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Ten years elapsed after Beethoven had written his Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, before he again turned to this highest type of musical conception, and created his last, the Ninth, Symphony. During these ten years he was by no means idle, but composed a number of his finest works. Still, it was a comparatively less fruitful period than any other in his life. It was a period of relaxation and recreation, in which his great spirit was more active than his pen; as if he were collecting and strengthening his forces for the four supreme efforts of his final years: the last piano Sonatas, all of the last five String-quartets, the Missa Solemnis, and the Choral (Ninth) Symphony. This, in D minor, Op. 125, was conceived as early as 1817, but not finished until 1824. Its first three Movements are of the conventional symphonic type, though they transcend in scope, breadth and design, proportions, and depth of spiritual significance---to say nothing of their surpassing technical richness and perfection---anything ever brought into being in the sphere of symphonic creation. But for the Finale Beethoven conceived the idea of adding the ultimate "instrument"---the human voice---to the score, and thus magnifying the Movement into a comprehensive Hymn of Joy, for which he selected the Ode to Joy of Schiller. It was the final realization of a plan that had been slumbering in his mind for many years; away back in his youthful days---in 1793---the project of setting music to this wonderful poem challenged his creative spirit, and in 1811 fragments begin to appear in his sketchbooks bearing on the subject. The first Movement opens with an introductory passage of sixteen measures (not an independent Introduction) on the dominant, leading thence naturally into the imposing principal Theme. Following a transition the subordinate Theme (in B-flat) is in two Parts. To this, two brief Codettas are added. The whole Movement is a very regular, though extremely broad, sonata-allegro form. The Development is a marvel of consistent and logical thematic manipulation, unusually elaborate, and at first hearing apparently abstruse. Uncommon prominence is given to the third measure (often joined by the fourth) of the principal Theme. The Recapitulation is nearly exact, with the expected transpositions. The Coda is also uncommonly long, and exhibits a notable feature in its eighth Section (about thirty-five measures from the end): the basses carry a ground-motive (basso continuo) of two measures, with descending chromatics and an ascending scale, gradually reinforced by the whole body of strings, and repeated seven times. In this Symphony Beethoven locates the Scherzo as the second Movement, contrary to his custom. It is likewise of extraordinary length; so much so that the principal Division is amplified to a full sonata-allegro design. The principal theme is preceded by eight introductory measures, all derived from the first measure. Here again Beethoven assigns a striking function to the kettledrums---tuned exactly as in the Finale of the Eighth Symphony, in the octave f: the fifth measure of the introductory passage is taken by the drums, solo; and in the fourth Section of the Development he gives to the drums alone the first measure of the three-measure thematic phrase, four times in succession. The Trio manifests Beethoven's faith in Repetition: nearly the whole of it is built upon a four measure Phrase, always placed in the same key ( with one exception)---similar in general effect to the basso ostinato. The design of the Trio is also expanded, into a Five-Part form.
The third Movement, a very broad Adagio, is probably the most impressive slow Movement that Beethoven ever created, and he was particularly noted for the great beauty and appropriate expression that he always imparted to this important division of the symphonic form. The structure is fundamentally a First-Rondo, since it presents two alternating Themes; but it diverges somewhat from the orthodox arrangement: the subordinate Theme is stated twice, in different keys (in D, later in G), and consequently the principal Theme (in B-flat) appears three times---at each recurrence so elaborately embellished that it gives to the Movement the general character of a Variation-form. In reality it is analogous to the design adopted by Beethoven in the Finale of his Third, and in the slow Movements of his Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. Another noteworthy feature is the formation of the Retransition (returning passage) to the last presentation of the principal Theme (three-flat signature); it is in effect a brief "Development." The principal Theme is preceded by two introductory measures. As to the Finale: it was Beethoven's original intention to make the Ninth Symphony a purely instrumental work, [have we been here before?] and it was not until he had sketched an instrumental fourth Movement that he decided to gratify his lifelong desire to set Schiller's Ode to Joy (written in 1785) to music, as a Finale to the three preceding Movements. The original fourth Movement, already sketched, was therefore set aside for the time, but was utilized later as the Finale to his String-quartet in A minor, Op. 132. Thus the present Finale became a sort of Cantata, consisting in a series of successive related, though clearly individualized Episodes---thirteen in number, including a distinctive Introduction, a principal Theme, a kind of Attendant Theme (in the ninth Episodes), and a Coda. Beethoven selected only certain verses