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1824 – Beethoven Symphony No. 9

 

1824 Ludwig van Beethoven Symphony No. 9 in D,
Instrumentation Strings, 2 flutes (plus piccolo), 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons (plus contrabassoon), 4 horns,  2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani and percussion, choir, four vocal soloists.
Movements I: Allegro (d) II: Scherzo: molto vivace (d)  III: Adagio molto e cantabile (Bb) IV: Allegro – Andante – Allegro (d/D)
Overview Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is one of the most famous and influential symphonies of all time. From its mysterious tremolo opening on bare fifths  to the introduction of a choir in the final movement, this piece is full of innovation that both inspired and challenged subsequent generations of composers. It was Beethoven’s last completed symphony (he started a tenth) and set a yardstick by which many later composers judged their own efforts.

Listen to the opening of the symphony:

 E) 4th / Finale The drama of this symphony is heightened in the last movement, which starts with an aggressive brass and woodwind fortissimo that has been described as a shriek of pain. Beethoven then goes on to quote from previous movements (interspersed with a monophonic idea on cellos and basses that is marked to be played with a character of a recitative).

The cellos then introduce a simple melody that has become one of the most famous in Classical music – the Ode to Joy theme, which is the anthem of the European Union:

The music becomes increasingly complex and polyphonic before the shriek from the beginning returns and Wagner, among other, interpreted this as a rejection of traditional symphonic development as a way of continuing this movement. After the return of the opening shriek there is a dramatic intervention by a solo voice singing the following words:

Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let us sing more
cheerful and more joyful ones.

The ode to joy is then set for the soloists and chorus:

After many twists and turns the movement ends in a blaze of D major choral and orchestral glory:

This movement displays several features that had begun to develop in Haydn and earlier Beethoven and would become very important to Romantic composers:

  • The finale integrates elements from previous movements and brings them to culmination
  • The finale is a triumphant (major key) solution to the (minor key) problems earlier in the symphony – tragedy to triumph
  • The increasing use of resources to make more impact – here the addition of a choir and vocal soloists as well as huge orchestral resources