Beethoven: Symphony no. 9 in D minor, op. 125

A recording can be found at Columbia's online reserves here (on modern instruments) or here (on period instruments)


Beethoven on Wikipedia

Beethoven wrote fewer symphonies than Mozart, completing but nine. Each of these nine is shrouded in a deserved air of majesty. In Beethoven's symphonies we get the sense that he is grappling with some larger issue whether philosophical or personal. Thus the Sixth Symphony is often associated with Beethoven's hearing loss; the Third with Beethoven's revolutionary yearnings; the Ninth with a quest for Universal Truth.
Generally, Beethoven's career is divided into three stages: an early period when, as a youth in Bonn and Vienna, his music was strongly influenced by Mozart and Mozart's (and Beethoven's) teacher Haydn. Works from this period include his First and Second Symponies. The second period, known as the "Heroic period," provides us with many of his most popular works, such as his Third through Sixth Symphonies, his Pathetique and Appassionata piano sonatas; these works have a certain monumentality, power and drive to them. The works of his final period, known as his Late Period, tend to be more fragmented and inscrutable, with quicker changes of mood and topic. Works from his late period include the Seventh through Ninth Symphonies, the Hammerklavier sonata, the Diabelli variations, and the late string quartets.
Probably the most famous piece of Beethoven's late period is the Ninth Symphony in D minor; its triumphant final movement is known as the "Ode to Joy." This simple folk-like melody has been appropriated and used for all manner of means: from the Catholic hymn "Praise the Lord, ye Heavens" to uses both representative of freedom from tyranny: Bernstein performed it at a celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall, to the most absolute tyranny: Furtwangler's performance during Hitler's birthday celebration in 1942. During the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese saw it as indicative of capitalist and reactionary values. The Japanese on the other hand saw it as a reflection of their spiritual life. Nineteenth-century interpretation of this symphony has ascribed many types of romantic sentiment to the work: ranging from a musical equivalent of Genesis to an autobiography of the composer. Even something as seemingly simple as the tenor's first line of text, "Brothers, no more of these tones" has proven ambiguous. What exactly does he refer to when he says "these tones"? the symphony as a whole? the schrekensfanfare, or "horror fanfare", to use Wagner's term, that had immediately preceded it? or music in general? However one looks at it, Beethoven has created a work that begs interpretation.

Contemporary reaction to the work varied. The critic of the Theater-Zeitung saw "the airy frame of instrumental longer sufficient for the deeply moved artist. He needs to take the word, the human voice, to aid him so that he may express himself adequately." On the other hand, Fanny Mendelssohn, the erstwhile composer and sister of the more famous Felix, wrote that the final movement was "a gigantic tragedy with a conclusion meant to be dithyrambic, but falling from its height into the opposite extreme - into burlesque." Gottfried Fink, who heard the work in 1826 called it "a festival of hatred towards all that can be called human joy. With gigantic strength the perilous hoard emerges, tearing hearts asunder and darkening the divine spark of the gods with noise, monstrous mocking." Say what they will, it is for you to make your own opinion. Raise the volume and listen!

Things to Note
The famous Ode to Joy movement was begun by Beethoven as early as 1816 and was used in a slightly different form in Beethoven's earlier Choral Fantasy, op. 80. The form of the final movement is at the simplest level a theme and 9 variations, preceded by an introduction of an unheard of conception, and followed by an episode of sorts, a double fugue, another episode and a threefold coda that incorporates everything from Mozartean cadences (parts sound rather like parts of Mozart's "Magic Flute") to Rossini-like vocal cadenzas (the most popular music in Vienna during Beethoven's time). The variations come in all manner of topics and styles from the exotic Turkish March to the enormous fugue that immediately follows it. All these myriad possibilites are united in this movement. Indeed one can see the form as a combination of Theme-and-Variations, Sonata Form, and Rondo form.

The remaining movements of the work fall into the traditional forms of Sonata form (movement one - what is the theme?); theme and variations (movement two) and vigorous scherzo annd trio (movement three - to what depths has the noble minuet fallen!). Listening Chart
Beethoven: Symphony no. 9 in D minor, op. 125 (1824)
Download a pdf document with the text and a movement plan for Movements 4 and 5. The form is too complicated for my HTML skills. The document contains timings (based on the Gardiner recording) and an attempt at structural analysis.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen
und freudenvollere!
Friends, no more of these tones!
Let more pleasant ones inspire us instead
and more joyful!
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.

Joy, beautiful spark of the gods, daughter of Elysium,
Intoxicated with your fire, heavenly one, we enter your shrine.
Your magic power reunites what strict custom has divided;
All men become brothers where your gentle wing rests.

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.

Whoever has the great good fortune to enjoy mutual friendship,
Whoever has taken a loving wife, let him join us in celebration!
Yes! Even he who hasnothing to callhis own but his soul!
Be he who cannot rejoice, let him steal weeping away.

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!

All creatures partake of joy at Nature's breast;
Nature nourishes all that is good or evil,
Dispensing kisses and wine to us, a friend tested in death.
The worm is ecstacy, and the cherub stands before God.

Roh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen Durch des Himmels pracht'gen Plan,
Laufet, Bruder, eure Bahn, Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

Brothers, go on your way as glad as the stars as they hurtle
Through the heavens, as joyful as a hero on his way to triumph.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen. Dieser Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Bruder! Uber'm Sternenzelt Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.

Be embraced, you millions! Here's a kiss for all the world!
Brothers! above the canopy of the stars there must dwell a loving Father!

Ihr sturzt nieder, Millionen? Ahnest du den Schopfer, Welt?
Such ihn uber'm Sternenzelt! Uber Sternen muss er wohnen.

Do you fall to your knees, you millions? World, do you sense your Maker?
Seek him beyond the stars! Beyond the stars he must dwell!

(L to R) Beethoven's Death Mask, front; Beethoven's skull


All text © Todd Tarantino 2002-2012.
Not to be reprinted without permission.