On this evening in 1824, with his musical score positioned before him, composer Ludwig van Beethoven stood at the edge of the stage of the jam-packed Theatre am Kärntnertor in Vienna, Austria. The audience was abuzz and the largest orchestra ever assembled for the composer was at-the-ready, prepared to debut Beethoven’s newest (and final) work, his Symphony No. 9 in D minor. It was the composer’s first stage appearance in twelve years and all of Vienna vibrated with anticipation. Beethoven’s role was to page-through the score and set the tempo for the conductor. Though the musicians were under-rehearsed, the premier was a triumph. The applause extended through five standing ovations, the ecstatic crowd waving handkerchiefs and hats in the air so that the composer could see their appreciation. Beethoven could not hear the audience—for he was, by now, totally deaf.
The Symphony, commissioned by The Philharmonic Society of London, was the first classical work ever to incorporate human voices—four soloists and a choir—into the piece. The words were adapted from German playwright Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy” written in 1785.
The years have been good to Beethoven’s Ninth. Most scholars have named the piece Beethoven’s best work. Others have called it the best piece of music ever written. In 1907, the Fourth Movement was adapted into a popular hymn, “The Hymn of Joy” (sometimes referred to as “Joyful, Joyful, we adore Thee”). In 1972, the same movement was named the Anthem of Europe. In 2002, Beethoven’s original paper score, held in the Berlin State Library, was added to the United Nations World Heritage List—the first time a musical score has received that great distinction.
While I am not a musician nor a musical scholar, I’ve long believed that the chorus of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is the greatest piece of music ever written. One day I know I will hear it as I stand before the gates of heaven.
The bookends above honor two German geniuses: Beethoven and Richard Wagner (1813-1883). Please click on the photo above to learn more about them.
And CLICK HERE to watch a touching (if contrived) "flash mob" performance of Beethoven’s masterpiece filmed outside of Barcelona, Spain. It always brings a tear to my eye.
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