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lab51 clef icon Ludwig van Beethoven
Symphony No. 9 "Choral"
(Vienna, May 7, 1824)
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Listening Notes: Movements I-IV

With Complete Streaming Audio



In the Classical Period, symphonies followed certain conventions of form and style. In Beethoven's hands, the genre achieved a formal grandeur and a profundity of expression that set the standard for the rest of the nineteenth century. The multi movement symphonic format always allowed for the possibility of connection between movements. The greatness of the Ninth, in part, lies in the fact that Beethoven effectively infused the entire symphony with a dramatic content previously unimaginable. It has no story, per se, but the listener cannot help but sense a psychological progression from beginning to end. One way in which Beethoven made this aesthetic effect more palpable was to use human voices, appearing for the first time in the genre, to perform Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy" in the last movement. Though revolutionary in many respects, the Ninth does adhere to a four movement plan, typical of the Classical symphony.

Page numbers in parentheses refer to the numbers at the bottom of the page in Sourcebook I.

The complete audio selections (i.e., those following the listening notes for each movement below) are from the recording of John Eliot Gardiner conducting the Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique (Deutsche Grammophon Archiv 447 074--2 [1994]).

I (Allegro ma non troppo. un poco maestoso)

The beginning of the Ninth is musically nebulous. There is no clear announcement of a theme right away -- just the very quiet open intervals played by the strings ( ). There is virtually no rhythm either -- absolutely nothing of the motoric rhythm characteristic of parts of Handel's Messiah. The Ninth seems to begin out of nothingness; we become gradually aware of music happening, emerging out of the vastness of infinity. When the main theme of this sonata form ( ) finally arrives, it is presented forcefully by the entire orchestra (268). After a brief transition, a string of secondary themes can be heard, in the key of Bb (275). The exposition ends with a loud closing passage predominated by dotted rhythms ( ) in the whole orchestra (285-286).

The development section opens with a recurrence of the nebulous texture of the very beginning ( ) (286). In what follows you can expect to hear thematic material already introduced in the exposition. It will be treated differently, though. The themes are fragmentary, out of order, and generally less "stable" in this section; Beethoven explores the possibilities of his musical material. Eventually, you will hear a gradual crescendo, ( ) -- the music becoming louder and louder until it reaches a climax (303). This is Beethoven's signal to the listener that, for now, the exploration is over, that a return to the full, ordered statements of the exposition themes is at hand.

With the recapitulation, the introductory passage that began the Symphony is played fortissimo, imbued with a new found strength ( ) (303). This time, the secondary themes (308) stay around the tonic key. The loud closing passage that ended the exposition also signals the end of the recapitulation (319). But Beethoven has not entirely exhausted the possibilities for development of his thematic material. In the coda (320), familiar themes are further explored and used to provide a firm sense of tonal closure to the movement.

Now, listen to the entire movement: Allegro Ma Non Troppo, Un Poco Maestoso.



II SCHERZO (Molto Vivace)

The second movement actually consists of two, musically self-contained parts -- "A," the scherzo proper and "B," the trio -- the first of which is performed again ("da capo") after the second, yielding an overall A B A form. The term "Scherzo" refers to the movement as a whole, but also to the first of the two parts.

A scherzo is typically fast, lively, and in triple meter. In the Ninth, the scherzo proper ("A"), in D minor, has a kind of sonata form, which is, however. much more compressed than that of the first movement. After an eight measure introduction, the first theme ( ) enters in a five voice fugal exposition, played by the strings (335), which gradually yields to a loud restatement of the main theme by the whole orchestra ( ) (339). A secondary theme ( ), in C major, is introduced by the winds while the strings continue to play the opening motive of the main theme (341). The violins play a variant of the secondary theme ( ), which leads to a brief closing gesture, passed between the strings and winds. This rounds out the exposition, which is repeated entirely from the fugal beginning (345, go back to 335). Once we reach the end for a second time, a brief transition leads to the development, where the music moves into different keys while themes that have already been exposed are subjected to different contrapuntal manipulations ( ) (346). In the recapitulation ( ) (355), the secondary ( ) (359) and closing themes are in the tonic. The entire second part is then repeated (364, go back to 346). Following the repeat, with a quickening of tempo ( ) ["stringendo il tempo"] the scherzo proper closes in D minor, shifting quickly to D major for the trio.

The trio ("B"), in duple meter, begins with a new theme played by the oboes and clarinets, accompanied by conterpoint in the bassoons ( ) (366-367, repeated). These two melodies are combined and developed in different orchestral textures and keys in the following section, which is repeated (373, go back to 367). The coda (373-376) is in the tonic (major); listen for the D played by the basses throughout that leads to a repeat of the scherzo (377). Ignore the repeat indicated on 387. The scherzo ends with a brief recollection of the D major trio theme (406-407).

Now, listen to the entire movement: Molto Vivace (Scherzo).



