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Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven)

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A page from Beethoven's manuscript of the 9th Symphony

The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (sometimes known simply as "the Choral"), is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770–1827). Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best-known works of the Western classical repertoire. Among critics, it is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven's greatest works, and is considered by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written.

The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony (thus making it a choral symphony). The words are sung during the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the " Ode to Joy", a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by the composer. Today, it stands as one of the most played symphonies in the world.

In 2002, the original score of the symphony, kept in the Berlin Library, was added to the United Nations World Heritage List, becoming the first musical score to be so honoured.



Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven in 1820. Beethoven was almost completely deaf when he composed his ninth symphony.

The Philharmonic Society of London originally commissioned the symphony in 1817. The main composition work was done between autumn 1822 and the completion of the autograph in February 1824.

The symphony emerged from other pieces by Beethoven that, while completed works in their own right, are also in some sense sketches for the future symphony. The Choral Fantasy Opus. 80 (1808), basically a piano concerto movement, brings in a chorus and vocal soloists near the end to form the climax. As in the Ninth Symphony, the vocal forces sing a theme first played instrumentally, and this theme is highly reminiscent of the corresponding theme in the Ninth Symphony (for a detailed comparison, see Choral Fantasy). Going further back, an earlier version of the Choral Fantasy theme is found in the song "Gegenliebe" ("Returned Love"), for piano and high voice, which dates from before 1795. According to Robert W. Gutman, Mozart's K. 222 Offertory in D minor, "Misericordias Domini", written in 1775, contains a melody that foreshadows "Ode to Joy".


Beethoven was eager to have his work played in Berlin as soon as possible after finishing it, since he thought that musical taste in Vienna was dominated by Italian composers such as Rossini. When his friends and financiers heard this, they urged him to premiere the symphony in Vienna.

The Ninth Symphony was premiered on 7 May 1824 in the Theatre am Kärntnertor in Vienna, along with the overture The Consecration of the House and the first three parts of the Missa solemnis. This was the composer's first on-stage appearance in 12 years; the hall was packed. The soprano and alto parts were interpreted by two famous young singers: Henriette Sontag and Caroline Unger.

Although the performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf, the theatre's Kapellmeister, Beethoven shared the stage with him. However, two years earlier, Umlauf had watched as the composer's attempt to conduct a dress rehearsal of his opera Fidelio ended in disaster. So this time, he instructed the singers and musicians to ignore the almost totally deaf Beethoven. At the beginning of every part, Beethoven, who sat by the stage, gave the tempos. He was turning the pages of his score and beating time for an orchestra he could not hear.

There are a number of anecdotes about the premiere of the Ninth. Based on the testimony of the participants, there are suggestions that it was under-rehearsed (there were only two full rehearsals) and rather scrappy in execution. On the other hand, the premiere was a great success. In any case, Beethoven was not to blame, as violinist Joseph Böhm recalled: "Beethoven directed the piece himself; that is, he stood before the lectern and gesticulated furiously. At times he rose, at other times he shrank to the ground, he moved as if he wanted to play all the instruments himself and sing for the whole chorus. All the musicians minded his rhythm alone while playing".

When the audience applauded—testimonies differ over whether at the end of the scherzo or the whole symphony—Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience's cheers and applause. According to one witness, "the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them." The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation gestures.


The Breitkopf & Härtel edition dating from 1864 has been used widely by orchestras. In 1997 Bärenreiter published an edition by Jonathan Del Mar. According to Del Mar, this edition corrects nearly 3000 mistakes in the Breitkopf edition, some of which were remarkable. Professor David Levy, however, criticized this edition, saying that it could create "quite possibly false" traditions. Breitkopf also published a new edition by Peter Hauschild in 2005.

While many of the modifications in the newer editions make minor alterations to dynamics and articulation, both editions change the orchestral lead-in to the final statement of the choral theme in the fourth movement (IV: m525 m542). The newer versions alter the articulation of the horn calls, creating syncopation that no longer relates to the previous motive. The new Breitkopf & Härtel and Bärenreiter make this alteration differently, but the result is a reading that is different from what was commonly accepted based on the 1864 Breitkopf edition. While both Breitkopf & Härtel and Bärenreiter consider their editions the most accurate versions available—labeling them Urtext editions—their conclusions are not universally accepted. In his monograph "Beethoven—the ninth symphony", Professor David Levy describes the rationale for these changes and the danger of calling the editions Urtext.


The symphony is scored for the following orchestra. These are by far the largest forces needed for any Beethoven symphony; at the premiere, Beethoven augmented them further by assigning two players to each wind part.


Piccolo (fourth movement only)
2 Flutes
2 Oboes
2 Clarinets in A, B flat and C
2 Bassoons
Contrabassoon (fourth movement only)


2 Horns (1 and 2) in D and B flat
2 Horns (3 and 4) in B flat (bass), B flat and E flat
2 Trumpets in D and B flat
3 Trombones (alto, tenor, and bass; second and fourth movements only)


Bass drum (fourth movement only)
Triangle (fourth movement only)
Cymbals (fourth movement only)

Voices (fourth movement only)

Soprano solo
Alto solo
Tenor solo
Baritone solo
SATB Choir (Tenor briefly divides)


Violins I, II
Double basses


The symphony is in four movements, marked as follows:

  1. Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
  2. Scherzo: Molto vivace – Presto
  3. Adagio molto e cantabile – Andante moderato – Tempo primo – Andante moderato – Adagio – Lo stesso tempo
  4. Recitative: (Presto – Allegro ma non troppo – Vivace – Adagio cantabile – Allegro assai – Presto: O Freunde) – Allegro molto assai: Freude, schöner Götterfunken – Alla marcia – Allegro assai vivace: Froh, wie seine Sonnen – Andante maestoso: Seid umschlungen, Millionen! – Adagio ma non troppo, ma divoto: Ihr, stürzt nieder – Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato: (Freude, schöner GötterfunkenSeid umschlungen, Millionen!) – Allegro ma non tanto: Freude, Tochter aus Elysium! – Prestissimo, Maestoso, Molto prestissimo: Seid umschlungen, Millionen!

