Friday May 7, 2021’s Smile of the Day: Beethoven’s 9th Symphony
On this Day:
In 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven’s 9th (Chorale) Symphony, often regarded as Beethoven’s greatest work, premiered in Vienna, Austria.
Although the performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf, the theatre’s Kapellmeister, Beethoven shared the stage with him. However, two years earlier, Umlauf had watched as the composer’s attempt to conduct a dress rehearsal of his opera Fidelio ended in disaster. So this time, he instructed the singers and musicians to ignore the almost completely deaf Beethoven. At the beginning of every part, Beethoven, who sat by the stage, gave the tempos. He was turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra he could not hear.
The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is a choral symphony, the final complete symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, composed between 1822 and 1824. It was first performed in Vienna on 7 May 1824. The symphony is regarded by many critics and musicologists as Beethoven’s greatest work and one of the supreme achievements in the history of music. One of the best-known works in common practice music, it stands as one of the most performed symphonies in the world.
The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony. The words are sung during the final (4th) movement of the symphony by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the “Ode to Joy”, a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with text additions made by Beethoven.
In 2001, Beethoven’s original, hand-written manuscript of the score, held by the Berlin State Library, was added to the Memory of the World Programme Heritage list established by the United Nations, becoming the first musical score so designated.
Many later composers of the Romantic period and beyond were influenced by the Ninth Symphony.
An important theme in the finale of Johannes Brahms’ Symphony No. 1 in C minor is related to the “Ode to Joy” theme from the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. When this was pointed out to Brahms, he is reputed to have retorted “Any fool can see that!” Brahms’s first symphony was, at times, both praised and derided as “Beethoven’s Tenth”.
The Ninth Symphony influenced the forms that Anton Bruckner used for the movements of his symphonies. His Symphony No. 3 is in the same D-minor key as Beethoven’s 9th and makes substantial use of thematic ideas from it. The colossal slow movement of Bruckner’s Symphony No. 7, “as usual”, takes the same A–B–A–B–A form as the 3rd movement of Beethoven’s symphony and also uses some figuration from it.
In the opening notes of the third movement of his Symphony No. 9 (From the New World), Antonín Dvořák pays homage to the scherzo of this symphony with his falling fourths and timpani strokes.
Likewise, Béla Bartók borrows the opening motif of the scherzo from Beethoven’s Ninth symphony to introduce the second movement scherzo in his own Four Orchestral Pieces, Op. 12 (Sz 51).
One legend is that the compact disc was deliberately designed to have a 74-minute playing time so that it could accommodate Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Kees Immink, Philips’ chief engineer, who developed the CD, recalls that a commercial tug-of-war between the development partners, Sony and Philips, led to a settlement in a neutral 12-cm diameter format. The 1951 performance of the Ninth Symphony conducted by Furtwängler was brought forward as the perfect excuse for the change, and was put forth in a Philips news release celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Compact Disc as the reason for the 74-minute length.
The scale and influence of Beethoven’s ninth led later composers to ascribe a special significance to their own ninth symphonies, which may have contributed to the cultural phenomena known as the curse of the ninth. A number of other composers’ ninth symphonies also employ a chorus, such as those by Kurt Atterberg, Mieczysław Weinberg, Edmund Rubbra, Hans Werner Henze and Robert Kyr. Anton Bruckner had not originally intended his unfinished ninth symphony to feature choral forces, however the use of his choral Te Deum in lieu of the uncompleted Finale was supposedly sanctioned by the composer. Dmitri Shostakovich had originally intended his Ninth Symphony to be a large work with chorus and soloists, although the symphony as it eventually appeared was a relatively short work without vocal forces.
Of his own Ninth symphony, George Lloyd wrote that “When a composer has written eight symphonies he may find that the horizon has been blacked out by the overwhelming image of Beethoven and his one and only Ninth. There are other very good No. 5s and No. 3s, for instance, but how can one possibly have the temerity of trying to write another Ninth Symphony?”. Niels Gade composed only eight symphonies, despite living for another twenty years after completing the eighth. He is believed to have replied, when asked why he did not compose another symphony, “There is only one ninth”, in reference to Beethoven.
First, a Story:
A little while ago, Seiji Ozawa conducted the Boston Symphony Orchestra in a production of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. During the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth, there is a large pause in the Orchestration where only the chorus sings.
