INKPOT#91 CLASSICAL MUSIC FEATURE: BEETHOVEN Symphony No.9 “Choral” – An Inktroduction
The Choral Symphony
Symphony No.9 in D minor Choral op.125
An Inktroduction by Benjamin Chee
One item of note appears in Beethoven’s musical notebooks amidst work on the Eighth: an inscription, 3te Sinfonie D moll. While no sketches of any D minor symphony were found, and work on the actual Ninth did not begin till years later, this prophetic entry does anticipate the idea of a new symphony in this key. It also reveals Beethoven’s leanings in the Classical school (despite his Romanticism) in conceiving works as part of a larger body, this apocryphal symphony being the “3te” of a trilogy that began with Number Seven and Eight.
What can be said of the Ninth that hasn’t been said already ? It would be one of the most influential works of the nineteenth century – Brahms’ First, Bruckner’s Third and Fourth, Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise Symphones, all claim a share of inheritance from Beethoven’s Ninth. It still remains a crowd-puller at the Dresden Staatskapell’s Palm Sunday concerts at the Semperoper, a tradition that goes back to 1847, and today has become the official European Anthem.
Throughout his life, Beethoven had shown a deep interest in the work of the poet-philosopher Friedrich Schiller. It was Schiller’s ode An die Freude (To Joy) which would provide the text for the finale of the symphony. The Ode itself first appeared in 1785, and other composers had already set it to music. Schubert himself provided a setting for choir, voice and piano (Op. post 111/1, D189) and Tchaikovsky, much later, wrote it as a cantata for SATB, chorus and orchestra.
The idea of introducing voices into a symphony was one that Beethoven had thought about for a long time. He had already experimented with the form in the Choral Fantasia, a hybrid piano concerto with chorus – and the melody of the Fantasia bears more than just a passing resemblance to the Ode to Joy as it finally appears in the symphony.
The first three movements of the Choral Symphony are purely instrumental, with the chorus and quartet of soloists joining only in the final movement. Each theme from the three preceeding movements are quoted briefly before the soloist enters, heralding a new theme – the Ode to Joy – with an admonishment to “turn to sounds more pleasant and more joyful”.
The symphony was premiered in Vienna on 7 May 1824, far from perfect (there were only two rehearsals) but notwithstanding that, still a great success. At the end of the performance, an incident occurred which brought tears to the eyes of many: Beethoven continued to beat the time, not aware of the applause given to his magnus opus, until Fraulein Ungher, the contralto, turned him around to face the people.
Lithograph by Karl Offterdinger, 1879
His turning around and a sudden conviction thereby compelled on everyone that he had not done so before because he could not hear it, acted like a lightning bolt on everyone and a violent wave of sympathy followed. It was a sobering thought: the master himself had never heard, in the physical sense, what his glorious music sounded like.
Like the Fifth, the Ninth moves from turmoil and struggle into triumph. But where the Fifth symbolizes the triumph of an individual, the Ninth transcends the struggle into a universal triumph for human brotherhood:
sondern lasst uns angenehmere
anstimmen, und freundenvollere.
Let us raise our voices in more
pleasing and more joyful sounds!
Tochter aus Elysium,
wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum! Deine Zauber binden wieder,
was die Mode streng geteilt:
alle Menschen werden Brder,
wo dein snafter Flgel weilt.
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter fire imbibed,
Heavenly, thy sanctuary. Thy magic reunites those
Whom stern custom has parted;
All men will become brothers
Under thy gentle wing.
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!
To gain a true friend
And he who has won a noble wife
Join in our jubilation! Yes, even if he calls but one soul
His own in all the world.
But he who has failed in this
Must steal away alone and in tears.
an den Brsten der Natur,
alle Guten, alle Bsen
folgen ihrer Rosenspur. Ksse gab sie uns und Reben,
einen Freund, geprft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Draw joy from nature’s breast;
Both the good and the evil
Follow her rose-strewn path. She gave us kisses and wine
And a friend loyal unto death;
She gave lust for life to the lowliest,
And the Cherub stands before God.
durch des Himmels prcht’gen Plan,
laufet, Brder, eure Bahn,
freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen!
Across the glorious expanse of heaven,
Follow, brothers, your course
Joyously, like a hero towards victory!
(not in sequence)
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brder, berm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen. Ihr strzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schpfer, Welt?
Such ihn berm Sternenzelt!
ber Sternen muss er wohnen.
This kiss for all the world!
Brothers!, above the starry canopy
A loving father must dwell. Do you kneel before him, you millions?
Can you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the starry canopy.
Above the stars He must dwell.
660: 27.2.2000 Benjamin Chee