Ludwig van Beethoven (German, 1770-1827), finalized the composition of his 9th and last symphony in D minor, Op. 125, in 1824. The symphony is also known as “the Choral” and is one of the best-known and most played works in classical music. It is considered Beethoven’s greatest work and many consider it one of the greatest compositions in the western musical canon.
In 2001, Beethoven's autograph score of the Ninth Symphony, held by the Berlin State Library, was added to the United Nations Memory of the World Programme Heritage list, becoming the first musical score so honored.
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. In his 9th, and for the first time, Beethoven changed the usual pattern of Classical symphonies in placing the scherzo movement before the slow movement. Consequently, the 9th has the following sequence: Allegro, Scherzo, Adagio, Choral Finale.
Deaf Beethoven conducting the Premiere
Beethoven’s hearing had severely deteriorated since 1813 and in 1818, he communicated by writing. He was totally deaf by 1824 but insisted to assist conducting the premiere of his 9th symphony in May 1824 in Vienna which was a huge success. The performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf and Beethoven shared the stage with him. 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, gave the tempos. He was turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra he could not hear.
It is reported that Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting when the audience applauded. The famous young contralto singer Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience's cheers and applause. The public had received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, had 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.
Influencing later composers
Many later composers of the Romantic period and beyond were influenced specifically by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. 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. Bruckner’s 7th carries parts of the form. Antonín Dvořák and Béla Bartók pay homage to the Scherzo of Beethoven’s 9th in Dvorak’s 9th called “New World” and Bartok’s Four Orchestral Pieces.
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 that any fool could see that. Brahms's first symphony was, at times, both praised and derided as "Beethoven's Tenth".
The Choral Finale
The famous choral finale had its detractors. Early critics rejected it as cryptic and eccentric, the product of a deaf and aging composer. Giuseppe Verdi complained about the vocal writing and said the symphony was marvelous in its first three movements but very badly set in the last. No one would ever surpass the sublimity of the first movement, but it would be an easy task to write as badly for voices as it was done in the last movement.
However, Beethoven's choral finale is the most beloved and famous musical representation of Universal Brotherhood that has no equal. It is used in anthems and for political statements. Structurally, it follows the same overall pattern as the Ninth Symphony as a whole. It is characterized as a symphony within a symphony, played without interruption.
The text is largely taken from Schiller's "Ode to Joy", with a few additional introductory words written specifically by Beethoven. The score includes many repeats. The text without repeats is shown below, with a translation into English.
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muß ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen.
Oh friends, not these sounds!
Let us instead strike up more pleasing
and more joyful ones!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, burning with fervour,
heavenly being, your sanctuary!
Your magic brings together
what fashion has sternly divided.
All men shall become brothers,
wherever your gentle wings hover.
Whoever has been lucky enough
to become a friend to a friend,
Whoever has found a beloved wife,
let him join our songs of praise!
Yes, and anyone who can call one soul
his own on this earth!
Any who cannot, let them slink away
from this gathering in tears!
Every creature drinks in joy
at nature's breast;
Good and Bad alike
follow her trail of roses.
She gives us kisses and wine,
a true friend, even in death;
Even the worm was given desire,
and the cherub stands before God.
Gladly, just as His suns hurtle
through the glorious universe,
So you, brothers, should run your course,
joyfully, like a conquering hero.
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.
Do you bow down before Him, you millions?
Do you sense your Creator, o world?
Seek Him above the canopy of stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.
Use as Anthem, as Hymn Melody, and as Political Statement
In 1907, the Presbyterian pastor Henry van Dyke wrote the hymn "Joyful, Joyful, we adore thee. The hymn is commonly sung in English-language churches to the "Ode to Joy" melody from this symphony.
During the division of Germany in the Cold War, the "Ode to Joy" segment of the symphony was 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.
In 1989, 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. It was the last time that Bernstein conducted the symphony. He died ten months later.
Special performances and Year-End's tradition in Japan
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.
At 79 minutes, one of the longest Ninths recorded is Karl Böhm's, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in 1981 with Jessye Norman and Plácido Domingo among the soloists.
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. The symphony was introduced to Japan during World War I by German prisoners held at the Bandō prisoner-of-war camp in Japan. 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.