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Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
Andrews University Orchestra/Chorale
April 24, 2010

Beethoven: Romance No.2 in F Major, Op.50
Beethoven: Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Op.125 "Choral"

Tonight's concert displays Beethoven and his art from two contrasting perspectives. One, as a master of melody introducing a simple formal structure while elegantly balancing soloist and orchestra and the other, presenting Beethoven at his most colossal, having taken the symphonic form from the elegance of the18th century drawing room to the height of romanticism, proffering music to the masses in the concert hall.

Ludwig van Beethoven(1770-1827)
Romance No.2 in F Major, op.50

The Romance No. 2 in F Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 50 is one of two such gems that Beethoven completed and published in this configuration. Not much is known about the genesis of the two romances besides the publication dates–No. 1, Op. 40 was published in 1803, the same year as the Violin Sonatas; No. 2, Op. 50 in 1805. While No. 2 in F Major was published last, it may have actually been written first as there is evidence that it may have been written and performed as early as 1798. Some propose that Beethoven conceived it as a possible slow movement for an early effort in writing a Violin Concerto in the early 1790s. In any case, the two Romances display a simple singing style for the violin accompanied by a small classical orchestra of flute, pairs of oboes, bassoons, horns, and strings.

The piece is constructed in a rondo format (ABACA Coda) with the violin presenting the main theme, immediately followed by an orchestral tutti rendition of it. A dotted figure from the orchestra follows each appearance of the Rondo theme paving the way to the ensuing sections. The soaring violin melodies decorated with trills, dramatic leaps, scales and arpeggios carry the tender dialog with the orchestra. The final coda utilizes bits and pieces of all three parts to bring the piece to a gracious close.


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Ludwig van Beethoven(1770-1827)
Symphony No.9 in D Minor, Op.125 "Choral"

Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
Molto vivace-Presto-Molto vivace
Adagio molto e cantabile
Finale: Presto-Allegro ma non troppo-Vivace-Adagio cantabile-Allegro-Allegro assai

“O Providence - grant me at least one day of pure joy.”

So wrote Beethoven, in a postscript to his tortured cry, the Heiligenstadt Testament, as deafness descended on him. The pursuit of joy and its unifying effect on humankind was his lifelong quest. As a young man, Beethoven, was already drawn to Friedrich Schiller's “An die Freude” ( Ode to Joy ) and along the path to the Symphony No. 9 in D minor (Choral) he sought to present this ideal in other works such as a 1790 Cantata, the finale to his opera Fidelio, and his Fantasia for Piano, Orchestra, and Chorus. When he finally came to set Schiller's text to music, it was as the final movement of his monumental compendium, the Nine Symphonies. Two hundred years after their creation, we still stand in awe of Beethoven's symphonic journey taken over the course of less than twenty-five years. Had he ended this journey in 1814 with the Eighth Symphony, his influence would have, without question, been enormous, but with the Ninth his stature changed from musical genius to cultural titan. Sketches for the Scherzo movement date from 1817, but the bulk of the compositional work was done between 1822 and 1824 (during which time he was also working on other large works including the Hammerklavier Sonata, Diabelli Variations , and the Missa Solemnis ). The first performance of the Ninth Symphony took place on May 7, 1824 in Vienna to wide acclaim. As with most ground-breaking efforts, there has been considerable controversy regarding the work over the past two centuries, but in spite of this, it remains one of Beethoven's most successful and influential compositions.

The ninth symphony may be regarded as Beethoven's vision of life. Among his considerable writings on symphonic literature, Richard Wagner has offered the following philosophical analysis of the four movements:

I. "A struggle, conceived in the greatest grandeur, of the soul contending for happiness against the oppression of that inimical power which places itself between us and the joys of earth, appears to be the basis of the first movement. The great principal theme, which at the very beginning, issues forth bare and mighty, as it were, from a mysteriously hiding veil, might be transcribed, not altogether inappropriately to the meaning of the whole tone poem, in Goethe's words: 'Renounce, thou must–renounce!'"

II. "Wild delight seizes us at once with the first rhythms of this second movement. It is a new world which we enter, one in which we are carried away to dizzy intoxication. With the abrupt entrance of the middle part there is suddenly disclosed to us a scene of worldly joy and happy contentment. A certain sturdy cheerfulness seems to address itself to us in the simple, oft-repeated theme."

III. "How differently these tones speak to our hearts! How pure, how celestially soothing they are as they melt the defiance, the wild impulse of the soul harassed by despair into a soft, melancholy feeling! It is as if memory awoke within us–the memory of an early enjoyed, purest happiness. With this recollection a sweet longing, too, comes over us, which is expressed so beautifully in the second theme of the movement."

IV. "A harsh outcry begins the transition from the third to the fourth movements, a cry of disappointment at not attaining the contentment so earnestly sought. Then, with the beginning of the Ode, we hear clearly expressed what must appear to the anxious seeker for happiness as the highest lasting pleasure."

The music of this work is so complex and ingeniously wrought that an immense amount of paper and ink have been devoted to describing it. While allowing the music to speak for itself, here are a few musical ideas to listen for. The opening movement begins mysteriously with open fifths in the strings, as if witnessing the birth of music, settling into the main key and its rugged theme after seventeen measures. The Scherzo movement begins abruptly moving in a hushed whisper to a fugue which serves to intensify the lively spark. All the while the fun is propelled by the drum. The Adagio, one of the most appealing ever conceived by Beethoven, is introduced by winds, and carried by two themes, each presented separately, then varied and combined in a latticework of sheer loveliness.

The final movement begins with sheer chaos and violence. As in an opera, the cellos and basses appear with recitative passages. A fragment of each preceding movement enters and is dismissed in turn, with the lower strings commenting on each manifestation. Finally the “Ode” theme begins to appear, first tentatively, then growing in strength. Chaos briefly reappears then, in Beethoven's own words, the baritone intones: “O friends, not these sounds! Rather let us sing more pleasing songs, full of joy.” The remainder of the work is basically a set of variations on the main theme for a quartet of soloists, chorus, and orchestra presenting portions of Schiller's poem. Themes include universal rejoicing and a march movement honoring the heroes of life. The work concludes celebrating the effects of joy–making humans generous, forgiving, and improving social relationships. In the end, the chorus invites all to acknowledge the Creator of joy, the Father who dwells in the heavens.


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Program notes by Linda Mack. Copyright 2010.
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