Last Updated 17 Aug 2022

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

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The Symphony No. 9 is the last complete symphony by the great Ludwig van Beethoven, composed while he was completely deaf. Considered as one of Beethoven's greatest masterpieces, Symphony No. 9 is perhaps the best known compositions of romantic music.

It is scored for strings, 2 oboes, 2 flutes, 2 clarinets in B-flat and C, piccolo (fourth movement only), 2 bassoons, contrabassoon (fourth movement only), timpani, triangle (fourth movement only), bass drum (fourth movement only), cymbals (fourth movement only), 3 trombones (alto, tenor, and bass, second and fourth movements only), 2 horns (3 and 4) in B-flat (bass), 2 horns (1 and 2) in D and B-flat, and 2 trumpets in D and B-flat. Symphony No. 9 also has vocal parts, consisting of baritone solo, soprano solo, tenor solo, alto solo, and a choir in four parts – bass, alto, soprano, and tenor (which is divided briefly into Tenor I and Tenor II).

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Beethoven shows in Symphony No. 9, as in his other symphonies, an exceptional gift for communication. Here, he radiated a supreme directness that makes the symphony totally accessible. The absolute emotional power in this symphony is readily understood and the revolutionary compositional ideas that make up the symphony are easily appreciated.

It is revolutionary on many levels: rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, formal, emotional, and self-expressive. It is interesting in that it breaks with time-honored distinctions and conventions and to give precedence to Beethoven’s expressive desires and needs and desires. The ethereal, monumental, and triumphant emotion reflected in the Ninth Symphony is surprising given the energetic humor of Symphony No. 1, the worrying “fate knocking on the door” opening of Symphony No. 5, the pastoral reflection in Symphony No. 6.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is truly is among the greatest achievements of the human spirit. Symphony No. 9 is in four movements: the first movement is marked as allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso; the second movement as molto vivace, the third movement is marked as adagio molto e cantabile; and the fourth movement as presto/recitative. Beethoven’s arrangement adopts a somewhat unusual Classical pattern, with the scherzo movement in second position, instead of the normal third position.

The symphony’s first movement is in sonata form, which follows a formal model that had guided the artist throughout his career. In general, the mood is stormy and bleak. A striking moment here is the commencement of the recapitulation section, which as opposed to literally repeating the pianissimo opening bars in D minor, it shifts to fortissimo D major, a key change which surprises many listeners, ironically, as expressing awe or terror. A scherzo, the second movement is in D minor.

The theme in the opening echoes the theme of the first movement. The second movement is noteworthy for its timpani solos and propulsive rhythm. The third movement has the deeply felt and lyrical slow movement, in B-flat major. His movement is written in a loose variation form, with each of the two variations dividing the basic beat to produce a more elaborate melodic configuration than what went before – the first is in 4/4 time and the second is in 12/8 time.

A virtuosic horn solo assigned to the fourth player is also notable in the third movement. Symphony No. 9 is famous for its choral finale, which has awed many listeners as somewhat rambling. Within the fourth movement are four movements. However, this final movement in the symphony is different from an independent symphony due to its thematic unity. Every part is based on either the main theme, the “Seid umschlungen” theme, or some combination of the two themes.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 essay

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