Symphony no. 9 by Ludwig van Beethoven
Sunday / April 26, 2020 / 5 PM
Fritsche Theatre in Cowan Hall
Peter Stafford Wilson, conductor
Keyona Willis, soprano
Carolyn Redman, mezzo-soprano
Robert Bux, tenor
Charles Austin Piper, bass baritone
Otterbein University Combined Choirs directed by Gayle Walker
Capriccio directed by Larry Griffin
SYMPHONY NO. 9 IN D MINOR, OP. 125, “CHORAL”
By Ludwig van Beethoven
Born December 16, 1770, in Bonn; died March 26, 1827, in Vienna
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has long been considered one of man’s noblest and most sublime creations. It stands as a veritable Everest not only among Beethoven’s symphonies, but in all symphonic literature as well. Here, for the first time, the human voice became part of a symphony. More than an hour in duration and scored for a large ensemble consisting of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone soloists, four-part mixed chorus, and orchestra, this work is simply without precedent. With its lofty sentiments about the power of joy and the brotherhood of mankind, it has taken on a spirit of universality that has made it an overwhelming emotional experience for audiences the world over. Indeed, it has become, as one writer perceptively put it, “a sort of international artistic anthem.”
The lofty sentiments of the Ninth Symphony notwithstanding, Beethoven was in one of his most misanthropic moods when he wrote this work. Neither was there much joy in his life nor was he feeling particularly more well-disposed than usual toward his fellow man. Total deafness had descended upon him and had ended his career as a public performer. He had virtually withdrawn from society and secluded himself in his own silent world, mindless to little beyond the music that was raging within him. It was a time given to suspicion, mistrust, petty bickerings, and violent outbursts of temper. He dismissed servants and changed lodgings with a frequency bordering on the ludicrous. He castigated his closest friends and staunchest supporters for the merest of perceived transgressions. More often than not, his business dealings with patrons and publishers were unscrupulous and decidedly less than ethical. It was also the time during which he became embroiled in the bitter and sordid legal battle with his widowed sister-in-law for the custody of his nephew Karl. Never were Beethoven’s “feet of clay” more obvious or apparent.
The composition of the Ninth Symphony marked the end of a relatively unproductive period in Beethoven’s creative life. Almost twelve years separate this work from its predecessors. Beethoven began working on sketches for the Ninth Symphony as early as 1817, five years after completing the comparatively lightweight Eight Symphony, but it was a not until late in 1823 that the score was finally finished. Beethoven’s sketchbooks for that period give vivid indication of the tremendous creative upheavals that transpired as the work grew in scope and dimension in his mind. The tortured blots and countless scratch-outs give silent testimony to the anguish he suffered, especially when he was searching for a suitable transition from the purely orchestral first three movements to the choral finale with its setting of Friedrich Schiller’s poem An die Freude (Ode to Joy).
The first performance of the Ninth Symphony took place on May 7, 1824, at the Karntnertor Theater in Vienna under the direction of Michael Umlauf. Unable to conduct because of his deafness, Beethoven sat in the midst of the orchestra and tried to follow the progress of the performance with his score. When the symphony had ended, the composer, having heard nothing and mentally being several pages behind, continued to face the orchestra and beat time, oblivious to the enthusiastic applause that was greeting his latest work. Finally, Caroline Unger, the alto soloist, gently turned him toward the audience, thus enabling him to see—if not hear—their tremendous demonstration of approval.
Beethoven cast his Ninth Symphony in the standard four-movement plan; however, in this work, the traditional order of the slow movement and scherzo are reversed. In addition, the final movement, in which the vocal soloists and chorus are introduced, is nearly twice the length of any of its three predecessors. The first movement, Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso, begins quietly and mysteriously with a fragmented motive that descends against tremolo strings. Order evolves from chaos as melodic fragments coalesce into a theme that swells and develops into a powerful statement by the full orchestra. Beethoven contrasts this theme with a wealth of subordinate materials, most of which are lyrical in nature. The movement is cast in strict sonata form, with the development and recapitulation sections that follow equaling the exposition in scope and dimension. Richard Wagner described this movement as a “struggle conceived in the greatest grandeur, of the soul contending for happiness against the oppression of all that inimical power which places itself between us and the joy of earth.” The second movement is a tripartite scherzo of near relentless momentum and intensity. Marked Molto vivace—Presto, it is triple-metered cosmic laughter that shakes the earth and rocks the heavens. In the contrasting middle section, which is in duple meter, the mood is more playful and serene. After a repeat of the main section, a vigorous coda brings the movement to an abrupt end.
