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Beethoven Essay, Research Paper

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, in 1770. He came from a family of musicians. His father and grandfather worked for the Electors of Cologne. The grandfather, Lodewyk van Beethoven came from Mechelen, Belgium and joined the court orchestra in Bonn

as a bass player. He eventually became the conductor. His son Johann was a professional tenor at the court in Bonn and also played piano and violin. As Beethoven began to exhibited his outstanding musical talent at a young age, his father pushed for him to become a child prodigy. Johann gradually gave up when Beethoven ‘s recitals were only marginally successful. Beethoven’s mother then died when he was in his late teens. His mother’s death drove his father to become an abusive alcoholic. Beethoven was then forced to take care of the needs of his brothers. These circumstances might have lead to Beethoven’s eccentric personality and to the perfection which he placed on himself and his music. “His idiosyncratic working methods, his mournful isolation through deafness and the nobility of his total dedication to his art was what endowed him as almost a mythical figure” ( Hopkins 257). This leads to the creation of many wonderful pieces of music. The most famous of his works are the nine symphonies. His last symphony, especially the choral finale, is now recognized as one of the all time greatest achievements, not just in music but for humanity as a whole. Admired around the world, the symphony has been used countless times to underscore momentous occasions, such as the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The Ninth Symphony was completed in 1823, by which time Beethoven had been completely deaf for years. It’s final movement, which is a triumphant setting to Schiller’s Ode to Joy, broke new groun0ds in terms of scale and introduced choral forces into the symphony for the first time. ” By this time Beethoven was ready for the almightiest risk of his life” ( Simpson 55). He was at the stage in his life where he knew what risks he could and could not take. For years Beethoven had contemplated setting Schiller’s Ode to Joy, but when he decided to make this the setting to the final movement to his ninth symphony he was very uncertain as to how to introduce the voice. ” … there are reports of him striding up and down his room trying to solve this problem” ( Pike 70). Although some of the ideas used in the Ninth Symphony appear in sketches of 1817-18, Beethoven only began concentrated work on the score in 1822. It occupied him throughout 1823, and he completed it in February 1824.

The first performance took place at the Karntnerthor Theater in Vienna on May 7, 1824. Beethoven stood there completely deaf beating time and turning pages of his score, but the real conduction was done by Michael Umlauf. The orchestra leader was Schuppanigh. The dedication was to King Frederick William III of Prussia.( Steinberg 47-48)The first vocal soloists to perform this were Henriette Sontag (soprano), Karoline Ungersabatier ( alto), Anton Haizinger ( tenor), and Joseph Seipelt (bass). Only two rehearsals were gad been possible for the performance with mixed critical success.

The symphony’s required orchestration includes: two flutes and piccolo, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons and contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle, cymbals, bass drums, and strings, plus soprano, alto, tenor, and bass solos and four part- mixed chorus.

The proper title of the Ninth Symphony is ‘ Symphony with final chorus on Schiller’s Ode of Joy’. We can see from the name that it was conceived first and foremost as an instrumental work. Most people see the choral part as the main attraction to the symphony. “… it is important to remember that when we refer to the Ninth Symphony as the ‘Choral Symphony’ we are crudely recognizing the dramatic power of the human voice to throw everything else, no matter how important into the background” ( Simpson 56). There is no doubt that there was plans to make the last movement not a choral, but an instrumental one. Beethoven had once written an instrumental finale, but his dream of setting Schiller’s Ode to Joy overcame him.

The Ninth is a confluence of many currants and forces in Beethoven’s life: of an involvement since boyhood with the work of Friedrich von Schiller and a plan cherished over thirty years to set his ode An die Fruede; of a fugue subject jotted down in a notebook about 1815 and again in somewhat altered form two or three years later (This became the main theme of the scherzo); of an invitation from the Philharmonic Society of London to visit England in the winter of 1817-18 and to bring two new symphonies with him; of plans actually made around 1818 for two symphonies , one in D minor, the other to include a choral “Adagio Cantique… in ancient modes”; of Beethoven’s acceptance in 1822 of the London Philharmonic Society’s commission of a symphony, this being the final outcome of the negotiations begun in 1817.

