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Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor Op. 125 is a symphony unlike any other. This piece of music explores innovations in a vast array of characteristics and style techniques which brings universal appeal among audiences everywhere. Beethoven, who wrote this Symphony from 1822-1824, envisioned music set to the poem ‘Ode to Joy’ by Friedrich Schiller. Beethoven used the text from this poem as a textual foundation for the magnificent finale as the poem displays themes and ideals similar to themes of the enlightenment period which was prevalent during the American and French revolutions. Characteristics to which Beethoven exemplified in his Choral Symphony is the idea of equal opportunity for all people, cooperation amongst all individuals, and to enjoy freedom and all that being free has to offer. The premiere of this Symphony not only received tremendous success and applause from the attending audience, but has inspired composers such as Schubert, Brahms, and Mahler to continue this proclamation of expression and emotional purpose in musical literature.
A prominent innovation to which Beethoven used in the composition of this Symphony would definitely be the change in the size of the orchestra. The large scale to which this Symphony was composed not only created a more robust sound, but also created more complexity in structure and instrumentation as well. The instrumentation calls for piccolo (4th mvt. only), two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets in A, Bb, and C, two bassoons, contrabassoon (4th mvt. only), horns 1 and 2 in D and Bb, horns 3 and 4 in Bb basso, Bb, and Eb, two Trumpets in D and Bb, alto, tenor, and bass trombone (only used in 2nd and 4th mvts.), timpani, bass drum (4th mvt.), triangle (4th mvt.), cymbals (4th mvt.), SATB choir with soprano, alto, tenor, and bass solos (only used in 4th mvt.), and strings.
The first movement of the Symphony is in a sonata form, however excluding the repeat of the exposition. The movement begins in D minor and is marked Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso. The first notes played represent an orchestra tuning as they are played in a succession of open fifths. The second movement is a scherzo and trio and is marked molto vivace. This is unusual as most symphonies place an Andante as the second movement and save the scherzo for the third movement. The scherzo takes place in D minor and is categorized as being a complete sonata form while also adhering to the form of a compound ternary structure. The third movement is marked Adagio molto e cantabile, is in Bb major, and is in a double variation form. The first variation occurs in 4/4 time whereas the second variation occurs in 12/8 time with 3/4 time passages separating the two variations. The fourth movement begins with the marking Presto and uses thematic material which was present in the previous three movements before the first theme of ‘Ode to Joy’ is played by the cellos and double basses. Variations on this theme are played throughout the orchestra which leads to a proclamation from the baritone soloist of the first lines of the poem which translated are “Oh friends, not these sounds! Let us instead strike up more pleasing and more joyful ones!” This movement ends in a joyful D major and is longer than most classical symphonies preceding this piece of music.
This Symphony has shaped and influenced how the Romantic period was to be structured and implemented throughout the middle 19th century onward as several composers paid homage to themes and techniques used in the Ninth Symphony in works such as Brahms Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Bruckner’s Symphony No. 3 in D minor, and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 ‘From the New World.’ This reverence to the Ninth Symphony has brought huge success and recognition from audiences all over the world since the premiere of the piece. Although at first the fourth movement received criticism due to the controversy of adding a choir to the movement, the piece has overcome this controversy and is used as a form of end of year celebration piece in places such as Japan and Germany. This further solidifies the notion of the universal appeal associated with this piece as two completely different countries use this Symphony to bring forth a new year, a celebration of freedom, and opportunity for anyone who wishes to attain it.
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