Friday, October 31, 2014

Beethoven - Symphony No. 9 In D Minor 'Choral'

The Age of Enlightenment began towards the end of the 17th century and lasted until the end of the 18th century. It was a movement spearheaded by intellectuals that sought to reform and challenge traditions of society and to further knowledge by the use of the scientific method. The movement swept across Europe, Russia, Great Britain and their colonies in the New World.  Indeed, it was the political and governmental philosophies of The Enlightenment that helped to create The United States.

The movement also encouraged the arts, and in Germany Johann Goethe and Friedrich Schiller were
two of the most well-known Age of Enlightenment writers. Both authors eventually ended up in Wiemar, where they developed a friendship and worked together to revive German theater.

The art of music was also affected by the changes brought about by The Enlightenment, as a developing middle class became more involved in playing music and attending concerts, which gave composers more opportunities to compose for the public instead of royal patrons. George Handel was one of the early composers that composed his operas for public exhibition as well as works for keyboard and small ensemble that were made for playing at home.

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in 1770, and was a child of The Enlightenment. Although he still relied on the patronage of royalty, he was enthusiastic about the French Revolution (at least in the beginning) and had definite Republic leanings. Beethoven read the works of Goethe and Schiller but it was a poem by the latter printed in 1785 that resonated within him so deeply that he wanted to set it to music. It took him almost thirty years and a few false starts to finally used the poem Ode To Joy in a composition.  The Choral Fantasia of 1808 can be considered an experiment in setting text for soloist, chorus and orchestra, as well as many sketches in his notebooks of themes and possible versions of the text.

Friedrich Schiller
He began writing the 9th Symphony in 1818, but most of the real composing of the work happened between 1822-1824. The first three movements were completed first, with the last movement causing the most trouble. He was determined to use the poem in the last movement, but struggled with how to transition from three movements of instrumental music to a finale with soloists and chorus.  He came to a solution to the dilemma and completed the work in February of 1824.

The premiere of the work was given in May of 1824 in Vienna. There are many anecdotes written about the premiere, some of them in differing versions, so it is hard to know what really happened and what didn't, but there are a few details that are likely to have happened. Beethoven was on stage and beat out the tempo before each movement, but as his deafness had become almost total he did not participate otherwise in the performance.  Beethoven had his following in Vienna, and with the span of 12 years between the 8th Symphony and the 9th, the house was full.  There is evidence that only two rehearsals of the work were held, sand with a work as novel and demanding as the 9th,  the performance could not have been very good. But the audience gave the work and composer a standing ovation.

The work is scored for a very large orchestra with woodwinds in pairs, contra bassoon, four horns, two trumpets, three trombones, timpani, bass drum, triangle, cymbals, four soloists, chorus, and strings. The work is in four movements:

I. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso -  The beginning of this symphony is one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever written. To some it sounds like an orchestra tuning up, which is in keeping with the ambiguity of the work. Technically, the ambiguity is profound when it is known the notes being repeated are A and E, empty fourths and fifths which can be a hint at A major or A minor:
This continues as the scrap of a motive is passed back and forth in the strings while other instruments slowly join in the accompaniment until a crescendo leads to a loud statement and in a flash Beethoven asserts the key to D minor with a full statement of the first theme. This is expanded until it reverts back to the style of the beginning, but this time the two notes that are repeated are D and A, the bare fifth and fourth of either D major, or minor. Another surprise is in store as Beethoven plays the first theme again, only this time it is in B-flat major, but not for long.  Transitional material goes through various key changes in preparation for the second subject. After more transition, a third theme is heard. The exposition is not repeated, but segues directly to the development section that begins with the tonal ambiguity of the opening, but swiftly modulates to a different key. The development goes far a field as Beethoven works and reworks the themes to a fever pitch with the recapitulation and impassioned repeat of the first theme. The other themes are repeated in different keys. The coda begins with the first theme and develops it further. A ritard leads to a new theme played in the woodwinds while the strings play an agitated chromatic accompaniment. The entire orchestra builds in volume and intensity until the strings play a tremolo figure with a wide compass while the rest of the orchestra plays a strongly rhythmic commentary until the orchestra plays a fragment of the first theme until it abruptly ends.

II. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Presto - For the first time in one of his symphonies Beethoven places the scherzo as the second movement in place of the usual slow movement. The scherzo begins with a lightening strike imitation of a fragment of the first theme of the previous movement:
The scherzo continues as the theme is expanded in counterpoint.  The music continues to run through the orchestra until it reaches a quiet section that anticipates a change in the music, but this is a false impression as the music repeats the section that began after the introduction. After the repeat, the quiet section leads to the second part of the scherzo that begins in D major but soon reverts back to the tonic. The quiet section again appears and leads to the repeat of the second part of the scherzo. The scherzo then transitions directly to the trio which begins in D major. The trio evens out some of the rhythmic angularity of the scherzo but it too races along at a fast clip. The trio ends when the scherzo takes it from the top and begins with the lightning strike. Each section of the scherzo is played once, and after the second section it sounds as if the trio is to be repeated, but it is Beethoven tricking our ears as the short reference to the trio stops abruptly, and after a full bar's rest the orchestra plays broken octaves and ends the movement on the home note of D spread throughout the orchestra.

III. Adagio molto e cantabile - The slow movement begins in B-flat major, but there are many key changes throughout. The first theme is played by the violins, with another more passionate theme in the low strings directly after the first. The first theme is varied, as is the second theme for what is essentially a set of double variations. There is a loud interruption played twice during the movement, a fanfare in E-flat major. The movement comes to rest pianissimo in B-flat major.

