Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

June Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven

painting of beethoven with music score

Symphony no. 9 in D minor, 1824

So here it is, a piece that isn’t for piano. And what a piece it is. Symphony No. 9 was Beethoven’s last and his most epic, elaborate and complex. Stretching for 70mins it requires a large orchestra, 4 solo singers and a choir to perform it. I chose it because of this, because you will definitely know the fourth movement and because I saw it performed by the MSO only a few months ago and was blown away by it.

Unlike the piano pieces I’ve been looking at a Symphony being performed is theatre and I think you really need to be there and see it live to grasp its power and also in a way to become part of it. Symphony No. 9 has four movements. There’s no lulling into things with the first, it begins sharply and ends with a funeral march. The second and third are slower and more lyrical. And the fourth well…it erupts with a choir singing Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’, a tune almost all of us know, and draws the symphony to a joyous, cacophonous finish.

Watch Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic play the 4th movement


drawing of open book

This symphony, it feels like many pieces of music intricately woven together to create one giant piece, like a series of short stories bound together to tell one immense tale A thriller perhaps, that grips you straight away with its urgency. What will happen next you wonder? Then follows the grief, the torment, the excitement and then finally the triumph, the togetherness, the humanity.


Watch the full  symphony conducted by Daniel Barenboim and East-Western divan orchestra at BBC Proms in 2012

Often hailed as the proof of his mastery in the Ninth Symphony Beethoven weaves together emotional elements of hope, courage and social change. Many of Beethoven’s works after he became deaf dwelled on the themes of courage and the heroic and often end on a triumphant high note. Which, clearly the man himself did. Although he was said to be never satisfied with his workings, never sure of his brilliance, but at the same time bold enough to write such tremendous and different pieces of music. It was as if he couldn’t stop his own momentum.

choir with orchestra

There’s not enough words for me here to really do justice to the Ninth Symphony, I suspect this is one that you’ll have to go and see for yourself. The thing I loved the most about it when I saw it was that even with my untrained classical ears I could tell that it was amazing, and it produced the kind of feeling inside when that choir stood up and sang, that Beethoven himself had intended 200-odd years ago. A sort of hooray for humanity. Well, hooray for Beethoven and his Ninth.


*images in order of appearance courtesy of public domain, public domain and Mark Kamin via CC 

5 thoughts on “Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

  1. Lady Fancifull says:

    You know, the only thing I would disagree with is your ‘even with my untrained classical ears….I could tell this was amazing’

    I don’t believe that most artists burn to express and communicate what they burn with, for the edification only of other artists (and I am even more certain this is true for the ones who set us aflame down through time, as they are expressing something which escapes their own time)

    Sure, there is a deeper, different appreciation which technical study and knowledge can bring – but sometimes, that analytical approach seems to dissect a thing to lifelessness. I have plenty of Cds with liner notes which are utterly incomprehensible and written in a way which might be an analysis of a software programme. And, not only lifeless, but teaching me nothing. Give me some visceral, enthusiastic, passionate advocacy of the music!

    I love your responsive, attentive classical ears!


    • theclassicalnovice says:

      Hey there, thanks for putting so much thought into reading and responding to my posts. And thanks for loving my ears 🙂
      I agree with you, and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to start this project. I had a completely valid response to the music (there are no invalid responses) – which was written after all as a call out for unification for all people. I guess what I meant by that ‘even with my untrained classical ears’ comment was that this piece is widely lauded as being a complex but brilliant composition, where Beethoven’s genius is clearly evident, and that I could see/hear that he was doing something special here. I’m not interested in over analytic responses to music either – but I do find it interesting when my response and the academic response meet 🙂


      • Lady Fancifull says:

        Great! No invalid responses indeed. And I agree, if the academic response enlightens the personal response, it’s great. I live people like Charles Hazelwood, orchestra of the Enlightenment who explains the effects with accessible explanations. I just drift off when it’s only technical analysis!


  2. MarinaSofia says:

    I love your so-called ‘untrained’ responses to music – you convey all the passion and enthusiasm that listeners have had towards music before they started separating it so strictly into genres. After all, Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn and Handel were the ‘pop stars’ of their times (and don’t even get me started on opera music, which was such a crowd pleaser).
    I liken it a bit with poetry – so many people say they don’t read poetry or don’t know anything about how to read it. But it’s all about how it resonates with you and whether it moves you or not. No training required – the specialised knowledge is only the icing on the cake!


    • theclassicalnovice says:

      Thanks Marina. I often wonder what people will be listening to in the future that will relegate our pop stars to classical status! ha! I spent my youth defining myself by what music I listened to (many of us did!), it’s been great diversifying as I’ve got older and realising there’s no right response to art, or limits to what you’re allowed to like.
      I’m enjoying letting my ‘untrained’ ears run free right now.
      PS: I must get back into poetry…


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