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. It is almost universally considered by critics to be one of Beethoven's greatest works, 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 text additions made by the composer. In the 2010s, it stands as one of the most performed symphonies in the world.
- First movement
- Second movement
- Third movement
- Fourth movement
- Text of the fourth movement
- Metronome markings
- Re orchestrations and alterations
- Horn and trumpet alterations
- 2nd bassoon doubling basses in the finale
- Notable performances and recordings
- Use as anthem
- Use as a hymn melody
- Year end tradition in Japan
In 2001, Beethoven's original, hand-written manuscript of the score, 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 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 musical "sketches" (rough outlines) for the future symphony. The Choral Fantasy Opus. 80 (1808), basically a piano concerto movement, brings in a choir and vocal soloists near the end for the climax. As in the Ninth Symphony, the vocal forces sing a theme first played instrumentally, and this theme is 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 keen to have his latest composition performed in Berlin as soon as possible after finishing it, as 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), and 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 sung 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. Also personally recruited by Beethoven, 20-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 then 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.
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.
The symphony is in four movements, marked as follows:
- Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso (D minor)
- Scherzo: Molto vivace – Presto (D minor)
- Adagio molto e cantabile – Andante moderato – Tempo primo – Andante moderato – Adagio – Lo stesso tempo (B♭ major)
- Recitative: (D minor-D major) (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 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♭ major.
The first movement is marked with the performance instructions "Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso", in Italian, as was common with Classical music. This translates roughly as "Fast moving by not too fast, a little majestic". The duration of a typical performance of the first movement is about 15 minutes, but the time may be longer or shorter, depending on how fast the conductor wishes to perform the movement. The first movement is in sonata form without an exposition repeat. 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 (which repeats the main melodic themes), the theme returns fortissimo in D major, rather than the opening's key of D minor. The introduction also uses the mediant to tonic relationship (e.g., the key a third up from the tonic, thus the key of F# in the context of a piece in the "home key" of D major. This further distorts the tonic key until, finally, the bassoon plays in its lowest possible register. At the movement's end, the coda employs the chromatic fourth interval.
The second movement has the Italian performance instructions "Scherzo: Molto vivace – Presto". This translates roughly as "Scherzo: very lively, then moving to very fast". The duration of the movement is about 12 minutes, but different conductors may take longer or shorter time periods to perform the movement, depending on the speed at which they conduct the movement. The second movement is a scherzo and trio. It 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 measures—perhaps because of the fast tempo—with the direction ritmo di tre battute ("rhythm of three beats"), and one beat every four measures with the direction ritmo di quattro battute ("rhythm of four beats"). Beethoven had been criticized before for failing to adhere to standard Classical 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 compound ternary design (three-part structure) 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 (the statement of the main melodic themes) starts out with a fugue before modulating to the key of C major for the second part. The exposition then repeats before a short development section, where Beethoven explores other musical ideas. The recapitulation (repeating of the melodic themes heard in the opening of the movement) further develops the exposition's themes, 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.
The third movement has the Italian performance instructions "Adagio molto e cantabile – Andante Moderato – Tempo Primo – Andante Moderato – Adagio – Lo Stesso Tempo". This translates roughly as "Slowly and with a singing style - Moderate walking pace - back to the first tempo - slowly - back to the first tempo. The duration of this movement is about 16 minutes, depending on the speed picked by the conductor. This is a lyrical slow movement in B♭ major, which is a minor sixth away from the symphony's main key of D major. It is in a loose variation form, with each pair of variations progressively elaborating the rhythm and melodic ideas. 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 French horn solo is assigned to the fourth player. Trombones are tacet (not playing) 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:
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.
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:
Text of the fourth movement
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 Verdi complained 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."
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. While one account holds that Beethoven's metronome still exists and was tested and found accurate, a recent study finds that his metronome was likely damaged and out of calibration.
Re-orchestrations and alterations
A number of conductors have made alterations in the instrumentation of the symphony. Notably, Richard Wagner 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.
Horn and trumpet alterations
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.
2nd bassoon doubling basses in the finale
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.
Notable performances and recordings
The British premiere was presented on 21 March 1825 by its commissioners, the Philharmonic Society of London, at its Argyll Rooms conducted by Sir George Smart and with the choral part sung in Italian. The American premiere was presented on 20 May 1846 by the newly formed New York Philharmonic at Castle Garden (in an attempt to raise funds for a new concert hall), conducted by the English-born George Loder with the choral part translated into English for the first time. The London Philharmonic Choir debuted on 15 May 1947 performing the Ninth Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Victor de Sabata at the Royal Albert Hall. 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 Schauspielhaus in East Berlin, 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.
American conductor Leonard 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 Sarfaty (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 (tenor), and Kurt Moll (bass), with the chorus of the Vienna State Opera. Sir Georg Solti recorded the symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Chicago Symphony Chorus on two occasions: first in 1972 with soloists Pilar Lorengar, Yvonne Minton, Stuart Burrows, and Martti Talvela; and again in 1986 with soloists Jessye Norman, Reinhild Runkel, Robert Schunk, and Hans Sotin. On both occasions, the chorus was prepared by Margaret Hillis. The second recording won the 1987 Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance.
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. Twelve 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. 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.
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 (Sz 51).
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, and was put forth in a Philips news release celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Compact Disc as the reason for the 74-minute length.
In the film The Pervert's Guide to Ideology, the psychoanalytical Communist philosopher Slavoj Žižek comments on the use of the Ode by Nazism, Bolshevism, the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the East-West German Olympic team, Southern Rhodesia, Abimael Guzmán (leader of the Shining Path), and the Council of Europe and the European Union.
Use as anthem
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".
Use as a hymn melody
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 "Ode to Joy" melody from this symphony.
Year-end tradition in Japan
The Ninth symphony is traditionally performed throughout Japan at the end of the 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 year's 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.