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The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (sometimes known simply as "the Choral"), is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best-known works of the repertoire of classical music. Among critics, it is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven's greatest works, and is considered by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written.
The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony (thus making it a choral 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. Today, it stands as one of the most played symphonies in the world.
In 2001, Beethoven's autograph score of the Ninth Symphony, held by the Berlin State Library, was added to the United Nations World Heritage List, becoming the first musical score to be so honoured.
The symphony 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. According to Robert W. Gutman, Mozart's K. 222 Offertory in D minor, "Misericordias Domini", written in 1775, contains a melody that foreshadows "Ode to Joy".
Although his major works had primarily been premiered in Vienna, Beethoven was eager to have his latest composition performed in Berlin as soon as possible after finishing it, since he thought that musical taste in Vienna had become dominated by Italian composers such as Rossini. When his friends and financiers heard this, they urged him to premiere the symphony in Vienna in the form of a petition signed by a number of prominent Viennese music patrons and performers.
Beethoven was flattered by the adoration of Vienna, so the Ninth Symphony was premiered on 7 May 1824 in the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna, along with the overture The Consecration of the House (Die Weihe des Hauses) and three parts of the Missa solemnis (the Kyrie, Credo, and the Agnus Dei).
This was the composer's first on-stage appearance in 12 years; the hall was packed with an eager audience and a number of musicians.
The premiere of Symphony No. 9 involved the largest orchestra ever assembled by Beethoven and required the combined efforts of the Kärntnertor house orchestra, The Vienna Music Society (Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde), along with a select group of capable amateurs. While no complete list of premiere performers exists, many of Vienna's most elite performers are known to have participated.
The soprano and alto parts were interpreted by two famous young singers: Henriette Sontag and Caroline Unger. German soprano Henriette Sontag (1806–1854) was eighteen years old when Beethoven personally recruited her to perform in the premiere of the Ninth Symphony.
Also personally recruited by Beethoven, 21 year old contralto Caroline Unger (1803–1877), a native of Vienna, had gained critical praise in 1821 appearing in Rossini's Tancredi. After performing in Beethoven's 1824 premiere, Unger found fame in Italy and Paris. Italian composers Donizetti and Bellini were known to have written roles specifically for her voice.
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 almost 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 Joseph 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 first German edition was printed by B. Schott's Söhne (Mainz) in 1826. The Breitkopf & Härtel edition dating from 1864 has been used widely by orchestras. In 1997 Bärenreiter published an edition by Jonathan Del Mar. According to Del Mar, this edition corrects nearly 3,000 mistakes in the Breitkopf edition, some of which were "remarkable". David Levy, however, criticized this edition, saying that it could create "quite possibly false" traditions. Breitkopf also published a new edition by Peter Hauschild in 2005.
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", 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.
Voices (fourth movement only)
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The symphony is in four movements, marked as follows:
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 his own works such as the String Quartet No. 30 in E-flat major.
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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.
The coda employs the chromatic fourth interval.
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Scherzo: Molto vivace – Presto. Duration approx. 12 mins.
The second movement, a scherzo and trio, is also in D minor, with the introduction 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. At times during the piece, Beethoven directs that the beat should be one downbeat every three beats, perhaps because of the very fast pace of the movement, with the direction ritmo di tre battute ("rhythm of three beats"), and one beat every four bars with the direction ritmo di quattro battute ("rhythm of four beats").
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 before modulating to C major for the second part of the exposition. The exposition is then repeated before a short development section. The recapitulation further develops the exposition, also containing timpani solos. A new development section is played before the recapitulation is repeated, and the scherzo concludes with a brief codetta.
The contrasting trio section is in D major and in duple time. The trio is the first time the trombones play in the movement. Following the trio, the second occurrence of the scherzo, unlike the first, plays through without any repetition, after which there is a brief reprise of the trio, and the movement ends with an abrupt coda.
