Enhanced Program Notes – Beethoven Symphony No. 9: Unfinished Business

Haydn Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1791

Portrait of Beethoven by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

St. Stephen’s, Vienna

Portrait of Prince Nikolaus

Portrait of Johann Peter Salomon Copper engraving by Georg Siegmund Facius

Beethoven as a Young Man attributed to Carl Traugott Reidel

Friedrich Schiller Schiller portrait by Ludovike Simanowiz, 1794 or 1795

Page 12 of Manuscript of Ninth Symphony

Caroline Unger sang at the premiere of the Ninth Symphony and is generally thought to be the person who turned Beethoven to face the audience

It is tempting, when looking back over a composer’s life-long creative output, to see a beginning, middle, and end. For study purposes, this can be helpful and illuminating. However, we must always remember that, in most instances, the composer may not have seen their “final” work as anything more than the “latest” with ideas to be shared and new musical problems to solve. Although Symphony No. 104 in D major by Joseph Haydn (1732-1809) and Symphony No. 9 in D minor by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) were their last completed symphonies, these were by no means their final compositions.

The son of a wheelwright, when Haydn was about eight years old he became a choirboy at St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna where he remained for the next ten years. After leaving St. Stephen’s, Haydn said he had to “eke out a wretched existence” by teaching, playing organ and violin for church services, and performing in instrumental ensembles. Haydn studied composition on his own and with Nicola Porpora, a composer and singing teacher for whom Haydn was an accompanist.

In 1761, Haydn was appointed Vice-Kapellmeister to the Esterházy house, one of the most powerful and influential families in the Austrian empire. He was promoted to Kapellmeister in 1766 and remained actively employed until 1790, when Prince Nikolaus died and his successor disbanded the court orchestra. Officially, Haydn was still associated with the family; however, he was free to pursue other opportunities as well.

One opportunity, as the story goes, arrived at Haydn’s door in 1790. After his initial invitation to come to England, conveyed through an emissary, was declined, the violinist and concert organizer Johann Peter Salomon came to Vienna personally and reportedly told Haydn, “I am Salomon from London and I have come to fetch you!” Haydn’s first trip (1790-1792) was a success and a second tour was soon planned. On Sunday, January 19, 1794, Haydn, with his friend and copyist Johann Elssler left Vienna, arriving in London on February 4, a day after the scheduled opening concert.

During Haydn’s second stay in London, Salomon decided to merge his concert series with the Opera Concert series led by Giovanni Battista Viotti. It was for this orchestra that Haydn composed Symphony No. 104 in 1795. Haydn himself conducted the premiere at the King’s Theater in London on May 4. After returning to Vienna, Haydn wrote vocal music, including masses and the oratorios The Creation and The Seasons.

In discussing his compositional process, Haydn said, “Once I had seized on an idea, my whole endeavor was to develop and sustain it in keeping with the rules of art.” Seizing and developing an idea so that it “stays in the heart when one has listened to it” summarizes much of the beauty and appeal of Haydn’s Symphony No. 104 in D major.

The symphony blends dramatic gestures and folk-inspired melodies deftly balanced by Haydn’s unfailing musical instincts. The first movement begins with a slow introduction in minor featuring two ideas built on the same rhythm: a fanfare motive containing the skeletal outline of a chord progression,

and a more introspective one that fleshes out the sonorities.

This introduction then slides into D major and the main theme of the movement.

The four repeated notes in this main theme are easily recognizable and become a continuous source of energy throughout the movement. The second movement, Andante, shifts between major and minor with a dramatic effect for which Haydn had become (and is still) known.

The opening melodic idea stays in the forefront of this movement even while Haydn nimbly varies the instrumentation and figurations around it.

The Minuet of the third movement feels like a country dance; it is a celebration.

For the Trio, featuring solo passages in the winds accompanied by strings, Haydn wrote delicately swirling lines that continually unfold, and, only at the last moment, anticipate the return of the Minuet.

Based on a folk song, the final movement continues the feeling of a dance, now a faster one.

