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8.550181 - BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 9
Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
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 and turbulence. To his contemporaries he seemed an inimitable original, but to a number of his successors he seemed to have expanded the symphony to an intimidating extent.
In March, 1824, Beethoven completed his ninth symphony, a work that 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 Kaerntnertor Theatre on 7 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.
Recitative: O Freunde, nicht diese Töne! sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freudenvollere.
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