Beethoven, Symphony No. 9 in D minor (1824)

Course Description
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the most analyzed and influential pieces of music ever composed. In providing an epic story of human suffering that ends with a vision of utopia, it is also one of the most popular symphonies in music history. This class will help listeners identify the key elements of the Beethoven's Ninth and how he used the symphony to express views on the uncertainty of life and a hope for a future based on brotherhood, peace, and joy.

General Information
  • The Ninth was first performed in Vienna on May 7, 1824, conducted by Michael Umlauf. Beethoven sat in the middle of the orchestra following the music with a score. During the ovation at the end, Beethoven was unaware of the applause until an alto singer, Fräulein Unger, prompted him to look at the audience. As described by Unger (through music writer George Groves), “His turning about … acted like an electric shock on all present, and a volcanic explosion of sympathy and admiration followed.”
  • The finale of the Ninth is based on the poem “Ode to Joy,” written by the German philosopher and historian Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805). Schiller wrote the poem in 1785 to celebrate the brotherhood of all humanity. Beethoven first thought about setting the poem to music in 1792 when he was only twenty-two years old. Twenty years later, in 1812, he planned to use the ode in an overture for chorus. The earliest sketches showing that Beethoven wanted to use the poem for a symphony date from 1817. In the end, Beethoven used only about one-third of Schiller’s poem and reorganized the stanzas.
Online Articles
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as an International Phenomenon
  • The "Ode to Joy" has been adopted by the European Union as the European anthem.
  • During the 1970s, the "Ode to Joy" was sung by women in Chile as a protest against the Pinochet regime and the torture of prisoners.
  • In 1989 the "Ode to Joy" was played by protestors over loudspeakers in Tiananmen Square as Chinese troops came to crush the pro-democracy movement.
  • In 2011, Pete Seeger led protesters in singing the "Ode to Joy" during Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City.
  • Beethoven's Ninth enjoys great popularity in Japan and is performed hundreds of times every December. According to CBS News, the Japanese affection for Beethoven’s Ninth began during World War I when German POWs performed it for the first time in Japan. The piece then evolved into an end-of-year tradition for the Japanese. The link below will take you to a performance from December  2011. The Japanese were recovering from the earthquakes and tsunami that had hit their nation nine months earlier. What you will hear is a choir of 10,000 (that's not a type) sing the "Ode to Joy" with great passion. My recommendation: Jump forward to about 6:30 and crank up the volume. 
Click here to see a YouTube video of the "Ode to Joy" performed in Japan, December 2011

The Berlin Freedom Concert
The Berlin Freedom Concert was a remarkable and historic performance of the Ninth Symphony conducted by Leonard Bernstein to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. On November 9, 1989, the East German government announced that East German citizens could begin to visit West Berlin and West Germany. The announcement set off a chain of events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the eventual reunification of Germany. The Berlin Freedom Concert was televised worldwide on December 25, 1989, only six weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

In this legendary performance of the Ninth, Leonard Bernstein conducted the Bavarian Radio Symphony, which was joined by musicians from the United States, Russia, Great Britain and France. The choir was composed of members of the Bavarian Radio Chorus, the Radio Chorus from East Berlin, and the Children’s Choir of the Dresden Philharmonie. Children were added to the chorus as representatives of the future who could carry the experience of the performance into their adult lives.

Bernstein asked the chorus to replace the word
freude (joy) throughout the last movement with the word freiheit (freedom), transforming the famous Ode to Joy into an Ode to Freedom.

Click here to see a YouTube video of Leonard Bernstein conducting the Berlin Freedom Concert.

Recommended Books
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Recommended Recordings
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