Work: Symphony no 9 "Choral"
About This Work
On May 7, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven experienced what must certainly have been the greatest public triumph of his career. The audience which gathered at the Hoftheater adjacent to the Vienna Kärtnertor heard not only the abridged local premiere
of Beethoven's Missa Solemnis (the Kyrie, Credo, and Gloria were given) and Op. 124 Overture, but also the first performance of the composer's 'Choral' Symphony. The event was a rousing success; indeed, one of the most moving accounts of Beethoven's final years describes how the profoundly deaf composer, unable to hear the colossal response of his admirers, had to be turned around by one of the soloists so that he could see the hundreds of clapping hands!
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 started life as two separate works -- a symphony with a choral finale, and a purely instrumental work in D minor. He labored on these sporadically for almost 10 years before finally deciding (in 1822) to combine the two ideas into one symphony, with Friedrich von Schiller's Ode an die freude (Ode to Joy) -- a text he had contemplated setting for a number of years -- as the finale.
The finished work is of visionary scope and proportions, and represents the apogee of technical difficulty in its day. There are passages, notably a horn solo in the slow movement, which would have been almost impossible to play on the transitional valveless brass instruments of Beethoven's time. As Dennis Matthews writes: "As with other late-period works, there are places where the medium quivers under the weight of thought and emotion, where the deaf composer seemed to fight against, or reach beyond, instrumental and vocal limitations."
The Ninth also personifies the musical duality that was to become the nineteenth century -- the conflict between the Classic and Romantic, the old and new. The radically different styles of Brahms and Liszt, for instance, both had their precedents in this work. On one hand, there was the search for a broader vocabulary (especially in terms of harmony and rhythm) within the eighteenth century framework; on the other, true Romanticism, embracing the imperfect, the unattainable, the personal and the extreme -- qualities that violate the very nature of Classicism. When viewed individually, the first three movements still have their roots distinctly in the eighteenth century, while the fourth -- rhapsodic, and imbued with poetic meaning -- seems to explode from that mold, drawing the entire work into the realm of program music, a defining concept of musical Romanticism.
Beethoven's Ninth represents a fitting culmination to the composer's symphonic ouvre -- a body of work that is still unmatched in its scope and seminal ingenuity -- and remains a pillar of the modern symphonic repertoire.
-- All Music Guide
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