( Steinberg 49) . His personal life had a major influence outside of these personal things. Since 1812 Beethoven’s life had been in a continuous state of crisis. This came from the guardianship battle he was having with his sister-in-law over his nephew Karl. It was also the great year of frustrated passion with his famous ” Immortal Beloved”, Antonie Bretano. Since 1812 and the Seventh and Eighth Symphonies, Beethoven had written little. In the final winning legal battle in April 1820, Beethoven felt the need to reconstruct his life and completing his life’s work.

The Ninth Symphony is a whole new musical sound and thought. ” When the Ninth Symphony begins we are clearly in a new world of sound: eleven years separate it from the Eighth” ( Pike 60). This Symphony is the first for many things. The whole idea of a choral as being the last movement was an astonishing one. Besides this huge factor, the music was of a new dimension. ” For the first time in music …the two contradictory functions are inextricably fused…” ( Simpson 58). The whole symphony is a structural summation of classical possibilities, all expressed in a huge design. Beethoven took the two great divisions of music ( choral and orchestral) and adopted a style of mixed music capable as serving as a connective link.

( Berlioz 105)

The Ninth Symphony traces a path from darkness to light. The first three movements are named as followed: 1. Allegro ma non troppo un poco maestoso , 2. Molto vivace: Presto, 3.Adagio molto e cantabile-andante moderato. These first three movements involve so many different feelings and complexity that is in not comprehendible. ” The first three movements of the Ninth Symphony spring from regions of the mind not directly involved with the emotional stresses of daily life” ( Simpson 57). These movements fit in a somewhat traditional structure of fast, fast, slow. Throughout them there is an extreme fluctuation of feeling. Through the feelings range from opposite extremes, there is the continuous feeling of warmth throughout them. “… state of mind that produced them [ the first three movements] was both exalted and of rare objectivity , beyond ordinary workday human emotions” ( Simpson 56). Each movement has it’s own special quality. The first movement has a sort of dark tone to it, but a sense of power comes along. ” The first movement with its imprint of somber majesty, does not resemble any which Beethoven had previously written” ( Berlioz 106). The second movement also has it’s own distinctive quality. The scherzo, which some have called “one the greatest in existence” (Simpson 61). The sound of the first movement and the second are opposing ones. “The first is terrible and almost and imaginable sound, while the Scherzo is entrancing and delightful” (Simpson 61).The last movement will include both points of view. Beethoven said that ‘The visions of the first three movements are such as to reduce man to the apparent size of a microbe; but a man conceived them so , let us all rejoice in our potentialities’. The third movement, the Adagio, leads us up to the finale. It is the slow movement that grows into a warmth. It complements the finale which brings us to the fast exaltation of joy .

The finale, the most outstanding part of this symphony, has a lot involved. It is felt that the choral finale is a natural outcome of the rest. The movement begins with an exceptional passage lasting for a quite a while. The strings are in the lead here, where the melody can be heard. A shorter recitative can then be heard that reminds us of the very start of the symphony. Out of this there is an expressive change of pace. There is a closing diminuendo and the wind instruments coming in. There is a bass soloist now emulating the melody that the strings were playing before. The bass pronounces the word freude ( joy) with the men answering him accompanied by the strings. This then leads into the lower voices of the chorus repeating the last eight bars of the bass solo. When the whole chorus finally joins in there is a sense of a light being poured out and u can feel the exaltation of the music. The music then slows down to a verse ” Seid umschlungen , Millionen!” ( Be embraced, ye millions!), it is given at first by men’s voices, trombones, and low strings in unison. It is someway evoking a church chant. At the repeat of this section Beethoven has an almost mystical sounding chorus , singing pianissimo. It seems to float above everything that is earthly. The sound then breaks off to a crescendo with the solo quartet following at a rapid pace. The music then returns to a light woodwind sound with the strings behind and the chorus growing into it. Breaking off once again into a solo quartet as to slow things down. After a break of silence everyone is back again with full orchestration the sound of the timpani shouts through as the music crescendo to a fast paced quick ending. The feeling of happiness and excitement is felt throughout. There is no doubt that the meaning of this piece – the expression of joy is seen here.

This piece is one that really evokes full beauty. I have felt this not only listening to it but also performing it. It has to be one of the hardest but most rewarding pieces to perform. Each vocal part, which is the only part that I can speak from, is extremely difficult. It goes to the upper register of every voices range. The struggle with the notes , the intricate rhythms and the dynamics is worth it all. At the end you have a most fabulous piece that when you sing you feel it’s power and it’s warmth.


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