And through the peace of worldly space,
The ninth wave washed to the very stars
O Thought, reveal yourself! Word, become music,
Strike to the hearts of men, let the world rejoice!
Nikolai Zabolotsky. Beethoven
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony ranks alongside such great works of art as Homer’s poems, Dante’s La divina commedia, Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Goethe’s Faust and Bach’s High Mass...
It expressed the aims of its age in an utterly perfect manner, and at
the same time it gave a voice to human ideals to which we remain
faithful to this very day. It concluded Beethoven the symphonist’s
artistic path and it also paved the way for the future.
By including poetic verse in the symphony, Beethoven took an
incredibly innovative step which initially staggered his contemporaries.
For the composer himself, the writing of the Ninth Symphony was
the result of many years’ work in an attempt to find a musical
embodiment for Schiller’s Ode an die Freude.
For the first time, Beethoven took a text in order to express
the philosophical concept of a symphony. But the most important thing,
even starting with Beethoven himself, is that the symphony – as subtly
expressed by German music historian Paul Bekker – performs the role of
a “secular mass” that brings concert hall audiences together in the same
way that a Sunday mass brings parishioners together at church. And it
is not by chance that Beethoven’s brilliant rendering of Schiller’s Ode an die Freude
is the official anthem of the European Union, a united Europe. It is
not by chance that it is performed everywhere as an apotheosis of
freedom and fraternity of all mankind.
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was first performed on 7 May 1824 in Vienna under the baton of the composer.