The third movement, Adagio molto e cantabile, has a calming influence. Structurally, it is a set of variations on two themes, the first of which is pensive and mystical; the second, slightly faster and more flowing and amiable. As the variations progress in complexity, the contrasts between the thematic materials becomes less pronounced. Near the end, the brasses and timpani twice proclaim a solemn statement of imposing majesty and grandeur. The episodic, multi-sectioned final movement opens with a harsh, discordant outcry from the orchestra which is immediately followed by series of agitated recitatives by the cellos and double-basses. Next, like flashbacks, the main themes of the preceding three movements make brief, wraith-like reappearances, and each is rejected. Then, a new melody, hymn-like and of folk-song simplicity, appears in the low strings. It is embellished as it rises through the string choir and ultimately emerges in its full glory. The discordant outburst that opened the movement returns, but it is summarily silenced by the ringing challenge from the baritone soloist: “O friends, not these sad sounds! Let us raise our voices together in more pleasant and joyful tones!” With his words repeated by the chorus like a refrain, he then sings the opening stanza of Schiller’s Ode to Joy. In similar manner, the vocal quartet and chorus sing the next two stanzas of the poem. Following this, the tenor soloist and chorus embark upon an Alla marcia episode in the popular “Turkish music” style of that time. A vigorous orchestral fugue leads to a majestic restatement of the opening stanza by the chorus. The chorus continues with a solemn, devout episode and an impressive double fugue. In the penultimate section, the vocal quartet and chorus sing lines from the opening stanza. A vibrant prestissimo coda, its jubilant progress marked by the incisive sounds of the timpani, triangle, cymbals, and bass drum, brings this monumental masterpiece to an exultant and emphatic close.
The following is the German text of Schiller’s Ode to Joy and one of the more frequently used English translations of it:
O Freunde nicht diese Töne! Sondern lasst O Friends! Not these sad tones! Let us
uns angenehmere anstimmen, und raise our voices together in more pleasant and
freudenvollere. joyful tones!
Baritone Solo, Quartet, and Chorus
Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Joy, thou shining spark of God,
Tochter uas Elysium, Daughter of Elysium!
Wir betreten feuer-trunken, With fiery rapture, Goddess,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum! We approach thy shrine.
Deine Zauber binden wieder Your magic reunites those
Was die Mode streng geteilt; Whom stern custom has parted;
Alle menschen werden Brüder, All men will become brothers
Wo dein sanftere Flügel weilt. Under your protective wing.
Wem der grosse Wurf gelungen, Let the man who has had the fortune
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein, To be a helper to his friend,
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen And the man who has won a noble woman,
Mische seinen Jubel ein! Join in our chorus of jubilation!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele Yes, even if he holds but one soul
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund! As his own in all the world!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle But let the man who knows nothing of this
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund! Steal away alone and in sorrow.
Freude trinken alle Wesen All the world’s creatures draw
An den Brüsten Natur; draughts of joy from Nature;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen Both the just and the unjust
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur. Follow in her gentle footsteps.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben, She gave us kisses and wine
Einem Freunde, geprüft im Tod And a friend loyal unto death;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben, She gave the joy of life to the lowliest,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott. And to the angels who dwell with God.
Tenor Solo and Chorus
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen Joyous, as His suns speed
Durch des Himmels präch’gen Plan Through the glorious order of Heaven,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn, Hasten, Brothers, on your way
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen. Exultant as a knight victorious.
Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Joy, thou shining spark of God,
Tochter aud Elysium! Daughter of Elysium!
(the first stanza is repeated)
Seid umschlungen Millionem! Be embraced, all ye Millions!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt! With a kiss for all the world!
Brüder über’m Sternenzelt Brothers, beyond the stars
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen. Surely dwells a loving Father.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen? Do you kneel before Him, O Millions?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt? Do you feel the Creator’s presence?
Such’ ihr über’m Sternenzelt! Seek him beyond the stars!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen. He must dwell beyond the stars.
(the remainder of the movement repeats various verses from the above text)
-Kenneth C. Viant