Ludwig Van Beethoven – Symphony No. 9, in D minor, With Final Chorus on Schiller’s Ode To Joy, Op. 125
I. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
II. Molto vivace; Presto
III. Adagio molto e cantabile; Andante moderato
IV. Allegro assai. Quartet and Chorus
The imposing proportions of the Ninth symphony, with its chorale finale which chants the brotherhood of man, give the work a special place among Beethoven’s creations and a special consideration on the part of the public. But the colossal work has other claims to greatness:
None of Beethoven’s compositions came readily from his pen; this one represented a long and tortuous gestation. It seems that the composer’s plan was not completely clear to himself until three-quarters of the symphony had been created. He was in doubt particularly as to the form which the finale should take. This is not surprising, since the Ninth symphony is partly symphony and partly cantata, and the combining of the two styles was a problem even more perplexing in Beethoven’s day than it would be in ours. In fact, Wagner found here the tacit acknowledgment on Beethoven’s part that the symphony had gone as far as it could without the addition of song and dramatic idea to the instrumental scheme, and this conclusion influenced Wagner profoundly in his course as a composer of opera.
The Ninth symphony appears as a magnificently imperfect creation; as imperfect, let us say, as some tremendous torso of a Michelangelo which implies more by its very pathos and imperfection than a composition neatly and successfully perfected could do. Certainly this is the most profoundly subjective of Beethoven’s symphonic utterances. In the pages of, his symphonies he is universal rather than personal. His most introspective musings he reserved for the last piano sonatas and string quartets. But here in the , Ninth symphonyat least in its first and third movementsis Beethoven himself peering through chaos in loneliness and need seeking a path. No circumstance could have been more symbolic of the master’s situation in life and in art than the occasion of the first performance and the tableau presented to the audience: Beethoven standing on the stage, his head sunk on his breast, beating time for the orchestra (which had been warned to disregard his motions) ; surrounded by silence; unaware that the music had ceased, when he was turned about by one of the singers, Fräulein Unger, to perceive the multitude shouting and with many persons in tears.
The symphony opens with vagueness and suspense, the famous “empty fifths” vibrating softly from the strings. Fragments of the great stark theme that is to come flash across the darkness, and suddenly the orchestra, in gigantic bare unisons, hurls it forththe Word! One can think of Genesis: “And the earth was without form and void. And God said, `Let there be light.'” Immense enfoldments follow. The musical material is now grim and tremendous, now singing and tender. It is developed in great detail, yet with-out the obscuring of vast lines. The return after Ex-position and Development to the Recapitulation is especially tremendous, when, over roaring drums, fragments of the great theme hurtle together and flash and splinter, as lightning might strike in a mountain gorge. The ending is pathetic, with the notes of the heroic theme flung out over sullen basses which roll like an ocean after the storm.
The second movement sets a powerful rhythm a-working. It has a gigantic simplicity and dynamic force. The universe dances. Imitations, foreshortenings, extensions of the dance figure, are in Beethoven’s most concentrated style. The trio, a passage of starry serenity, was composed before the rest of the movement. When the earlier part of the scherzo returns, there are further rhythmic transformations. Blows of the kettledrums, solo, fortissimo, interrupt the rhythm with characteristic energy and brusquerie, an effect which caused the audience at the first performance to applaud in the midst of the movement.
In the slow movement Beethoven dispenses with strict form. The movement has two lyrical themes, which are heard in alternation, with variants of one of them. “As to the beauty of these melodies,” wrote Hector Berlioz, “the infinite grace of the ornaments applied to them, the sentiments of melancholy, tenderness and passionate sadness and of religious meditation which they expressif my prose could give all this even an approximate idea, music would have found in the written word such a competitor as even the greatest of all poets was never able to oppose to it. It is an immense work; and, when once its powerful charm has been experienced, the only answer for the critic who reproaches the composer for having violated the law of unity is ‘So much the worse for the law.’ ”
The conception of a symphony with a chorale finale had long been forming in the master’s consciousness. As a youth of twenty-three he had 21 tempted a setting of Schiller’s “Ode,” but the theme he then created had nothing to do with that of the Ninth symphony. Nor was the theme of the finale the only problem which confronted him. How connect in a natural and logical manner the choral conclusion with the preceding movements? That was the crux of the’ problem. The Beethoven’s sketch-books, extraordinary documents of his creative life, tell us of his struggle. He seems to have decided that some preliminary words must introduce the passages for chorus and quartet. What words were they to be? The sketch-books are littered with fragmentary musical motives and phrases of text.
Thus, over the notation of a musical phrase of recitative: “No, these … remind of our despair.” And later, “My fri … let it be celebrated with …” and more musical notation. Farther on, “Oh not this .. . something . but only a little merrier … (nor this either it is but sport, or no better) … (nor this it is too tender) … (for something animated we must seek) … (I shall see to it that I myself intone some-thing then do you sing after me) … This it is ha now it is found I myself will intone it… . Ha this is it now is discovered … Freu … meilleur.” And later the memorandum, words and notes, with which Beethoven rushed into a room one day crying out to Schindler (according to that gentleman’s recollection), “I have it! I have it! Let us sing the song of the immortal Schiller Freude!” He had been, in these days,, more than ever preoccupied, suspicious, a lone wolf among his kind. But he had found what he was seeking. The remaining months of 18 3 saw the completion of the symphony, which was first performed in Vienna, March 7, i8.
The finale, close upon the mystery and exaltation of the preceding movement, opens with a terrific hullabaloo of the instruments, highly discordant, which is answered by an admonishing recitative of cellos and basses. But these instruments are helpless in their attempt at pacification. The racket bursts out again. A shorter conciliating phrase of the recitative pro-poses, as a solution, some measures of the introduction. These too are furiously dismissed. Then in answer to persistent summons, a fragment of the scherzo is heard. It is rejected, but more gently, and now there is anticipation of the theme of the “Ode to Joy.” After one more gesture of recitative, it is given extended statement by the orchestra.
Observe how Beethoven, whose ideas came to him in symphonic and not in vocal guise, clings to his instruments. No sooner, however, has the choral subject received its symphonic endorsement than the orchestra is seized with fresh rebellion. It howls more loudly and terribly than ever; two opposed chords, shrieking to high heaven, sound at once all the notes of the harmonic minor scale!
This clears the air. Now the solo baritone pro-pounds a sentiment to the melody of the recitative earlier sounded by instruments:
“0 brothers, let us have no more of these sad tones. Let us rejoice together.” The basses of the chorus, the solo quartet, the full chorus, expand the theme. Thereafter come sundry variations and interludes for solo voices, for quartet, for chorus. The solo tenor, with the chorus, sings a march movement, inspired by ,the thoughts of “heroes” and “victory” in Schiller’s text. A passage for full chorus apostrophizes the united, advancing millions, and the stars that form the canopy of the Father’s dwelling in the heavens. The mood becomes more jubilant, with brilliant pas-sages for the vocal ensemble against rushing instrumental figures. The pace quickens. There are shouts, “Hail thee, Joy, from heaven descending,” and so ends the Ninth symphony and Beethoven’s dream of an advancing liberated mankind.