Sound of Charlotte Blog

NOTES OF BEETHOVEN’S NINTH SYMPHONY

Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor
The first performance of the Ninth Symphony took place at the Kärnthnerthor Theater in Vienna on May 7, 1824, with Ignaz Umlauf conducting.

The first performance of this work by the Charlotte Symphony took place on October 4, 1955 with James Christian Pfohl conducting at Ovens Auditorium. The twelfth and most recent performance set took place April 22-24, 2010 with Stefan Sanderling conducting in the Belk Theater of the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center.

Beethoven's final Symphony, the Ninth ("Choral"), represents--on a number of levels--a fitting culmination and apotheosis of the immortal composer's artistic life.  The Ninth is by far the most epic of Beethoven's Symphonies, both in terms of length and performing forces.  The revolutionary introduction of vocal soloists and chorus in the finale was a bold masterstroke that forever expanded the potential of symphonic expression.

The text of the Symphony's finale, based upon the 1785 Ode "To Joy" by the great German writer, Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), held a lifelong attraction for the composer.  Beethoven first became acquainted with Schiller's Ode "To Joy" ("An die Freude") when the composer was a student in his native Bonn

The beloved melodic setting of Schiller's text in the Finale of Beethoven's Ninth was also the product of an
extended genesis.  A version of the melody first appears in a song Beethoven composed in the mid-1790s, entitled "Gegenliebe" ("Mutual Love"), based upon a text by Gottfried August Bürger.  An even more striking premonition of the Ninth Symphony may be found in Beethoven's 1808Fantasia in C minor for Piano, Chorus, and Orchestra, Opus 80.  In that work, the melody--in this case, a setting of a text by Christian Kuffner--receives a treatment quite similar in many ways to that found in the "Choral" Symphony.

The premiere of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony took place at the Vienna Kärnthnerthor Theater on May 7, 1824.  By this stage of Beethoven's life, the composer's hearing had deteriorated to such an extent that conducting the performance was out of the question.  Instead, Ignaz Umlauf led the premiere.  All the while, however, Beethoven was at Umlauf's side, attempting to direct the tempos for the various movements.

At the conclusion of the performance, the audience erupted with a spirited ovation.  Karoline Unger was the alto soloist at the premiere of the Beethoven Ninth.  More than four decades later, she met with the British music writer, Sir George Grove.  During that meeting, Unger described what happened at the May 7, 1824 concert:
The master, though placed in the midst of this confluence of music, heard nothing of it at all and was not even sensible of the applause of the audience at the end of his great work, but continued standing with his back to the audience, and beating the time, till Fräulein Unger, who had sung the contralto part, turned him, or induced him to turn round and face the people, who were still clapping their hands, and giving way to the greatest demonstrations of pleasure.  His turning round, and the sudden conviction thereby forced upon everybody that he had not done so before, because he could not hear what was going on, acted like an electric shock on all present, and a volcanic explosion of sympathy and admiration followed, which was repeated again and again, and seemed as if it would never end.
 
Program notes by Ken Meltzer.

Posted in Classics. Tagged as Beethoven, Christopher Warren-Green, Classical, History.

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