Ludvig van Beethoven was a composer of the late Classical, early Romantic periods who lived between 1770 and 1827 (“Ludwig Van Beethoven”). At a young age, he gravitated towards the piano and this was where his musical studies began, eventually becoming a prolific composer of his time and one of the most well-known classical composers to this day. Today, his pieces are performed and celebrated world-wide and used in composition classes to analyze orchestration. For this assignment, I chose to listen to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and conducted by Riccardo Muti because they performed with a confident and unified sound.
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is significant for several reasons. First, there is the addition of a chorus. In the past, symphonies were purely orchestral, but Beethoven adds a chorus in the final movement (Schwarm). This paved the road for future composer to experiment with choruses in symphonies, such as Mahler. Today, the vocal aspect of his 9th Symphony is famously known as “Ode to Joy” and has been used in many different mediums, such as film, church chorales and other important events. Finally, Beethoven wrote this piece when he was completely deaf. It was nearing the end of his career and his last symphony before he passed away. Therefore, he never actually got to hear what the piece sounded like. Although Beethoven had to write this completely dependent on his perfect pitch and his decades of experience, the piece is in no way lacking. In fact, it is one of his all-time best compositions.
The first movement of this symphony begins with light string notes. Soon, the texture of the orchestra builds as more and more instruments join in and the dynamics increase. Finally, the entire orchestra, including the brass and the timpani, play the same rhythm we’ve heard in passing at this point. This marks a climax at the beginning of the piece, as it is the first time that almost all of the players are in unison. After this, one of the prominent themes/ melodies is introduced. This will be present throughout the movement and is also significant because it is hidden in the other movements in less obvious ways. Another interesting aspect of Beethoven’s orchestral writing is the usage of “surprise dynamics”. In other words, he enjoys surprising the audience by writing elements of extreme contrast. The second movement is a scherzo and enters with a confident and more rapid theme. Here, Beethoven experiments with countermelodies and variations on a theme, which occur as the theme builds without stopping or without a slower section in between. The third movement is slower in comparison to the other two and provides many opportunities for the winds to shine through soloistic, exposed and virtuosic passages. It is the most emotional movement because Beethoven writes memorable solos and big intervals in the strings which contribute to the overall longing and calming texture. The fourth movement is the most famous of all because this is where the chorus appears. At the beginning, the orchestra enters quietly, which creates an element of suspense and makes it even more surprising when the chorus finally enters. It is indeed Beethoven’s incredible “finale”.
- “Ludwig Van Beethoven.” Biography.com, A&E Networks Television, 5 Sept. 2017. Web.
- Muti, Riccardo. “Beethoven 9 – Chicago Symphony Orchestra – Riccardo Muti.” YouTube, YouTube, 8 May 2015. Web.
- Schwarm, Betsy. “Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 7 June 2018. Web.