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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 octaves played by the first violins alone. A prominent horn solo is assigned to the fourth player. Trombones are tacet for the movement.
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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, played without interruption. This "inner symphony" follows the same overall pattern as the Ninth Symphony as a whole. The scheme is as follows:
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:
The text is largely taken from Schiller's "Ode to Joy", with a few additional introductory words written specifically by Beethoven (shown in italics). The text without repeats is shown below, with a translation into English. The score includes many repeats. For the full libretto including all repetitions see German Wikisource.
Towards the end of the movement, the choir sings the last four lines of the main theme, concluding with "Alle Menschen", before the soloists sing for one last time the song of joy at a slower tempo. The chorus repeats parts of "Seid umschlungen, Millionen! ...", then quietly sings, "Tochter aus Elysium". And finally, "Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Götterfunken!". with the orchestra playing prestissimo.
Among music critics, the Ninth Symphony is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven's greatest works, and is considered by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written. "Yet early critics rejected it as cryptic and eccentric, the product of a deaf and aging composer." The finale of the Ninth has had detractors. Giuseppe Verdi complained about the vocal writing; in a letter he wrote to Clarina Maffei dated 20 April 1878, he stated that the symphony was:
...marvelous in its first three movements, very badly set in the last. No one will ever surpass the sublimity of the first movement, but it will be an easy task to write as badly for voices as is done in the last movement.
Conductors in the historically informed performance movement, notably Roger Norrington, have used Beethoven's suggested tempos, to mixed reviews. Benjamin Zander has made a case for following Beethoven's metronome markings, both in writing and in performances with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra of London.
Beethoven's metronome still exists, and it has been tested and found to be accurate.
A number of conductors have made alterations in the instrumentation of the symphony, notably Richard Wagner, who doubled many woodwind passages, a modification greatly extended by Gustav Mahler, who revised the orchestration of the Ninth to make it sound like what he believed Beethoven would have wanted if given a modern orchestra.
Wagner's Dresden performance of 1864 was the first to place the chorus and the solo singers behind the orchestra as has since become standard; previous conductors placed them between the orchestra and the audience.
Beethoven's writing for horns and trumpets throughout the symphony (mostly the 2nd horn and 2nd trumpet) is sometimes altered by performers to avoid large leaps (those of a 12th or more), as leaps of this sort are very difficult to perform on brass instruments and may be consistently and flawlessly executed only by highly proficient musicians.
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 full score.
In 1951 Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra reopened the Bayreuth Festival with a performance of the symphony, after the Allies temporarily suspended the Festival following the Second World War.
Political significance has attached to Beethoven's Ninth: Leonard Bernstein conducted a version of the 9th at the Brandenburg Gate, with "Freiheit" ("Freedom") replacing "Freude" ("Joy"), to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall during Christmas 1989. This concert was performed by an orchestra and chorus made up of many nationalities: from Germany, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Chorus of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and members of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the Philharmonischer Kinderchor Dresden; members of the orchestra of the Kirov Theatre; from the United Kingdom, members of the London Symphony Orchestra; from the USA, members of the New York Philharmonic; and from France, members of the Orchestre de Paris. Soloists were June Anderson, soprano, Sarah Walker, mezzo-soprano, Klaus König, tenor, and Jan-Hendrik Rootering, bass. It was the last time that Bernstein conducted the symphony; he died ten months later.
Bernstein made his first recording of the Beethoven Ninth in 1964 with the New York Philharmonic, for Columbia Masterworks, with soloists Martina Arroyo (soprano), Regina Safarty (mezzo), Nicholas di Virgilio (tenor), Norman Scott (bass), and the Juilliard Chorus. It was later reissued on CD. It was the first of three complete recordings of the Ninth that Bernstein made. He made his second recording of the piece with the Vienna Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon, in 1979. This second one featured Gwyneth Jones (soprano), Hanna Schwarz (mezzo), René Kollo, and Kurt Moll (bass), with the chorus of the Vienna State Opera.
