Beethoven’s epic final symphony, a vision for music – and for humanity.
Beethoven, by this time almost entirely deaf, conducted the premiere performance of his Choral Symphony in 1824. At the time of its premiere it was the longest symphony ever written, and also the first symphony to include a choir and vocal soloists. The last movement of this symphony is also unusual because it revists the themes of the other three movements. Usually a ‘movement’ is a self-contained section of a larger work, each with its own melodies and mood, but Beethoven here deliberately brings the whole symphony together into a single musical event.
Beethoven also changed the whole shape of the symphony. The usual pattern, in symphonies by Haydn and Mozart, for example, was to have the first movement as the ‘weightiest’ one; the last movement generally had more of a bright and breezy, happy ending feel. In his Ninth Symphony, though, the final movement is the longest of the four, and is full of drama and emotion in its own right; rather than being ‘just’ an ending, it is the spiritual heart of the whole symphony.