Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index

Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)

The Symphony No. 9 in D minor was the final symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven, his Opus 125.

Completed in 1824, it includes, as text sung by the soloists and the chorus in its last movement, part of the ode An die Freude ("To Joy") by Friedrich Schiller. It is the first instance in which the human voice was used as a symphonic instrument.

The symphony may be the best known of all works of classical music, and plays a prominent cultural role in modern society. Beethoven's setting of Schiller’s ode was chosen, in adapted form, to be the anthem of the European Union. Students in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square played the symphony through loudspeakers in 1989 as a protest against tyranny. A famous performance conducted by Leonard Bernstein on December 25, 1989 celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall. It substituted Freiheit ("freedom") for Freude ("joy") in the sung text.

The symphony seems to have taken particularly deep root in Japan, where it is widely performed during December as part of the annual celebration of the new year.

Table of contents
1 Composition and premiere
2 Movements and scoring
3 Organization
4 The symphony in cinema and popular culture
5 External links

Composition and premiere

Schiller’s "Ode to Joy" was written in 1785. Beethoven had made plans to set this poem to music as far back as 1793, when he was only 22 years old. Beethoven’s sketchbooks show that bits of material that ultimately appeared in the symphony were written in 1811, 1815, and 1817.

The symphony also can be seen gradually emerging in some other pieces by Beethoven that, while completed works in their own right, are also in some sense sketches for the future symphony. Notably, 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. Going further back, an earlier version of the Choral Fantasy theme is found in the song "Gegenliebe" ("Returned Love"), for piano and high voice, which dates from 1794.

Thus, in one sense Beethoven was working on the Ninth Symphony off and on for much of his adult life. However, the final composition of the work took place in the years 1822-1824.

The Ninth Symphony was premiered May 7, 1824 in the Kärntnertortheater in Vienna. The conductor was Michael Umlauf , who was assisted by the composer standing at his side. The assistance must have been largely at the level of the overall conception, since Beethoven was quite deaf by this point in his life, and at the conclusion of the performance, he had to be turned around to acknowledge the audience’s cheers.

Movements and scoring

Symphony No.9 in d minor, Op.125, "Choral"

I. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
II. Molto vivace
III. Adagio molto e cantabile
IV. Presto/recitative - Allegro ma non troppo/recitative - Vivace/recitative - Adagio cantabile/recitative - Allegro assai/recitative - Presto/recitative: "O Freunde" - Allegro assai: "Freude, schöner Götterfunken" - Alla marcia - Allegro assai vivace: "Froh, wie seine Sonnen" - Andante maestoso: "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" - Adagio ma non troppo, ma divoto: "Ihr, stürzt nieder" - Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato: "Freude, schöner Götterfunken" / "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" - Allegro ma non tanto: "Freude, Tochter aus Elysium!" - Prestissimo: "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!"

The work is scored for one piccolo, two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, one contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, two timpani, one triangle, one pair of cymbals, one bass drum, a string section (first and second violins, violas, cellos, double basses), four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, bass), and a chorus in four parts (soprano, alto, tenor, bass).


The Ninth Symphony follows a Classical pattern, consisting of four movements with the scherzo movement in second (rather than the normal third) position. This arrangement can be found in the early works of Joseph Haydn, as well as contemporary works of Beethoven such as the Hammerklavier piano sonata Opus 106 and the string quartet Opus 127.

The final movement occasionally strikes listeners as somewhat rambling, but emerges as quite coherent under the conception of Charles Rosen, who describes it as a symphony within a symphony, containing four movements played without interruption. This "inner symphony" follows the same overall pattern as the Ninth Symphony as a whole. The scheme is as follows:

The symphony in cinema and popular culture

Not surprisingly given the overall fame of the work, the Ninth Symphony has been incorporated into film scores and television. The second and final movements are featured prominently in the film A Clockwork Orange by Stanley Kubrick. The opening measures of the second movement were used as the theme music for an American news broadcast in the 1960's, the Huntley-Brinkley News Hour.

External links