Ludwig van Beethoven (1770 -1827)
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op. 125 'Choral'
Beethoven wrote nine symphonies, the first heralding thenew century, in
1800, and the last completed in 1824. Although he madefew changes to the composition of the orchestra itself, adding, when occasiondemanded, one or two instruments more normally found in the opera-house, heexpanded vastly the traditional form, developed in the time of Haydn andMozart, reflecting the personal and political struggles of a period of immense changeand turbulence.
To his contemporaries he seemed an inimitable original,but to a number of his successors he seemed to have expanded the symphony to anintimidating extent.
In March, 1824, Beethoven completed his ninth symphony, awork that
summarises much of his achievement, but was, of course,not intended as a final symphonic statement. Plans for a tenth symphony hadbeen sketched before the composer's death in 1827 and the first movement ofthis projected symphony has recently been reconstructed.
Throughout his life Beethoven had shown a deep interestin the work of Schiller, the former army doctor who had become one of theleading 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 the1790s, although the setting is now lost. It was this poem that was to providethe text for the great finale of the last symphony.
The idea of introducing voices into a symphony was onethat had been in Beethoven's mind for some time. He had written his ChoralFantasia, a kind of piano concerto with voices, in 1808, and had alwaysshown a considerable interest, in any case, in the composition of songs, anelement in his work that is often underestimated. By 1818 he was planning achoral symphony making use of what he described as a pious song in the ancientmodes as an introduction to a fugue, a celebration of the feast of Bacchus. Inthe 1820s this was to become the recitative and the stirring setting of An die Freudein the last movement of the Choral Symphony.
The first performance of the Symphony in D minor, Opus125, took place at the
Karntnertor Theatre on 7th May, 1824, after a great dealof wrangling over the whole matter, and was a tremendous success with a publicthat Beethoven thought he had lost to Rossini. The composer, too deaf to directthe performance, indicated the tempi of each movement, the real conductor Umlaufhaving instructed singers and players to pay no attention to Beethoven, whocould hear nothing of the proceedings. The work is scored for pairs of flutes,oboes, clarinets, bassoons, trumpets and drums, with four French horns and theusual strings, to which the composer added three trombones, a double bassoon, apiccolo, triangle, cymbals and bass drum. The symphony was commissioned andpaid for by the Philharmonic Society of London, but was dedicated by Beethovento the King of Prussia, Friedrich Wilhelm III.
The last movement provides a necessary link between thepurely instrumental world of the rest of the symphony and the great setting of Schiller'swords. There is an abrupt outburst from the orchestra, now joined by the doublebassoon, followed at once by a baritone recitative, an abjuration of orchestralconvention and an exhortation to sing a song of joy. This is followed by thefamous theme, in fact structurally the principal theme of a rondo, that is tobe varied in so many ways. The baritone is joined by the chorus and then by theother three soloists in its declaration of human brotherhood.