June Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
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
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.
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