Traveling on his first trip to England, Haydn stopped at the Bonn where he met and agreed to teach a young composer at the court, Ludwig van Beethoven. Their counterpoint lessons were not what either expected and Beethoven later claimed that he had not learned anything from Haydn. While that may be true about the rules of counterpoint, as a student of Haydn’s music, Beethoven surely understood the musical context and implications of his teacher’s bold juxtaposition of dramatic gestures and folk-inspired melody. Haydn’s description of his compositional process—seizing an idea, developing and sustaining it, so that it stays with the listener—is an apt description of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 as well.

Beethoven, the eldest surviving son of the Bonn court musician Johann van Beethoven and Maria Magdalena Leym (Keverich), gave his first public keyboard concert when he was eight. His youth and talent were often compared with Mozart, a comparison encouraged by Beethoven’s father, and, in 1787, Beethoven traveled to Vienna in order to study with him. The trip was cut short when Beethoven learned that his mother was ill and he returned to Bonn. Five years later, Beethoven then went back to Vienna to study with Haydn.

Beethoven’s fascination with the 1785 poem “An die Freude” by the renowned German poet Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805) began in the 1790s; the first sketches of a line of the poem date from 1798. Ten years later, Beethoven composed and premiered the Choral Fantasy, a work for piano, chorus, and orchestra. When describing the finale of the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven recalled this earlier work, but said that this latest finale was on a far grander scale.

Beethoven jotted down musical ideas as they came to him and then used them as he saw fit; ideas for multiple works were often sketched on the same page. Even as he worked on his Eighth Symphony, Beethoven set the first words of Schiller’s poem and contemplated a symphony in the key of D minor. Then, between 1815 and 1818, he outlined a symphony in which the instruments would enter “one by one,” wrote a bit of music that would become the opening theme of the second movement, and sketched ideas for the other movements. At the same time, he made notes for yet another symphony.

By the early 1820s, Beethoven was ready to give his full attention to his symphony project and by 1824 his latest symphony, composed in order, was complete. In length, the number of instruments, (not including the voice), and the emotional zeniths and nadirs reached, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony extended beyond all other symphonic works that had come before it.

The movements are connected by musical material that is prepared by the opening of the first movement, replete with an introduction featuring open intervals that pull the listener into a sound world that has been amplified to unprecedented levels.

The second movement is tumultuous, a continuation and complement to the first,

even as its Trio section anticipates the next movement.

The reach and calm of the slow movement acts as a preparation—one might even say a meditation—for the finale.

The finale cannot be easily quantified in terms of its structure because it combines elements of the previous three movements, not only by recalling and dismissing the distinctive opening of each movement, but also by borrowing an element of the previous three movements’ formal structures (the sonata form of movement 1, the scherzo elements of movement 2, and the variation features of movement 3). After rejecting the opening of the previous three movements,

the “Ode to Joy” theme enters first played in the orchestra

and then sung to selected stanzas of Schiller’s poem.

Once the voice enters, Beethoven crafts the finale so that voice and instrument are distinct yet intertwined.

The text turns to the spiritual beginning with the words “Seid umschlungen Millionen!” (Be embraced, you millions!”) at which point Beethoven introduces a new theme.

One of the most ethereal moments in this movement occurs as Beethoven extends the range of voice and orchestra

before combining this new theme with the “Ode to Joy” theme.

In 1823, while working on the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven was offered a commission from the Handel and Haydn Society. Although he wrote about how pleased he was to know that his fame had reached across the ocean, he did not accept. That same year he did accept a commission for a set string quartets from Prince Nicolas Galitzin and, after fulfilling that request, continued writing in that genre.

The premiere of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony took place on May 7, 1824, along with The Consecration of the House, an overture, and three movements from the Missa solemnis. Beethoven led this concert, but there was another conductor as well because, with Beethoven’s hearing loss, his conducting sometimes became out of sync with the orchestra. The warm reception of his latest symphony was not heard by the composer until someone turned him to face an audience applauding enthusiastically.


Teresa M. Neff

[[August 2017]]