Symphony No.9 for Soloists, Choir and Orchestra in D minor, Op.125

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with the grand scale of its symphonic conception, nearly two centuries after its composition is perceived as a pivotal moment and unattainable summit in the history of music. After Beethoven reinterpreted the symphonic idea of his predecessors – of which Mozart produced 41 symphonies and Haydn – 105, succeeding generations have seldom and not on the same scale like Beethoven managed to overcome the number nine in the genre of the symphony. Beethoven failed to accomplish his intention to compose a subsequent, Tenth Symphony. Statistics reveals that Schubert, just like Beethoven before him, had also stopped after writing nine symphonies, of which the Seventh and Eight are considered unfinished.  Later, Berlioz, Schumann and Brahms wrote 4 symphonies, Mendelssohn and Saint-Saëns – 5 each. Tchaikovsky is a little way ahead in terms of numeration with six numbered symphonies plus the Manfred symphony.  Dvořák, by the turn of the nineteenth century, had completed nine symphonies, of which precisely the latter stands out and has occupied permanent place in the repertoire. In history of music, Bruckner’s presence is signified by his 11 symphonies; however, he considered the earliest two of them to be inferior, and his last symphony, written in a state of advanced illness, was the Ninth (1890), bearing the dedication “To the beloved God.”

Gustav Mahler seems to repeat the biographical and creative circumstances of his teacher Bruckner: he also completed his Ninth Symphony in a situation of severe illness and and as an act of farewell to life.  Similar to Beethoven, Mahler began his next symphony, which survived only in the form of concept and sketches.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony embodies the fullness of his personality and creativity, and not just for reasons natural to the latest opuses of any author. In musical terms and as a message, the symphony has matured throughout the entire life of the composer.  He came across Schiller’s poem An die Freude (‘To the Joy’) 30 years before he wrote the symphony, even before leaving Bonn for Vienna in 1792. Printed in 1785, Schiller’s poem became very popular in German-speaking countries. The earliest attempts to set the text to music were made by Beethoven in 1792: in his draft notebooks from 1798-1799 he had sketched some excerpts, then returned to his idea in 1808, 1811, 1818 and completed it in 1823. The themes of the Symphony have their prototypes in his previous opuses: in the song Mutual Love of 1794, the Fourth Piano Concerto from 1806, the Choral Fantasy of 1808, the third song on text by Goethe’s Opus 83, the cantatas Leopold and Joseph from 1790, the Second Symphony, the Fidelio and King Stephen Overtures.

Beethoven’s radically new approach in conflating a “symphony” and “oratorio” was not condoned by his contemporaries who found the finale to be in poor taste.

The successful productions of Fidelio revived at the end of 1822 brought about fresh creative engagements to Beethoven. In addition to offers for a new opera and quartets, received from various countries, he was approached in 1823 with a query from the London Philharmonic Society as to writing a symphony against a consideration of 50 pounds. In the first months of 1824 the Viennese admirers of the composer, which of course did not include the aristocrats, addressed a petition to Beethoven that the premieres of the Symphony and of the Missa Solemnis should take place precisely in Vienna:

“… You immortalized the spiritual feelings, permeated and transformed by the power of faith and the unearthly light. We know that a new flower is blooming in the garland of your great, as yet unmatched symphonies … ”

Beethoven hesitated for too long to whom he should dedicate the symphony. In connection with a scheduled performance in England, he mentioned the name of Ferdinand Ries and the London Philharmonic Society; he had to make a choice between Keiser Franz, Tzar Alexander of Russia, who died in 1825, and the King of France. He finally decided to make the dedication to a “great master” whom he found in the face of King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. It is strange for a man like Beethoven to flatter himself with the thought of honours awarded in return of the dedication. He hoped to receive a “royal distinction”, a fact that his nephew Karl commented in the following manner: “… an order will not make you greater than what you already are without it.” But instead of an honourable distinction, he was promised a ring. In a letter, the King voiced his appreciation for the dedication, as a token of which he notified him that he would send him a diamond ring. However, the ring, which Beethoven received, was neither expensive nor had a diamond. Replacement was not excluded. But in order to dispense with his bitterness, the composer insisted that the ring be sold.

The premiere took place on May 7, 1824. It went with a triumph, unlike all the next performances, which were met with misunderstanding and even with hostility. To the author, the drama lay in that due to his complete deafness he could not hear not a single note of the performance of his most wonderful work.

Baritone Recitative

O Freunde, nicht diese Toene!

Sondern lasst uns angenehmere

anstimmen, und freudenvollere!

 

“An die Freude”

Friedrich Schiller

 

Baritone, Solo Quartet and Choir

Freude, schoener Goetterfunken,

Tochter aus Elysium,

Wir betreten feuer-trunken,

Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

 

Deine Zauber binden wieder,

Was die Mode streng geteilt;

Alle Menschen werden Brueder,

Wo dein sanfter Fluegel weilt.

 

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!

 

Freude trinken alle Wesen

An den Bruesten der Natur;

Alle Guten, alle Boesen

Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.

 

Kuesse gab sie uns und Reben,

Einen Freund, geprueft im Tod;

Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,

Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.

 

Tenor and Choir

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen

Durch des Himmels praecht’gen Plan,

Laufet, Brueder, eure Bahn,

Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

 

Choir

Freude, schoener Goetterfunken,

Tochter aus Elysium,

Wir betreten feuer-trunken,

Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!

 

Deine Zauber binden wieder,

Was die Mode streng geteilt;

Alle Menschen werden Brueder,

Wo dein sanfter Fluegel weilt.

 

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!

Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!

Brueder! ueber’m Sternenzelt

Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.

 

Ihr stuerzt nieder, Millionen?

Ahnest du den Schoepfer, Welt?

Such ihn ueber’m Sternenzelt!

Ueber Sternen muss er wohnen.

***

Baritone Recitative

Oh friends, not these tones!

Let us raise our voices in more

pleasing and more joyful sounds!

 

Ode to Joy

Friedrich Schiller

 

Baritone, Solo Quartet and Choir

Joy, fair spark of the gods,

Daughter of Elysium,

Drunk with fiery rapture, Goddess,

We approach thy shrine!

 

Thy magic reunites those

Whom stern custom has parted;

All men will become brothers

Under thy gentle wing.

 

May he who has had the fortune

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.

 

All the world’s creatures

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.

 

Tenor and Choir

Joyously, as his suns speed

Through Heaven’s glorious order,

Hasten, Brothers, on your way,

Exulting as a knight in victory.

 

Choir

Joy, fair spark of the gods,

Daughter of Elysium,

Drunk with fiery rapture, Goddess,

We approach thy shrine!

 

Thy magic reunites those

Whom stern custom has parted;

All men will become brothers

Under thy gentle wing.

 

Be embraced, Millions!

Take this kiss for all the world!

Brothers, surely a loving Father

Dwells above the canopy of stars.

 

Do you sink before him, Millions?

World, do you sense your Creator?

Seek him then beyond the stars!

He must dwell beyond the stars.

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