's indication that the 2nd bassoon should double the basses in measures 115-164 of the finale was not included in the Breitkopf parts, though it was included in the score.
In 1951 Furtwängler and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra reopened the Bayreuth Festival after the Allies temporarily suspended it following the Second World War. This historically important recording is available exclusively on ORFEO
Seiji Ozawa conducted the Nagano Winter Orchestra as well as seven choirs in six countries on five continents, performed the Fourth Movement in its entirety, for the 1998 Winter Olympic Games during the finale of the Opening Ceremony. The chorus locations being New York City, Berlin, Cape Point, Sydney, and Beijing, with two in Nagano: the Tokyo Opera Singers and the audience at Nagano Olympic Stadium.
Daniel Barenboim, who had recorded the work twice before, conducted the West-Eastern Divan (a youth orchestra of Israel and Arab musicians, which he co-founded) in concert in Berlin on 27 August 2006.
Osmo Vänskä, conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, recorded the symphony as part of a cycle all of the Beethoven Symphonies. Released on the BIS label, it included soloists Helena Juntunen, Katarina Karnéus, Daniel Norman and Neal Davies, as well as the Minnesota Chorale. It received a positive critical reception, including a Grammy Award nomination in the Best Orchestral Performance category.