III (Adagio molto e cantabile)

The third movement, in Bb major, is built on the idea of theme and variations: a theme is stated over and over, but with each appearance some aspect of the theme changes. It will never be altered so much that it becomes unrecognizable as the same musical idea. In this case, Beethoven uses two themes successively. The first, Bb major theme ( ) , played by the violins, consists of three phrases that are interrupted by interjections from the wind instruments. A second theme ( ) follows before the first is varied (411). This theme is somewhat faster, in triple meter, and in a new key, D major. In the first variation ( ) (413-416), the winds play their part more or less unaltered, while the violin melody is greatly elaborated but still the same basic idea. When the second theme returns ( ) (417-419), we hear that the strings and winds have changed roles in presenting the material. After a short interlude ( ) (419-421) that sounds at first as if it might be another variation of the first theme, a real variation begins ( ). Now the violins provide an elaborate contrapuntal line to a statement of the theme in unvaried form by the woodwinds. A developmental coda announced by a new idea ( ) freely continues the variation process as the movement draws to a close (429-37).

Now, listen to the entire movement: Adagio Molto E Cantabile.


IV FINALE (Presto)

The last movement of a Classical symphony almost always ended with a movement of a much "lighter" character than the first movement. This is not true of Beethoven's Ninth. In fact. Beethoven's expansion of the formal, aesthetic, and dramatic content of the classical symphony confronts the listener most forcefully in the Finale.

In the first place, this one movement is as long as entire symphonies by composers of the generation before Beethoven's -- and in some ways, the Finale almost seems like a multi-movement work unto itself. Aside from its sheer length, though, one of the most strikingly innovative features of the movement is the appearance of a chorus, which sings the text of Schiller's Ode to Joy ("An die Freude "). Beethoven also expands the conventional paradigm for ending a symphony by combining independent genres and formal designs, all of which would have been familiar to contemporary audiences. Thus, in this one movement we hear not only a very long sonata form but also theme and variations, rondo, elements from the concerto (orchestra and singers performing the same material in turn), and textures familiar from the oratorio (recitative and choral pieces).

NOTE! The "Playthrough" for Beethoven covers much of the following in "visual" detail.

The movement begins (438) with a stormy gesture played by the winds. This is answered by a single bass line (cellos and basses), which has a certain vocal quality even though no text is being declaimed. Indeed, this bass line anticipates what is sung by the first human voice when it enters. The orchestral blustering continues for another exchange between winds and low strings. At this point, Beethoven quotes themes from the first three movements in turn (440-443). After being called forth, each theme is "rejected" by the unsatisfied bass line, which seems to speak its discontent. Finally, a new theme is discovered, approved, and "sung" by the low strings (444-445). The theme is a simple hymn-like tune in D major, composed of six four-measure phrases, the last two being repetitions of the third and fourth (i.e., AA' BA' BA'). With the presentation of the theme, a set of orchestral variations begins (447-454). This dissolves into a restatement of the stormy gesture that began the movement (459), which is answered this time by a baritone soloist singing Beethoven's introduction to Schiller's Ode ("O Freunde, nicht diese Tone" -- Friends, not these sounds) ( ) . A second rejection of earlier symphonic themes is unnecessary dramatically, so Beethoven proceeds directly to what may now be called the "Joy" theme ( ) and a set of choral variations (462-473). Incidentally, the way in which the "Joy" theme permeates the movement with its periodic returns would have been somewhat familiar to Beethoven's audience from the rondo, a form that relies on a recurring refrain (e.g. A B A C A etc.) and was often used for the last movement of Classical symphonies. The choral section builds to a very loud cadence ( ) (474), which, while preparing us for a new key (Bb), dissipates suddenly into silence. Gradually, what seems to be a second theme ( ) emerges in the guise of a march played by an orchestral ensemble that sounds like a small military band (475). This lively theme is really another variation on the "Joy " theme. Here, though, it serves as a countermelody to the soloist's and chorus's next stanza of text, "Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen [Joyful, as his suns fly]" ( ) (478-473).

Everything we have heard so far might be considered the exposition of a vast sonata form. A relatively short orchestral development (or interlude) follows, wherein an eighth-note theme again derived from the "Joy" theme (cellos and bassoons) is combined with another theme and worked out in a double fugue ( ) (483-492).

The choir ushers in a kind of recapitulation, repeating the first stanza of text ( ) (493). An important new melodic idea is introduced, though, with the fifth stanza of Schiller's Ode "Seid umschlungen Millionen [Be embraced you millions!]" (498). The tempo slows considerably as the tenors and basses, supported by trombones (heard here for the first time in the Ninth), intone this solemn "Brotherhood" theme ( ). The tempo slows, the solemnity builds. Finally, in a sudden burst of energy, the "Joy" and "Brotherhood" themes are synthesized when their melodies are combined as subjects of yet another double fugue ( ) (504). The fugue reaches a climax with the sopranos holding a very high note for fourteen full measures ( ) (514-516), and ends in an awesome silence (S19). A coda of sublime proportions follows, introduced by the vocal soloists singing an echo of the "Joy" theme. The text "seine Zauber binden wieder [Your magic reunites]" is set to a fast-paced round ( ) (522-523). Tempo and texture fluctuate. Listen especially to the end of this section (528-529), where the vocal soloists break into a cadenza on the words "Wo dein sanfter Flugel weilt [Wherever your gentle wings tarry]" ( ). Eventually, a very fast section (530) brings the entire Symphony to a close with militaristic pomp in the key of D major, the parallel major of the overall key of the Symphony ( ).

Now, listen to the entire movement, which is here presented in two parts: Presto and Allegro Assai ('O Freunde, Nicht Diese Tone!').