Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 9
Explained using the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Duration: 70–80 Minutes
Genre: Symphonic Cantata
Time of Creation: 1814–1824
World Premiere: 07 May 1824 (Vienna)
Table of Contents
Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in 5 Sentences
In his Symphony No. 9, Ludwig van Beethoven realized an idea that he had carried around with him almost all his life: the setting of Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” to music. The inclusion of a chorus in the last movement of a symphony for the first time represented a turning point in music history and the birth of a new genre: In the so-called “symphonic cantata,” elements of the (instrumental) symphony are combined with elements of the (vocal) cantata. The impetus for the composition of the Ninth Symphony was a commission from London, but the work was first performed in Vienna to frenetic applause.
4 Highlights from Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
Highlight 1: "Primordial Soup"
Beethoven’s Ninth brought innovations in many respects. This concerns, for example, the very beginning. Instead of presenting a “finished” theme to start with, Beethoven assembles the theme of the first movement from snippets. This is why this beginning is called “primordial soup” with a wink – you can listen to the theme as it emerges:
Highlight 2: Humorous Beethoven
Today, Beethoven is often portrayed as a serious, if not even bitter man. This may be true in broad strokes, but the second movement of his ninth symphony begins with a joke: an inserted timpani solo, only a single measure long, gives the impression that the timpani is beginning too early. According to legend, this effect was so well received at the premiere that there was spontaneous applause:
Highlight 3: Introduction to the third movement
The beginning of the third movement is also remarkable, as Beethoven picks up the “primordial soup idea” from the first movement. Gradually, more and more instruments are added, building up a sound surface:
Highlight 4: Final Chorus
And then, of course, there is the world-famous final movement, in which the singers finally join in:
3 Questions and Answers about Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
Question 1: What is special about Beethoven's 9th Symphony?
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony broke all standards at the time of its premiere: first, it is unusually long; second, a choir is used in the final movement.
Question 2: Was Beethoven deaf when he wrote the 9th Symphony?
Yes. When Beethoven composed his 9th Symphony, he was already completely deaf. So he never heard his own composition (as well as the applause at the premiere).
Question 3: Is Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 used in other contexts?
For example, the main theme of the last movement is the European anthem.
2 Recommended Recordings of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9
Recording 1: Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Chicago Symphony Chorus, Riccardo Muti (live, 2015)
Recording 2: hr-Sinfonieorchester, MDR Rundfunkchor, Camilla Nylund, Gerhild Romberger, Michael König, Nathan Berg, Andrés Orozco-Estrada (live, 2016)
As always when the hr-Sinfonieorchester and Andrés Orozco-Estrada make music together, this recording of Beethoven’s Ninth with the MDR Rundfunkchor and top soloists is a rakish interpretation: