Beethoven Symphony No. 9 “Choral”
Completed in 1824, three years before the composer’s death, Beethoven’s 9th symphony occupies a special place at the summit of Classical literature – the peak of Beethoven’s orchestral output and, for generations of composers, the supreme model of extended symphonic form. The finale is in itself unique in the orchestral repertory of its time, bringing the power of poetry and song to the symphonic fabric: Beethoven’s dramatic choral setting of Schiller’s Ode an die Freude – his “Ode to Joy”.
Beethoven & Schiller’s Ode an die Freude
Beethoven did not return to Vienna until the last migratory birds had left for the winter; it was already the end of October (1822). The new symphony was finished up to the the fourth movement; that is, he had it all in his head and the main ideas were fixed in the sketchbooks. Contrary to his usual method of working, he frequently put the music aside, especially the fourth movement, for he could not decide which verses to choose from Schiller’s ode, An die Freude. The working out of the fourth movement, however, began a struggle seldom encountered before. The problem was to find a suitable introduction to Schiller’s ode. One day he burst into the room and shouted at me: “I have it! I have it!” He held his sketchbook out to me so that I could read: “Let us sing the song of the immortal Schiller”; then a solo voice began the Hymn to Joy. Yet this introduction must later have given place to another, undeniably more appropriate one:
‘O friends, not these strains!
Let us sing still more beautifully, still more joyfully!
Anton Felix Schindler (1860)