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An Evaluation of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony: Analysis

Posted by fifthdimension on May 21, 2007

In his earlier works, Beethoven had sought to unify the separate movements by linking thematic materials to each other. In this movement, he does it even better; after an abrupt and horrific fanfare, a declarative passage in the bass violins introduces and rejects in turn the opening of each of the preceding movements. The basses offer the main theme of the finale as an alternative; taken up by the upper strings with a bassoon accompaniment, it affords an immensely soothing moment.

 

The declarative passages rendered by the basses must be given real words in order to be made whole. The baritone soloist takes the place of the bass violins, and proclaims, “Oh friends, not these sounds! Rather let us strike up more pleasing and joyful ones!” – Whereupon the main theme is joined with Schiller’s “Ode to Joy,” its predestined text.

 

The main intent of the text (as edited by Beethoven) is to celebrate the universal fellowship of humanity in joy. Beethoven enacts that universality in the course of the movement, moving between the sublime and the commonplace. Sublimity rests not only in the sweeping musical gestures (as when the chorus hammers away at the line “vor Gott,” envisioning the cherubim bowing before God), but also in the form itself, as it seeks to encompass the totality of musical scope.

 

Few works can claim to have as much impact on an entire art form as the Ninth Symphony has had on Western Music. Each of Beethoven’s followers struggled to master the significance of the symphony, seeing in it a massive obstacle to overcome. It fired the imaginations of the Romantics. ‘The opening of the Ninth Symphony,’ wrote Sir Donald Tovey, ‘has been a radiating point for all subsequent experiments for enlarging the time-scale of music … no later composer has escaped its influence.’ The Romantics considered the opening of the Ninth as representing the awakening of the primordial forces of the universe. This is why it had so powerful an influence on Romantic composers such as Bruckner, who began his fourth, seventh, eighth and ninth symphonies with clear allusions to the opening of Beethoven’s Ninth. But there is a profound difference between the beginnings of those symphonies and the model that inspired them. In each instance the strings play an amorphous, rhythm less tremolando, whereas Beethoven gives the second violins and cellos a precisely measured sextuplet rhythm. Wagner asserted that in the Ninth Beethoven was declaring the demise of the purely instrumental symphony as a viable form; only (of course) opera, the fusion of music and text, was possible after the Ninth. In short, the Ninth symphony acted as a template for later musicians working out their own fascinations.

 

Scores for the 9th Symphony have been composed for the following musical instruments: bass drum, first and second violins, for the winds- two piccolos, two clarinets, two oboes, two bassoons, two flutes, contrabassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, triangle, cymbals, violas, cellos, double basses, soprano vocalist, alto vocalist, tenor vocalist, baritone vocalist as well as a complete chorus singing in four parts- soprano, alto, tenor, bass. (Garcia , 183)

 

Comparing the 9th Symphony to other musical compositions in the same genre, composers such as Mendelssohn, Schumann and Brahms were noted to have adhered to the classical conception  of the symphony. Even during attempts to incorporate an alteration, for instance, Schumann in his cyclic treatment in No. 4, or,  Schumann’s attempt to unorthodox movement in Spring, they were not consistent in effecting the desired deviance from the classical norm. These attempts could not duplicate the consistency of Beethoven’s candid detachment from the classical structures in the second movement or the scherzo. Tchaikovsky, another composer in this genre  also involved cyclic repetition of themes, but there has always been a note of allegiance to the traditional styles of the genre.

 

Heralded by musicians and music lovers around the world as the “best known of all works of European classical music, the Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Opus 125, is considered as Ludwig Van Beethoven’s greatest masterpieces.”

 

The music has been adopted as the anthem for the European Union- thus playing  a cultural role in modern society.  The symphony will continue to be a living part of the cultural imagination, and will always have something new to offer the willing listener.

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