There have been various attempts to record the Ninth to come closer to what Beethoven's contemporaries would have heard, i.e., with period instruments. Roger Norrington conducting the London Classical Players recorded it with period instruments for a 1987 release by EMI Records (rereleased in 1997 under the Virgin Classics label). Benjamin Zander made a 1992 recording of the Ninth with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and noted soprano Dominique Labelle (who first performed the work with Robert Shaw), following Beethoven's own metronome markings. 12 years later after Norrington, Philippe Herreweghe recorded the Ninth with his period-instrument Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and his Collegium Vocale chorus for Harmonia Mundi in 1999. Sir John Eliot Gardiner recorded his period-instrument version of the Ninth Symphony, conducting his Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in 1992. It was first released by Deutsche Grammophon in 1994 on their early music Archiv Produktion label as part of his complete cycle of the Beethoven symphonies. His soloists included Ľuba Orgonášová, Anne Sofie von Otter, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Gilles Cachemaille. An additional period-instrument recording by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music was released in 1997 under the label Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre.
Osmo Vänskä, conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, recorded the symphony as part of a cycle of all 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.
Many later composers of the Romantic period and beyond were influenced specifically by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
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 fool can see that!" Brahms's first symphony was, at times, both praised and derided as "Beethoven's Tenth".
The Ninth Symphony influenced the forms that Bruckner used for the movements of his symphonies. Bruckner's Symphony No. 3 is in the same D minor key as Beethoven's 9th and makes substantial use of thematic ideas from it. The colossal slow movement of Bruckner's Symphony No. 7, "as usual", takes the same A–B–A–B–A form as the 3rd movement of Beethoven's symphony, and also uses some figuration from it.
One legend is that the compact disc was deliberately designed to have a 74-minute playing time in order to accommodate the length of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Kees Immink, Philips' chief engineer, who developed the CD, recalls that a commercial tug-of-war between the development partners, Sony and Philips, 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. A Philips news release on August 16, 2007, celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Compact Disc, mentioned the parties—Philips and Sony—extended the Compact Disc capacity to 74 minutes to accommodate a complete performance of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
During the division of Germany in the Cold War, the "Ode to Joy" segment of the symphony was also played in lieu of an anthem at the Olympic Games for the Unified Team of Germany between 1956 and 1968. In 1972, the musical backing (without the words) was adopted as the Anthem of Europe by the Council of Europe and subsequently by the European Communities (now the European Union) in 1985. The "Ode to Joy" was used as the national anthem of Rhodesia between 1974 and 1979, as "Rise, O Voices of Rhodesia".
In 1907, the Presbyterian pastor Henry van Dyke wrote the hymn "Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee" while staying at Williams College. The hymn is commonly sung in English-language churches to the "Hymn to Joy" melody from Beethoven's 9th symphony.
The Symphony No. 9, with accompanying chorus, is traditionally performed throughout Japan during its New Year's celebrations. In December 2009, for example, there were 55 performances of the symphony by various major orchestras and choirs in Japan.
The Ninth was introduced to Japan by German soldiers held at the Bandō prisoner-of-war camp during World War I. Japanese orchestras, notably the NHK Symphony Orchestra, began performing the symphony in 1925. During World War II, the Imperial government promoted performances of the symphony, including on New Year's Eve, to encourage allegiance to Japanese nationalism. The symphony was considered appropriate in this regard because Germany was an ally of Japan. After the war, orchestras and choruses, undergoing economic hard times during the reconstruction of Japan, promoted performances of the piece around New Year because of the popularity of the music with the public. In the 1960s, performances of the symphony for the New Year became more widespread and included participation by local choirs and orchestras, establishing the tradition which continues to this day – and which includes, since 2003, a concert of all nine symphonies.
Selected books and scholarly articles:
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Scores, manuscripts and text