IV. Schiller's Ode To Joy -  The beginning of this movement is also one of the most recognizable openings in music, but unlike the veiled mystery and ambiguity of the first movement, the lightening bolt suddenness of the scherzo, this opening is famous for its harshness and anger. It is a dissonant chord played in the woodwinds and brass that is followed by octave racing up and down that settle on an A, once again the dominant of the home key of D minor. A passage marked recitative is played by the low strings until another dissonant chord and octave racing that settle on a D minor chord.  These two dissonant chords confused most listeners and musicians for many years. Some took them as proof Beethoven was not in his right mind. Some conductors smoothed them over by removing the offending accidentals. Louis Spohr, violinist and composer, knew Beethoven and blamed his deafness:
His constant endeavor to be original and to open new paths, could no longer as formerly, be preserved from error by the guidance of the ear. Was it then to be wondered at that his works became more and more eccentric, unconnected, and incomprehensible? ... Yes! I must even reckon the much admired Ninth Symphony among them, the three first movements of which, in spite of some solitary flashes of genius, are to me worse than all of the eight previous Symphonies, the fourth movement of which is in my opinion so monstrous and tasteless, and in its grasp of Schiller's Ode so trivial, that I cannot even now understand how a genius like Beethoven's could have written it. I find in it another proof of what I already remarked in Vienna, that Beethoven was wanting in aesthetical feeling and in a sense of the beautiful.
Other famous musicians such as Berlioz struggled with the meaning of the dissonances, only to come to no conclusion:
[The chord] grinds dreadfully against the dominant and produces an excessively harsh effect. This does indeed express fury and rage, but here again I cannot see what motivates such feelings, unless the composer, before making the chorus leader sing... had wanted in a strangely capricious way to vilify the orchestral harmony. [My] efforts at discovering Beethoven’s purpose are completely in vain. I can see a formal intention, a deliberate and calculated attempt to produce a double discordance, both at the point which precede the appearance of the recitative, instrumental at first and later vocal. I have searched hard for the reason for this idea, and I have to admit that it is unknown to me.
After the two dissonant chords and recitative of the cellos and basses, Beethoven brings back reminisces of all three previous movements, one at a time with each being cut short by the low strings as they continue their recitative.  The low strings then play the main theme of the final movement, first by themselves and then with other instruments added with an increase in volume. The entire final movement contains many variations of this theme. A climax is reached, and a short transition section leads to yet another massive dissonant chord, this time by the entire orchestra. After the octave racing, the bass soloist sings a recitative with words written by Beethoven:

Bass:
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Freude!
(O friends, not these tones!
Let us sing more pleasing,
and peaceful ones!
Joy!)

Then the bass soloist sings the first section of the poem and the main theme of the movement that has already been heard in the low strings:
1st Section
Bass and Chorus:
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
(Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, burning with fervor,
heavenly being, your sanctuary!
Your magic brings together
what custom has sternly divided.
All men shall become brothers,
wherever your gentle wings hover.)
The chorus then repeats the last four lines of this section.

The next section has the soloists continuing the poem:
2nd Section
Sporano, Alto, Tenor, Bass and chorus:  
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
(Whoever has been lucky
to become a friend to a friend,
Whoever has found his beloved wife,
let him join our songs of praise!
Yes, and anyone who can call one soul
his own on this earth!
Anyone who cannot, let them slink away
from this gathering in tears!)
The chorus repeats the last four lines of this section also.

The soloists continue the poem in the third section:
3rd Section
Soprano, Alto, Tenor, Bass and Chorus:
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
(Every creature drinks in joy
at nature's breast;
Good and Bad alike
follow her trail of roses.
She gives kisses and wine,
a true friend, even in death;
Even the worm was given desire,
and the cherub stands before God.)
The chorus repeats the last four lines of this section, with the last two words vor Gott repeated until a massive chord is held molto tenuto . 

The music changes key to B-flat major as the bass drum and bassoons play a rudimentary rhythm that is soon picked up by other instruments in the orchestra. The cymbals and triangle add to the basic rhythm as Beethoven has transformed his noble music into an imitation of a German oom pah pah band (perhaps a section Spohr had in mind in the quote above) as the piccolo plays a variant of the main theme of the movement. The tenor soloist then continues the poem in the fourth section:
4th Section
Tenor and Male Chorus:
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
(Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Gladly, just as His suns hurtle
through the glorious universe,
So you, brothers, should run your course,
joyfully, like a conquering hero.)
After the singing of this section of the poem the orchestra takes off on a flight of conflict over major or minor key in a flurry of passionate music that begins to be resolved as the music plays rhythmic octaves reminiscent of the main theme of the first movement. A quiet transition then grows in intensity until the chorus repeats the 1st section of the poem. After the repeat, the music suddenly halts.

The chorus then begins to sing the next part of the poem on a new theme in the fifth section:
5th Section
Chorus:
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
(Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.
Do you bow down before Him, you millions?
Do you sense your Creator, o world?
Seek Him above the canopy of stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.)
The chorus reaches the limits of its upper register on the words He must dwell beyond the stars as the orchestra shimmers a delicate accompaniment. There is a fermata, and the final section begins.

The chorus begins a double fugue beginning with altos and sopranos with the main theme and the new theme. Tenors and Bass enter as the orchestra accompanies. The soloists sing part of the first section. The chorus takes over until the soloists re-enter with an intricate variant that is lightly accompanied by the orchestra. The music then quickens, the chorus with words from the first section until the music broadens. After the chorus repeats the lines Freude, schöner Götterfunken the orchestra takes over at a gallop and ends the symphony at break neck speed and intensity.




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