Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

This week we will continue our music series on famous classical pieces with Beethoven’s masterpiece: Symphony No. 9 (Op. 125). This piece is one of the best known works in the Western classical repertoire and the European Anthem is based on the final movement, the Ode to Joy.

Most people in the Western World have probably heard the final movement at one stage or another in their lives.

The Symphony is the last complete symphony of Beethoven and he finished the masterpiece in 1824. It was the first symphony ever to use vocals and was thus the first choral symphony ever written. He kept that as a surprise at the premiere of the Symphony in Vienna where the choir was hiding behind a giant curtain until the final movement. The audience was ecstatic when the curtain fell and the vocals joined the 4th movement. Beethoven originally wanted to perform the premiere in Berlin, but his friends urged him to perform it first in Vienna.

The lyrics of the final movement were adapted from Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy and Beethoven adapted them to the melody as early as 1803, but did not write the symphony for another 20 years.

The symphony is always a highlight and many musicians dream of participating in a performance of this masterpiece. It is also traditionally played for New Year’s Eve by many orchestra’s, for example the famous Leipzig Gewandhausorchester in Leipzig.

Here the complete recording of Beethoven’s Symphony No.9:

The piece always amazes me and I will lead you through the various movements:

1st movement - Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso

The symphony starts very quietly and opening theme, played pianissimo over string tremolos, so much resembles the sound of an orchestra tuning and over about half a minute the movement builds up in a very powerful crescendo. The famous opening chords of the main motif really make the listener sit back in his/ her chair and listen in awe. The symphony starts in D minor but the movement is transposed back into D major, relieving the listener from the initial shudders.

2nd movement – Molto vivace – Presto

The second movement is a Scherzo and is also composed in D minor. The opening theme is similar to that of the first movement, but the change in tone and nature of the music makes the listener feel that there is a development, an evolution of the music. Beethoven did not adhere to the classical Scherzo form, but mutated it and it has different themes opposing each other. The dance style is very powerful and captivating. This music was also chosen for the film “A Clockwork Orange”, where the theme reoccurred various times.

3rd movement - Adagio molto e cantabile

The third movement is quiet and slow in nature and rather calming. Almost like the “stillness before the storm”. It is rather long and really prepares the listener for the final movement. Beethoven uses a clever change of rhythm between the two themes of the movement: 4/4 and 12/8. This contrast really keeps the listener alert and addicted. Even for the untrained ear the change is obvious and interesting.

4th movement 

The final movement is almost like a symphony in a symphony. It encompasses a complete symphonic composition in just one movement. The main theme is introduced with a powerful fanfare at the beginning. Slowly the famous melody of the Ode to Joy is introduced and builds up in volume and speed.

Then the same fanfare starts again, but a tenor sings the powerful introduction to the ode to joy.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere an stimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
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 divinity
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Into your sanctuary, heavenly (daughter)!
Your magic reunites
What custom strictly divided.
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.

The chorus and the soloists then sing on the other parts of the adapted poem to give the message of brotherhood in a great musical fashion.

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 had the great fortune
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul,
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!
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.
Vor Gott!
Joy all creatures drink
At the breasts of nature;
All good, all bad
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and wine,
A friend, proved in death;
Pleasure was given to the worm,
And the cherub stands before God.
Before God!
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven’s glorious design,
Run, brothers, your path,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Ãœber Sternen muss er wohnen.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Seid umschlungen,
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity

In the middle of the movement there is a march alla turca.  It is still disputed why Beethoven chose to incorporate a Turkish March in the middle of this movement. It could however be a hint towards the victory of Western culture at the battles in the 17th century. However, all this is then overcome in brotherhood between the nations …
This symphony is a try jewel in the classical repertoire. Enjoy listening to it!

Image reproduced from
Video reproduced from YouTube / AnAmericanComposer