Wednesday, November 30, 2005
Beethoven: Symphony No.9
This, in D minor, Op. 125, was conceived as early as 1817, but not finished until 1824. Its first three Movements are of the conventional symphonic type, though they transcend in scope, breadth and design, proportions, and depth of spiritual significance---to say nothing of their surpassing technical richness and perfection---anything ever brought into being in the sphere of symphonic creation. But for the Finale Beethoven conceived the idea of adding the ultimate "instrument"---the human voice---to the score, and thus magnifying the Movement into a comprehensive Hymn of Joy, for which he selected the Ode to Joy of Schiller. It was the final realization of a plan that had been slumbering in his mind for many years; away back in his youthful days---in 1793---the project of setting music to this wonderful poem challenged his creative spirit, and in 1811 fragments begin to appear in his sketchbooks bearing on the subject.
The first Movement opens with an introductory passage of sixteen measures (not an independent Introduction) on the dominant, leading thence naturally into the imposing principal Theme. Following a transition the subordinate Theme (in B-flat) is in two Parts. To this, two brief Codettas are added. The whole Movement is a very regular, though extremely broad, sonata-allegro form. The Development is a marvel of consistent and logical thematic manipulation, unusually elaborate, and at first hearing apparently abstruse. Uncommon prominence is given to the third measure (often joined by the fourth) of the principal Theme. The Recapitulation is nearly exact, with the expected transpositions. The Coda is also uncommonly long, and exhibits a notable feature in its eighth Section (about thirty-five measures from the end): the basses carry a ground-motive (basso continuo) of two measures, with descending chromatics and an ascending scale, gradually reinforced by the whole body of strings, and repeated seven times.
In this Symphony Beethoven locates the Scherzo as the second Movement, contrary to his custom. It is likewise of extraordinary length; so much so that the principal Division is amplified to a full sonata-allegro design. The principal theme is preceded by eight introductory measures, all derived from the first measure. Here again Beethoven assigns a striking function to the kettledrums---tuned exactly as in the Finale of the Eighth Symphony, in the octave f: the fifth measure of the introductory passage is taken by the drums, solo; and in the fourth Section of the Development he gives to the drums alone the first measure of the three-measure thematic phrase, four times in succession.
The Trio manifests Beethoven's faith in Repetition: nearly the whole of it is built upon a four measure Phrase, always placed in the same key ( with one exception)---similar in general effect to the basso ostinato. The design of the Trio is also expanded, into a Five-Part form.
The third Movement, a very broad Adagio, is probably the most impressive slow Movement that Beethoven ever created, and he was particularly noted for the great beauty and appropriate expression that he always imparted to this important division of the symphonic form. The structure is fundamentally a First-Rondo, since it presents two alternating Themes; but it diverges somewhat from the orthodox arrangement: the subordinate Theme is stated twice, in different keys (in D, later in G), and consequently the principal Theme (in B-flat) appears three times---at each recurrence so elaborately embellished that it gives to the Movement the general character of a Variation-form. In reality it is analogous to the design adopted by Beethoven in the Finale of his Third, and in the slow Movements of his Fifth and Seventh Symphonies. Another noteworthy feature is the formation of the Retransition (returning passage) to the last presentation of the principal Theme (three-flat signature); it is in effect a brief "Development."
The principal Theme is preceded by two introductory measures.
As to the Finale: it was Beethoven's original intention to make the Ninth Symphony a purely instrumental work, [have we been here before?] and it was not until he had sketched an instrumental fourth Movement that he decided to gratify his lifelong desire to set Schiller's Ode to Joy (written in 1785) to music, as a Finale to the three preceding Movements. The original fourth Movement, already sketched, was therefore set aside for the time, but was utilized later as the Finale to his String-quartet in A minor, Op. 132.
Thus the present Finale became a sort of Cantata, consisting in a series of successive related, though clearly individualized Episodes---thirteen in number, including a distinctive Introduction, a principal Theme, a kind of Attendant Theme (in the ninth Episodes), and a Coda.
Beethoven selected only certain verses from Schiller's Ode, and even altered the order of these, thus affirming his right to exercise his own judgment and single out only that which suited his artistic purpose.
The first and second Episodes are introductory: after a tumultuous passage in the orchestra, a Leader seems to appear (represented by the string-basses, declamato) and invite suggestions for a final Subject; the Themes of the first, second, and third Movements pass successively in review; whereupon a new motive is intimated, found acceptable, and developed into the principal Theme of the whole Cantata. The third Episode is an Exposition of this Theme, in the orchestra; the fourth Episode is a recurrence of the turbulent first Episode, which, as before, is checked by the Leader---now a vocal baritone; in the fifth Episode, the Theme is given out in its full scope by the chorus and orchestra; the sixth Episode is another presentation of the entire principal Theme, transformed in rhythm, meter and character into a stirring martial scene (in keeping with another verse of the Ode), in which the chorus later joins; Episode seven is an orchestral fugato with two Themes, that of Episode six combined with a new contrapuntal phrase; in Episode eight this same idea is carried out with orchestra and chorus; the ninth Episode presents the "Attendant" Theme (on the text "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" [O ye millions, I embrace you!], "Diesen Kussder granzen Welt!"[Here's a joyful kiss for all!] extended by material of an austere dramatic character; in Episode ten the principal and Attendant Themes are combined, with some necessary modification, for chorus and orchestra; Episode eleven reverts to one of the dramatic sentences of Episode nine; the twelfth episode is a new setting of the first lines of the Ode, with stronger emphasis on the attribute of Joy, and here a Solo-quartet is added to the tonal mass.
What follows, from this to the end, is a mighty Coda---three Sections---in which the central emotional idea, Joy, reaches its fullest consummation, and most jubilant and spirited expression.
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