from Schiller's Ode, and even altered the order of these, thus affirming his right to exercise his own judgment and single out only that which suited his artistic purpose. The first and second Episodes are introductory: after a tumultuous passage in the orchestra, a Leader seems to appear (represented by the string-basses, declamato) and invite suggestions for a final Subject; the Themes of the first, second, and third Movements pass successively in review; whereupon a new motive is intimated, found acceptable, and developed into the principal Theme of the whole Cantata. The third Episode is an Exposition of this Theme, in the orchestra; the fourth Episode is a recurrence of the turbulent first Episode, which, as before, is checked by the Leader---now a vocal baritone; in the fifth Episode, the Theme is given out in its full scope by the chorus and orchestra; the sixth Episode is another presentation of the entire principal Theme, transformed in rhythm, meter and character into a stirring martial scene (in keeping with another verse of the Ode), in which the chorus later joins; Episode seven is an orchestral fugato with two Themes, that of Episode six combined with a new contrapuntal phrase; in Episode eight this same idea is carried out with orchestra and chorus; the ninth Episode presents the "Attendant" Theme (on the text "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" [O ye millions, I embrace you!], "Diesen Kussder granzen Welt!"[Here's a joyful kiss for all!] extended by material of an austere dramatic character; in Episode ten the principal and Attendant Themes are combined, with some necessary modification, for chorus and orchestra; Episode eleven reverts to one of the dramatic sentences of Episode nine; the twelfth episode is a new setting of the first lines of the Ode, with stronger emphasis on the attribute of Joy, and here a Solo-quartet is added to the tonal mass.
What follows, from this to the end, is a mighty Coda---three Sections---in which the central emotional idea, Joy, reaches its fullest consummation, and most jubilant and spirited expression.
The fourth part Ode to joy
The earliest conceived idea of Symphony 9 was the idea to set Schiller's Ode to Joy to music. This idea emerged as early as 1793. He had always admired Schiller, and some of his piano sonatas of the first period were possibly based on some of Schiller's essays (e.g. the Pathètique Sonata in C Minor, Opus 13, 1799). One of his sketchbooks from 1811 shows that Ode to Joy would become a cantata, rather than become integrated within an orchestral work. On the other hand, Beethoven had plans to write a ninth and a tenth symphony. The ninth symphony would be completely instrumental, while the tenth would introduce the voice into the symphony. In 1822, he visited a prominent Leipzig music critic, whom he told that in the tenth symphony: "vocal parts would enter gradually in the text of the Adagio Greek Myth, Cantique Ecclesiastique in Allegro, feast of Bachus." (from Thayer's Life of Beethoven by Alexander Thayer, Plantiga). Yet another idea Beethoven had was to introduce the voice into the symphony his plans for the tenth symphony since he had exhausted the expressive resources of instrumentation, and introducing the voice seemed to be the only way to transcend the restrictive forces of instrumentation. Between the years of 1818-1819, and 1822-23, Beethoven worked on the first three movements of Opus 125, making use of the material from his sketchbooks. At this point, Symphony 9 did not include plans to include Schiller's Ode to Joy, let alone voices. In 1822, he actually sold the rights of the symphony to the London Philharmonic Society; but he never completed the promised completely instrumental symphony. It was not until the middle of 1823 when the idea of incorporating these three ideas: setting Ode to Joy to music, incorporating voice into the symphony, and writing an instrumental ninth symphony, finally coalesced into one work. But even at this point, the composer was "still sorely troubled" (Plantiga, 64) on how to introduce the voice into the finale convincingly when the singers had sat quiet upon stage during the first three movements: The working out of the fourth movement, however, began as a struggle seldom encountered before. The problem was to find a suitable introduction to Schiller's Ode. One day he burst into the room and shouted at me: 'I got it! I have it!' He held his sketchbook out to me so that I could read: "Let us sing the song of the immortal Schiller"; then a solo voice began the hymn of joy. Schindler in October 1823 (Plantiga, 64) Even with this new found idea (although it obviously changed a bit), it still was another year until the transition of instruments to voice finalized. He found it difficult to suddenly introduce a chorus of voices after a long instrumental symphony; it was simply incongruous. His final conclusion on this difficulty reflects on the aesthetic struggle he encountered while writing the fourth movement; this movement is quite unusual in its structure. In brief, the movement begins with an outraged, tumultuous, flurry of sound; then a restatement of the
