Beethoven's Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Op.125, the so-called "Choral Symphony", is one of my most favourite symphonies of classical music. Beethoven completed this symphony in 1824 and in its premiere he, as an assistant conductor, also stood in front of the orchestra throughout the performance. The premiere was a huge success as the audience burst into applause passionately at the end of the performance, but, owing to his complete deafness, Beethoven could only stand still emotionlessly on the stage with his back facing the audience until the contralto soloist turned him round to see the overwhelmingly enthusiastic audience.
The "Choral Symphony" is really an unexceptionable masterpiece and a historical milestone in classical symphonies. Beethoven successfully incorporated solo voices and choruses with Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy" as the vocal setting into the instrumental playing of the orchestra in the fourth movement of the symphony. This innovative creation sets the ultimate standard in the integration of vocal sound into the orchestral playing in the structure of classical symphonies.
The usual four movements format of a symphony is still used in the "Choral Symphony" except that the second movement is a scherzo and the third an adagio, not the usual arrangement with a slow movement in the second and a scherzo in the third movement. I like the adagio third movement the most and it was once described by the American composer Leonard Bernstein as "a beautiful and charming piece of music that could only be heard in Heaven". The first movement "Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso" and the scherzo second movement "Molto vivace" are powerful and thrilling in orchestration.
The opening part of the final fourth movement brings the "Joy Theme" to its variations thoroughly and magnificently and the concluding part of the movement introduces the voices of the four vocal soloists, namely the soprano, the contralto, the tenor and the bass, and the chorus. The voices and the orchestra are inextricably intertwining with each other, announcing to the world the joy and significance of life.
Beethoven's Ninth "Choral Symphony" is indisputably an everlastingly overwhelming symphony.
The original "Ode to Joy" is a German poem. The following is its English translation:
"Ode to Joy"
"O friends, not these sounds!
Rather let us turn to sounds more pleasant
and more joyful." (An introduction from Beethoven)
Joy, brilliant spark of the gods,
daughter of Elysium,
intoxicated with fire, we enter,
o heavenly being, your sanctuary.
Your spells reunite that which
was strictly divided by convention;
all men become brothers
where your gentle wing rests.
He who has had the good fortune
to find a true friend,
he who has won a loving wife,
let him join in our rejoicing!
Yes, if there is but one other soul
he can call his own on the whole earth!
And he who could never accomplish this,
let him steal away weeping from this company!
All creatures drink joy
at Natrue's breasts;
good and evil alike
follow in her trail of roses.
She gave us kisses, and the vine,
and a friend faithful to death;
even the worm was given desire,
and the Cherub stands before God!
Joyfully, as his suns speed
through the glorious expanse of heaven,
brothers, run your course,
joyously, like a hero towards victory!
Receive this embrace, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry vault
a loving father must surely dwell!
Do you fall prostrate, you millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek him above the starry vault,
he must surely dwell above the stars!