The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (also known as "the Choral"), is Ludwig van Beethoven's final complete symphony. Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best-known works in classical music. Among critics, it is almost universally considered Beethoven's greatest work, and many consider it one of the greatest compositions in the western musical canon.
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.
The Philharmonic Society of London originally commissioned the symphony in 1817. The main composition work was done between autumn 1822 and the completion of the autograph in February 1824.
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.
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.
Carolina Unger, who sang the contralto part at the first performance and who is credited with turning Beethoven to face the applauding audience.
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 officiallyDIRECTED 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: "BeethovenDIRECTED 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.
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 molto 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, Maestoso, Molto 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 scherzo). This was the first time that he did this in a symphony, although he had done so in some previous works (including thequartets 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.
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 that later drives the entire movement. At the outset of the recapitulation section, the theme returns fortissimo in D major, rather than the opening's D minor. The introduction also uses the mediant to tonic relationship, which further distorts the tonic key until, finally, the bassoon plays in its lowest possible register.
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 specifies one downbeat every three beats—perhaps because of the fast tempo—with the direction ritmo di tre battute ("rhythm of three beats"), and one beat every four beats with the direction ritmo di quattro battute ("rhythm of four beats").
Beethoven had been criticized before for failing to adhere to standard form for his compositions. He used this movement to answer his critics. Normally, a scherzo is in triple time. Beethoven wrote this piece in triple time, but punctuated it in a way that, when coupled with the tempo, makes it sound as if it were 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. The exposition then repeats before a short development section. The recapitulation further develops the exposition, also containing timpani solos. A new development section leads to the repeat of the recapitulation, 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.
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.
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 scholar 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:
First "movement": theme and variations with slow introduction. The 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"—and concludes with a 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 is 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.
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!".
Music critics almost universally consider the Ninth Symphony one of Beethoven's greatest works, and among the greatest musical works ever written. The finale, however, has its detractors. "Early critics rejected [the finale] as cryptic and eccentric, the product of a deaf and aging composer." Giuseppe Verdicomplained about the vocal writing; in a letter he wrote to Clarina Maffei dated 20 April 1878, he said 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.
Gustav Leonhardt objected to the text itself, saying: "That 'Ode to Joy', talk about vulgarity! And the text! Completely puerile!"
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.
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.
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.
In the opening notes of the third movement of his Symphony No. 9 (The "New World"), Antonín Dvořák pays homage to the scherzo of this symphony with his falling fourths and timpani strokes.
Likewise, Béla Bartók borrows the opening motif of the Scherzo from Beethoven's Ninth symphony to introduce the second movement Scherzo in his own, Four Orchestral Pieces, op. 12.
One legend is that the compact disc was deliberately designed to have a 74-minute playing so that it could accommodate 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 conducted by Furtwängler was brought forward as the perfect excuse for the change. A Philips news release on 16 August 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.
The Ninth symphony is traditionally performed throughout Japan at the end of year. In December 2009, for example, there were 55 performances of the symphony by various major orchestras and choirs in Japan.
It was introduced to Japan during World War I by German prisoners held at the Bandō prisoner-of-war camp. Japanese orchestras, notably the NHK Symphony Orchestra, began performing the symphony in 1925 and during World War II, the Imperial government promoted performances of the symphony, including on New Year's Eve. In an effort to capitalize on its popularity, orchestras and choruses undergoing economic hard times during Japan's reconstruction, performed the piece at years-end. In the 1960s, these year-end performances of the symphony became more widespread, and included the participation of local choirs and orchestras, firmly establishing a tradition that continues today.