Heroic Joy - Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

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Precious few works in the history of music have enjoyed so esteemed a place in the hearts and affections of so many – far fewer have rivaled the profound scope and monumental artistic achievement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony. This work, whose genesis was in many ways influenced by the course of then-recent human history would ultimately help shape and define the history of civilization itself, and in doing so become firmly rooted in the world’s shared cultural patrimony – the single most eloquent representation of the universal brotherhood of Man.

Beethoven’s masterwork, while the definitive choral symphony, was not his first attempt at using the human voice on a par with orchestral instruments. 1808’s Choral Fantasy (Op. 80), though on a more modest scale than the Ninth Symphony, was the composer’s first successful introduction of the voice in a large scale orchestral composition. Beethoven’s defiantly inventive departure marked a new and daring chapter in the further development of the symphonic form. And perhaps no other work has had such singular and fruitful influence on successive generations of musicians. Divers composers, impelled by Beethoven’s example, would later craft their own “choral” symphonies: Berlioz, Mendelssohn, Liszt, Mahler, and Shostakovitch, to name a few. Even so, examples such as Gustav Mahler’s massive “Symphony of a Thousand” arguably fail to rival the emotional resonance and transformative power of Beethoven’s Ninth which so moved its earliest audiences and which, in our own time, continues to speak to masses of men the world over.

Despite its wealth of lovely melodies and adventuresome yet effective musical devices, this symphony is perhaps best known for its setting of the poetic text which occupies much of the final movement. Almost from the moment it was first published in 1785, Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller’s poem An die Freude (To Joy) captured the imaginations of myriad composers who began

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