Ludwig van Beethoven

Symphonie No. 9
D-moll Op. 125

I - Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso

II - Molto vivace

III - Adagio molto e cantabile

IV - Presto - Presto - Allegro assai
(Schlußchor aus Schillers Ode »An die Freude«)

The unique, stupendous composition, which burst the bounds of instrumental music for the first time in the history of the symphony, has been the object of controversy from the very first. Verdi revered the first three movements of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, but was baffled by the last — understandably, considering how ruthlessly Beethoven treats the singing voice. Wagner, for his part, found confirmation there, from the highest conceivable authority, for his thesis that after Beethoven only the word of the poet could redeem music, and that Beethoven himself had thrust open the gate leading to a musical new age: the age of music drama.
Nevertheless, some amazingly positive opinions were expressed about the symphony in Beethoven’s own time. Ignaz von Seyfried, for example, who was incidentally a personal acquaintance of the composer’s, in an article written in 1828, described the Ninth as a symphony which «both in scale and in respect of the material and spiritual elaboration surpasses even its older sisters, opulently furnished as they are». Of the finale — a «genuine masterpiece, worthy of its creator».
Let us trace the prehistory of the idea of the choral finale. It goes back far beyond the Choral Fantasia, and is at first inseparable from Schiller’s ode An die Freude (“To Joy”), which was published in 1786 in the periodical Thalia, and included later in a collected edition of Schiller’s poems. As he set it in the symphony, Beethoven took the text from the later edition, but the poem appears to have gripped him already while he was still in Bonn.
The finale of the Ninth Symphony is the first encounter of Weimar classicism and Viennese classicism in the service of the highest aspirations of musical art. The significance of the encounter springs not so much from the decision of an important composer to set an important poem, but rather from the spiritual affinity which appears to exist between Beethoven and Schiller. Both were enthused with a spiritual idealism which aimed at a reconciliation of humankind.
But, however deep his veneration for Goethe and Schiller may have been, as a composer Beethoven was sovereign. The structure of the poem, consisting of nine strophes (of eight lines, rhymed ababcdcd) and nine choruses (of four lines, abba), prefigures the division into choruses and solos but is also conditioned by the content. Beethoven, however, ignores Schiller’s simple alternation of strophes and choruses and rearranges the verses according to the dictates of his own musical conception. Without degrading the poem in any way, he uses it like a libretto. The selection and ordering of the lines, the total complex, can be understood only when it is considered in the context of the structure of the entire final movement. And yet there is an inner relationship between Schiller’s poem and the variation principle, despite the apparent independence of the latter. Schiller’s ode is an ecstatic, enthusiastic appeal to all mankind to come together in honour of a joy and a rapture which flood through the souls of all, and Beethoven’s variations, amid which the two calmer episodes open up glimpses of the transcendental and the eternal, built up into a dance which irresistibly draws everyone into its circle, spiralling upwards into ever further, higher regions.
Similarly, Schiller’s poem lends itself to the ideal which the finales of instrumental works, especially symphonies, have always been held to serve. Condensed to the essentials, it proclaims the reconciliation of antithesis, the resolution of conflict in common rejoicing, the dissolution of barriers. The union of instruments and voices tangibly, audibly symbolizes the union of the human race, brought together in the name of liberating joy: a postulate which resounds from every note of Beethoven’s music and in which Beethoven’s and Schiller’s intention coincide.

Friedrich von Schiller

»An die Freude«

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere nstimmen
und freudenvollere!

Freude, schöner Götterfunkel,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binder wieder,
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werder Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

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 auch diese Bund.

Freude trinke alles 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!

Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.

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!
Über Sternen muß er wohnen.