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Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)
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Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)

The Symphony No. 9 in D minor was the final symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, his Opus 125.

Completed in 1824, it includes, as text sung by the soloists and the chorus in its last movement, part of the ode An die Freude ("To Joy") by Friedrich Schiller. It is the first substantial example of a major composer using the human voice on a par with instruments in a symphony.

The symphony may be the best known of all works of classical music, and plays a prominent cultural role in modern society. Beethoven's setting of Schiller's ode was chosen, in adapted form, to be the anthem of the European Union. Students in Beijing's Tiananmen Square played the symphony through loudspeakers in 1989 as a protest against tyranny. A famous performance conducted by Leonard Bernstein on December 25, 1989 celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall. It substituted Freiheit ("freedom") for Freude ("joy") in the sung text.

The symphony seems to have taken particularly deep root in Japan, where it is widely performed during December as part of the annual celebration of the new year.

Table of contents
1 Composition
2 Premiere
3 Movements and scoring
4 Performing the symphony
5 The Ninth Symphony in cinema and popular culture
6 External links


Schiller's "Ode to Joy" was written in 1785. Beethoven had made plans to set this poem to music as far back as 1793, when he was only 22 years old. Beethoven's sketchbooks show that bits of material that ultimately appeared in the symphony were written in 1811, 1815, and 1817.

The symphony also can be seen gradually emerging in some other pieces by Beethoven that, while completed works in their own right, are also in some sense sketches for the future symphony. Notably, 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. 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 1794.

Thus, in one sense Beethoven was working on the Ninth Symphony off and on for much of his adult life. However, the final composition of the work took place in the years 1822-1824, as the result of a commission from the Royal Philharmonic Society of London.


The Ninth Symphony was premiered May 7, 1824 in the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna. The conductor was Michael Umlauf, the musical director of the theater, who was assisted by the composer standing at his side. The assistance must have been largely at the level of the overall conception, since Beethoven was quite deaf by this point in his life, and at one point in the performance he had to be turned around to acknowledge the audience's cheers.

Testimony of the participants suggests that the premiere was underrehearsed (there were only two full rehearsals) and rather scrappy in execution. However, the performance was buoyed by the audience's feeling for Beethoven, who by that time in his career was venerated much as he is today. 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."

Movements and scoring

The Ninth Symphony is scored for piccolo, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drum, a string section consisting of the usual first and second violins, violas, cellos, double basses, four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), and a chorus singing in four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass). These are by far the largest forces needed for any Beethoven symphony; at the premiere Beethoven expanded them further by assigning two players to each wind part.

The symphony is in four movements, marked as follows:

  1. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
  2. Molto vivace
  3. Adagio molto e cantabile
  4. Presto/recitative - Allegro ma non troppo/recitative - Vivace/recitative - Adagio cantabile/recitative - Allegro assai/recitative - Presto/recitative: "O Freunde" - Allegro 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: "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!"

This arrangement of movements adopts a slightly unusual Classical pattern, with the scherzo movement in second (rather than the normal third) position. This arrangement is also found in some middle-period works of Joseph Haydn, as well as contemporary works of Beethoven such as the Hammerklavier piano sonata Opus 106 and the string quartet Opus 127.

First movement

The first movement is in sonata form, following a formal model that had guided Beethoven throughout his career. The mood is generally bleak and stormy. A striking moment here is the onset of the recapitulation section, which instead of literally repeating the pianissimo opening bars in D minor, switches to fortissimo D major, a key change which has struck many listeners, paradoxically, as expressing terror or awe.

Second movement

The second movement, a scherzo, is likewise in D minor, with the opening theme a kind of echo of the theme of the first movement, a pattern found likewise in the Hammerklavier piano sonata, written a few years earlier. It is notable for its propulsive rhythm and timpani solos (for this purpose the two timpani are tuned, unusually, an octave apart). At one point Beethoven gives the direction ritmo di tre battute, meaning that the beats of three consecutive measures must form a single rhythmic unit, as if the music were in 9/4 instead of 3/4 time; this is later reverted with ritmo di quattro battute, with the typical four-measure beat.

The contrasting trio section is in D major and in duple time.

Third movement

The lyrical and deeply felt slow movement, in B flat major, is written in a loose variation form, with each of the two variations dividing the basic beat to produce a more elaborate melodic configuration than what went before. The first variation, like the theme, is in 4/4 time, the second in 12/8. The variations are separated by more impassioned passages in 3/4, the first in D major, the second in G major. The final variation is twice interrupted by striking episodes in which loud fanfares for the full orchestra are answered by double-stopped octaves played by the first violins alone.

Fourth movement

The famous choral finale has struck many listeners as somewhat rambling. Some helpful clarification can be found in the description of Charles Rosen, who characterizes it as a symphony within a symphony, containing four movements played without interruption. This "inner symphony" follows the same overall pattern as the Ninth Symphony as a whole. The scheme is as follows:

The movement differs from an independent symphony because of its thematic unity: every part 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 with the fourth movement
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen
Und freudenvollere!

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!
Bruder! 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.

Performing the symphony

The work is the longest of all classical symphonies, lasting about 75 minutes in performance. It makes extreme demands on the singers, partly because Beethoven's vocal writing seems designed to evoke a sense of effort, and partly because concert pitch is higher now than it was in Beethoven’s day. Thus, it is fairly rare to find a performance that is suitably forceful but avoids any hint of shrieking or shouting. Specialists in authentic performance have experimented with performing the work at Beethoven’s concert pitch, which seems to help somewhat.

A delicate issue conductors must face is the fact that Beethoven left metronome markings specifying the tempo of each section. Historically, conductors have been very reluctant to respect these markings, preferring, for example, a slower tempo than Beethoven's for the slow movement and a faster tempo for the military march section of the finale. This is part of a general pattern whereby Beethoven's metronome markings have proven unpopular among modern artists, and the possibility that Beethoven was (despite his unquestioned abilities as a composer) an inept metronome user should perhaps not be excluded. Conductors in the authentic performance movement, notably Roger Norrington, have experimented with adhering to Beethoven's tempos, to mixed reviews.

The Ninth Symphony in cinema and popular culture

Not surprisingly given the overall fame of the work, the Ninth Symphony has been incorporated into film scores and television. The second and final movements are featured prominently in the film A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick. The opening measures of the second movement were used as the theme music for an American news broadcast in the 1960's, the Huntley-Brinkley Report. The anime Neon Genesis Evangelion used parts of the Ninth Symphony's final movement during an emotionally charged battle in its 24th episode.

It is widely believed that the characteristics of the Sony/Philips Compact Disc were influenced by a desire to accommodate performances of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony on a single disc. This requirement is variously attributed to Herbert von Karajan (a Sony artist with access to Sony chairman Akio Morita), to Morita's wife, and to Sony president Norio Ohga. The urban legends investigators at snopes.com consider this to be "undecided." It does appear that at a late stage in development, the diameter of the CD was increased to 12 cm. to accommodate a playing time of 74 minutes. [1]

External links