|Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–|
|The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony (thus making it a choral symphony).
The words are sung during the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the "Ode to Joy",
a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by the composer. Today, it stands as
one of the most played symphonies in the world
CompositionThe Philharmonic Society of London originally commissioned the symphony in 1817.
The main composition work was done between autumn 1822 and the completion of the
autograph in February 1824.
The symphony emerged from other pieces by Beethoven that, while completed works in their
own right, are also in some sense sketches for the future symphony. The Choral Fantasy Opus.
80 (1808), basically a piano concerto movement, brings in a chorus and vocal soloists near the
end to form the climax. As in the Ninth Symphony, the vocal forces sing a theme first played
instrumentally, and this theme is highly reminiscent of the corresponding theme in the Ninth
Symphony (for a detailed comparison, see Choral Fantasy). Going further back, an earlier
Although his major works had primarily been premiered in Vienna, Beethoven was eager to have his latest composition performed in
Berlin as soon as possible after finishing it, since he thought that musical taste in Vienna had become dominated by Italian composers
petition signed by a number of prominent Viennese music patrons and performers.
Beethoven was flattered by the adoration of Vienna, so the Ninth Symphony was premiered on 7 May 1824 in the Theater am
Kärntnertor in Vienna, along with the overture The Consecration of the House (Die Weihe des Hauses) and three parts of the Missa
solemnis (the Kyrie, Credo, and the Agnus Dei).
This was the composer's first on-stage appearance in 12 years; the hall was packed with an eager audience and a number of musicians.
The premiere of Symphony No. 9 involved the largest orchestra ever assembled by Beethoven and required the combined efforts
of the Kärntnertor house orchestra, The Vienna Music Society (Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde), along with a select group of capable
amateurs. While no complete list of premiere performers exists, many of Vienna's most elite performers are known to have
Carolina Ungher, who sang the contralto part at the first performance and who is credited with turning Beethoven to face the
The soprano and alto parts were interpreted by two famous young singers: Henriette Sontag and Caroline Unger. German soprano
Henriette Sontag (1806–1854) was eighteen years old when Beethoven personally recruited her to perform in the premiere of the Ninth
Also personally recruited by Beethoven, 21 year old contralto Caroline Unger (1803–1877), a native of Vienna, had gained critical
praise in 1821 appearing in Rossini's Tancredi. After performing in Beethoven's 1824 premiere, Unger found fame in Italy and Paris.
Italian composers Donizetti and Bellini were known to have written roles specifically for her voice.
Although the performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf, the theatre's Kapellmeister, Beethoven shared the stage with
him. However, two years earlier, Umlauf had watched as the composer's attempt to conduct a dress rehearsal of his opera Fidelio
ended in disaster. So this time, he instructed the singers and musicians to ignore the almost totally deaf Beethoven. At the beginning of
every part, Beethoven, who sat by the stage, gave the tempos. He was turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra
he could not hear.
There are a number of anecdotes about the premiere of the Ninth. Based on the testimony of the participants, there are suggestions
that it was under-rehearsed (there were only two full rehearsals) and rather scrappy in execution. On the other hand, the premiere was
a great success. In any case, Beethoven was not to blame, as violinist Joseph Böhm recalled: "Beethoven directed the piece himself;
that is, he stood before the lectern and gesticulated furiously. At times he rose, at other times he shrank to the ground, he moved as if
he wanted to play all the instruments himself and sing for the whole chorus. All the musicians minded his rhythm alone while playing".
When the audience applauded—testimonies differ over whether at the end of the scherzo or the whole symphony—Beethoven was
several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to
accept the audience's cheers and applause. According to one witness, "the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect
and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often
during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them." The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there
were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation
version of the Choral Fantasy theme is found in the song "Gegenliebe" ("Returned Love"), for piano and high voice, which dates from
before 1795. According to Robert W. Gutman, Mozart's K. 222 Offertory in D minor, "Misericordias Domini", written in 1775,
contains a melody that foreshadows "Ode to Joy".