prior three movements, each interrupted and rejected by instrumental recitative. Finally, a new theme, initially hesitantly advanced by the orchestra, is slowly accepted, ending in a triumphant statement of the new theme in D Major. Then the previous instrumental recitative transforms into real recitative, with a solo baritone singing: O friends, not these tones; instead let us sing more pleasing and joyful ones. Berlioz calls this the "treaty of alliance between chorus and orchestra." (Plantiga, 65) Then the more joyful tones are the first lines of the poem. Beethoven chose to emphasize two ideals: the universal brotherhood of man through joy, and the love of the heavenly father. Throughout the fourth movement, there is a general trend from the terrestrial to the divine. Beethoven's move to utilize the human voice elicited numerous comments and thoughts from other musicians: Berlioz: Beethoven had already written eight symphonies before this. What means were open to him, in the event of his proposing to go beyond the point at which he had already arrived, by the unaided resources of instrumentation? The junction of vocal with instrumental forces. Wagner: It is wonderful how the master makes the arrival of Man's voice and tongue a positive necessity, by this awe-inspiring recitative in the bass-strings. (Plantiga, 68) In order to fully appreciate the all encompassing nature of this piece, we must look into the three periods of Beethoven's compositional career; since the work is a collaboration between these styles. His idea to use Ode to Joy came from his desire to set it to music, which developed during his first period, when he was very interested in the writings of various philosophers. The first and second movements, and even parts of the fourth movement have echoes of his second period, his "heroic" era. The third, fifth, and seventh symphonies were composed during this period. The third symphony, Eroica, embraced the heroic ideals of the French Revolution. The great difference between this powerful era and his third period was quite dramatic. The sudden change in style was mainly due to his deteriorating hearing loss, which directly caused his compositions to lose the power of his second period. All these factors contributed to the new Beethoven: a more quite, abstract, and introspective Beethoven. Joseph Kerman describes music of this period as "miraculous, encompassing all the strength of his earlier music together with a new gentleness and spirituality." (Kerman, 215) Essentially, only the third movement truly encompasses the stylistic nuances of Beethoven's third period. This third movement, an adagio, "soars effortlessly, constantly renewed by the veiled cadences and an overlapping of instrumentation; .. a supreme example of the composer's late contemplative style, and one of the finest melodies he ever wrote." (Plantiga, 68) The musical achievements of this piece are also quite outstanding. The symphony begins aborigine, beginning as if it had always existed from birth (Pestelli, 250). The rustling pianissimo on A and E rapidly crescendo to a powerful theme, with a falling arpeggio in D Minor. The opening of the movement was written in 1816. David Wright, who wrote the program notes to the 23 November 1996 performance of the symphony at Carnegie Hall, says that "you feel something stirring up in the pianissimo, but the enigmatic sound of open fifths, neither major, nor minor, cannot tell us whether to welcome it or fear it." (Stagebill, 20) These falling fifths eventually swell into a "menacing" fortissimo theme in D Minor. This movement is far off from classical sonata form, and is important because it shows the transition between the Classic and Romantic periods of music. Towards the end, a haunting theme played by the bass emerges, a "kind of funeral march built over a grinding, chromatic ostinato." (Cooke, 30)
This ostinato (a term usually used to describe baroque music), is at first played by just the bass, then spreads upwards, eventually taking over the orchestra. A parody of the first movement, the second movement, an engaging scherzo does not take its time to emerge. It communicates its energy through the use of staggered rhythm, staccato, and timpani accompaniment. On a technical note, the scherzo opens with a falling fifth (just like the first movement), then transforms into a legato, then plunges a full octave. The scherzo runs along interrupted until it is interrupted by brief slow interludes by the strings; the scherzo manages to overpower them initially, but then a trio takes over. The trio offers a relief, with a change in timbre. It consists of variations on a folk-like tune. Then the scherzo enters with a grand re-entrance. What sounds like a repetition of the trio is quickly stampeded by the scherzo and timpani, ending the movement quite abruptly. The adagio movement is a striking contrast to the energetic scherzo and trio. Kanne said that the third movement was "a most profound song, full of warmth, and flowing in heavenly melancholy." (Cooke, 32). Dominated by the winds, the melody of the third movement in B Flat Major is truly the product of Beethoven's third period. Echoes of the first movement can be heard here. As the melody becomes freer, the strings softly accompany using pizzicato, setting up an almost ethereal aura. The melody progresses even more, increasing in volume, and when it seems that it is coming to a close, a loud fanfare intrudes in E Flat Major, the key of Eroica. And another dramatic transition happens between the third and final movement. Beginning with a outraged flurry of instruments (dissonant too). Immediately, the cellos and basses play dramatic recitative, hinting at some sort of "rapprochement between the instrumental and vocal music." (Plantiga, 65) Then, in succession, themes from the three prior movements are played, but are quickly interrupted and rejected by the recitatives of the basses and cellos. Finally, a new theme emerges from the orchestra, now hesitant because of what happened previously. It is