Four bass players, feeling they could use this break to get out and stretch their legs, slipped off backstage and proceeded to go outside to smoke a cigarette and take a little nip from a bottle one of them was carrying.
Well, they lost track of time and became quite inebriated. Finally one of them says, “Say! We should really be getting back in… It’s almost time to play our part.”
“Don’t worry,” confided one of the other bassists with a wink. “I’ve fixed it so that we have a longer pause… I tied together the last parts of the conductor’s score before our part begins!”
All the bass players had a good chuckle and took a few more swigs and headed in. Once they popped back on stage, they saw that conductor Ozawa was absolutely furious. After all, it was the bottom of the Ninth, the basses were loaded, and the score was tied.
Second, a Song:
Seiji Ozawa, born September 1, 1935, is a Japanese conductor known for his advocacy of modern composers and for his work with the San Francisco Symphony, the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Boston Symphony Orchestra where he served as music director for 29 years. He is the recipient of numerous international awards.
Ozawa was born on September 1, 1935, to Japanese parents in the Japanese-occupied city of Mukden. When his family returned to Japan in 1944, he began studying piano with Noboru Toyomasu, heavily studying the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. After graduating from the Seijo Junior High School in 1950, Ozawa broke two fingers in a rugby game. As he was unable to continue studying the piano, his teacher at the Toho Gakuen School of Music, Hideo Saito, brought Ozawa to a life-changing performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5, which ultimately shifted his musical focus from piano performance to conducting. He went to the Toho Gakuen School of Music, graduating in 1957.
Almost a decade after the sports injury, Ozawa won the first prize at the International Competition of Orchestra Conductors in Besançon, France. His success there led to an invitation by Charles Münch, then the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, to attend the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center), where he studied with Munch and Pierre Monteux. In 1960, shortly after his arrival, Ozawa won the Koussevitzky Prize for outstanding student conductor, Tanglewood’s highest honor. Receiving a scholarship to study conducting with famous Austrian conductor Herbert von Karajan, Ozawa moved to West Berlin. Under the tutelage of von Karajan, Ozawa caught the attention of prominent conductor Leonard Bernstein. Bernstein then appointed him as assistant conductor of the New York Philharmonic where he served during the 1961–1962 and 1964–1965 seasons. While with the New York Philharmonic, he made his first professional concert appearance with the San Francisco Symphony in 1962. Ozawa remains the only conductor to have studied under both Karajan and Bernstein.
In December 1962 Ozawa was involved in a controversy with the prestigious Japanese NHK Symphony Orchestra when certain players, unhappy with his style and personality, refused to play under him. Ozawa went on to conduct the rival Japan Philharmonic Orchestra instead. From 1964 until 1968, Ozawa served as the first music director of the Ravinia Festival, the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In 1969 he served as the festival’s principal conductor.
He was music director of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1965 to 1969 and of the San Francisco Symphony from 1970 to 1977. In 1972, he led the San Francisco Symphony in its first commercial recordings in a decade, recording music inspired by William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. In 1973, he took the San Francisco orchestra on a European tour, which included a Paris concert that was broadcast via satellite in stereo to San Francisco station KKHI. He was involved in a 1974 dispute with the San Francisco Symphony’s players’ committee that denied tenure to the timpanist Elayne Jones and the bassoonist Ryohei Nakagawa, two young musicians Ozawa had selected. He returned to San Francisco as a guest conductor, including a 1978 concert featuring music from Tchaikovsky’s ballet Swan Lake.
In 1998, Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa conducted the fourth movement (the “Ode to Joy”) from Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for the 1998 Winter Olympics opening ceremony, with six different choirs simultaneously singing from Japan, Germany, South Africa, China, the United States, and Australia (per Wikipedia).
Here is the Opening Ceremony from the 1998 Winter Olympic Games in Nagano in full – the Ode to Joy segment with Seiji Ozawa starts at 1:44:52 – I hope you enjoy this!
Thought for the Day:
Today is a two’fer:
“Beethoven’s symphonies are not ‘relaxing.’ They are the most exciting things that have ever been created by a human being.” – Joshua Bell
“I think there are very few people that I would give the title of genius to, really, but Beethoven unquestionably is one of them.” – Stephen Hough
Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2021 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky
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