accepted, however, but not without a minor protest from the basses and cellos. Eventually other instruments join in, which lead to a triumphant statement of the theme in D Major. When all seems dandy, however, Beethoven replays the original confrontation from the opening of the finale. This time, though, the dramatic recitative of the cello and basses is replaced with real recitative the human voice; in this case, a solo baritone voice. Then the exquisite choral-orchestral exposition on Schiller's Ode to Joy engages in four stanzas. A variation, also known as the Turkish March variation, is indeed a Turkish March, taking its lead from the words Lauftet, Bruder, eure Bahn, Freudig wie ein Held zum Siegman, translating to Hasten, Brothers, like a hero marching to victory (there are several different, but similar translations). This march then leads to a long orchestral interlude, then to a fugue on two themes. This leads to a an overpowering full orchestral-choral development. A display of the male and female choruses is sung in an almost meditative, prayer-like way, starting from Seid umschlungen Millionen!, or Be embraced, all ye Millions! As for the ending, I think David Wright puts it the right way: " [it] ponders the mystery and beauty of divine grace. Then everybody goes all-out to the joyous and thrilling close." (Stagebill, 20A). We've examined, so far, the history and musical features of the symphony. The premiere of Symphony No. 9 was performed in Vienna, 7 May 1824. Perhaps this excerpt best describes how the audience received the piece: His turning around, and the sudden conviction thereby forced on everybody that he had not so before because he could not hear what was going on, acted like an electric shock on all present, and a volcanic explosion of sympathy and admiration.
English writer George Grove after meeting with Karoline Ungher, one of the soloists at the premiere And over 200 years later, similar reviews can be had from concert goers, including myself. Honestly, I have been waiting months for any orchestra to perform Symphony No. 9, and then I discovered that it was going to be performed at Carnegie Hall on November 23. The excitement of the audience about the piece filled the air as I entered the hall. It was much easier to hear the opening of the symphony, the rustling pianissimo that I mentioned earlier. I could hear every minor detail of Beethoven's orchestration, which is something that is lost in recordings, in my opinion. It was strange how the chorus and soloists sat in the back, quiet, the entire first three movements. When they all stood up right before singing in the fourth movement, there was a definite energy in the air the anticipation of the audience to hear the sacred half of the fourth movement. There really is no word to describe how the chorus and soloists performed. Perhaps magical? The experience of hearing it live as opposed to a CD was overwhelmingly superior. As the final bars of the symphony were being played, I wished I could have relived that spent hour again. Anyone can appreciate Beethoven's Ninth Symphony for its simple, yet complex aesthetic beauty. Upon understanding what went on behind the writing of the piece and by investigating its history does one gain a much greater and deeper understanding of the music.
Schiller's liberationist Ode to Joy
At Christmas time, 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted a version of Beethoven's 9th symphony in Berlin in which he changed one word in the well-known Ode to Joy in the fourth movement. "Freiheit" ("Freedom") replaced "Freude" ("Joy"), to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall that had occurred weeks previously It was not the first time the lyrics had been changed; Beethoven himself had been free with the original poem by Friedrich von Schiller, the 250th anniversary of whose birth occurred on November 10. Schiller was a philosopher, dramatist and poet who influenced progressive German thought in the period up to and after the French Revolution of 1789. His thinking centred on beauty, not merely as an abstract aesthetic concept, but a morally forceful one: the good is the beautiful. He linked this to human freedom. Schiller's voluptuous thinking and idealism was expressed in the 126-line Ode to Joy, written in 1785, which can be read as praising drunken revelry. Beethoven chose verses that communicate that. But the poem has another message, perfectly expressing Schiller's political radicalism, which was entirely missing from the celebration of the collapse of Stalinist East Germany.
The most stirring performance of this section of the poem is by Black American singer and socialist, Paul Robeson, on the Freedom Train and the Welsh Transatlantic Concert album (Folk Era Records). Robeson was subjected to illegal harassment, including a travel ban by US authorities in the 1950s due to his radical politics. In 1953, 1956 and 1957, miners in south Wales invited Robeson to their annual Eisteddfod. He was not able to circumvent the government travel ban until the laying of a transatlantic telephone cable. In 1957, Robeson sang to them from a New York studio and the Welsh sang back to him from the other side of the ocean. Robson performed the Ode to Joy, climaxing with Schiller's revolutionary words intact: Build the road of peace before us Build it wide and deep and long; Speed the slow and check the eager Help the weak and curb the strong. None shall push aside another None shall let another fall. March beside me, Oh my Brother All for one and one for all.
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