Beethoven changes the usual pattern of Classical symphonies in placing the scherzo movement before the slow movement (in symphonies, slow movements are usually placed before scherzi). This was the first time that he did this in a symphony, although he had done so in some previous works (including the quartets Op. 18 no. 5, the "Archduke" piano trio Op. 97, the "Hammerklavier" piano sonata Op. 106). Haydn, too, had used this arrangement in a number of his own works such as the String Quartet No. 30 in E-flat major.

First movement

Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso. Duration approx. 15 mins.

The first movement is in sonata form, and the mood is often stormy. The opening theme, played pianissimo over string tremolos, so much resembles the sound of an orchestra tuning, many commentators have suggested that was Beethoven's inspiration. But from within that musical limbo emerges a theme of power and clarity which will drive the entire movement. Later, at the outset of the recapitulation section, it returns fortissimo in D major, rather than the opening's D minor. The introduction also employs the use of the mediant to tonic relationship which further distorts the tonic key until it is finally played by the bassoon in the lowest possible register.

The coda employs the chromatic fourth interval.

Second movement

Scherzo: Molto vivace – Presto. Duration approx. 12 mins.

The second movement, a scherzo and trio, is also in D minor, with the introduction bearing a passing resemblance to the opening theme of the first movement, a pattern also found in the Hammerklavier piano sonata, written a few years earlier. At times during the piece, Beethoven directs that the beat should be one downbeat every three bars, perhaps because of the very fast pace of the movement, with the direction ritmo di tre battute ("rhythm of three bars"), and one beat every four bars with the direction ritmo di quattro battute ("rhythm of four bars").

Beethoven had been criticised before for failing to adhere to standard form for his compositions. He used this movement to answer his critics. Normally, scherzi are written in triple time. Beethoven wrote this piece in triple time, but it is punctuated in a way that, when coupled with the speed of the metre, makes it sound as though it is in quadruple time.

While adhering to the standard ternary design of a dance movement (scherzo-trio-scherzo, or minuet-trio-minuet), the scherzo section has an elaborate internal structure; it is a complete sonata form. Within this sonata form, the first group of the exposition starts out with a fugue before modulating to C major for the second part of the exposition. The exposition is then repeated before a short development section. The recapitulation further develops the exposition, also containing timpani solos. A new development section is played before the recapitulation is repeated, and the scherzo concludes with a brief codetta.

The contrasting trio section is in D major and in duple time. The trio is the first time the trombones play in the movement. Following the trio, the second occurrence of the scherzo, unlike the first, plays through without any repetition, after which there is a brief reprise of the trio, and the movement ends with an abrupt coda.

Third movement

Adagio molto e cantabile – Andante Moderato – Tempo Primo – Andante Moderato – Adagio – Lo Stesso Tempo. Duration approx. 16 mins.

The lyrical slow movement, in B flat major, is in a loose variation form, with each pair of variations progressively elaborating the rhythm and melody. The first variation, like the theme, is in 4/4 time, the second in 12/8. The variations are separated by passages in 3/4, the first in D major, the second in G major. The final variation is twice interrupted by episodes in which loud fanfares for the full orchestra are answered by octaves played by the first violins alone. A prominent horn solo is assigned to the fourth player. Trombones are tacet for the movement.

Fourth movement

Presto; Allegro molto assai (Alla marcia); Andante maestoso; Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato. Duration approx. 24 mins.

The famous choral finale is Beethoven's musical representation of Universal Brotherhood. American pianist and music author Charles Rosen has characterized it as a symphony within a symphony, played without interruption. This "inner symphony" follows the same overall pattern as the Ninth Symphony as a whole. The scheme is as follows:

  • First "movement": theme and variations with slow introduction. Main theme which first appears in the cellos and basses is later "recapitulated" with voices.
  • Second "movement": 6/8 scherzo in military style (begins at "Alla marcia", words "Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen"), in the " Turkish style". Concludes with 6/8 variation of the main theme with chorus.
  • Third "movement": slow meditation with a new theme on the text "Seid umschlungen, Millionen!" (begins at " Andante maestoso")
  • Fourth "movement": fugato finale on the themes of the first and third "movements" (begins at " Allegro energico")

The movement has a thematic unity, in which every part may be shown to be based on either the main theme, the "Seid umschlungen" theme, or some combination of the two.

The first "movement within a movement" itself is organized into sections:

  • An introduction, which starts with a stormy Presto passage. It then briefly quotes all three of the previous movements in order, each dismissed by the cellos and basses which then play in an instrumental foreshadowing of the vocal recitative. At the introduction of the main theme, the cellos and basses take it up and play it through.
  • The main theme forms the basis of a series of variations for orchestra alone.
  • The introduction is then repeated from the Presto passage, this time with the bass soloist singing the recitatives previously suggested by cellos and basses.
  • The main theme again undergoes variations, this time for vocal soloists and chorus.

Vocal parts

Those words written specifically by Beethoven (rather than Schiller) are shown in italics.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Freude! (men's chorus: Freude! )
Freude! (chorus again: Freude! )
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
Joy! (Joy!)
Joy! (Joy!)
Freude, schöner Götterfunken*
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods*
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Heavenly one, your sanctuary!
Your magic reunites
What custom strictly divided.
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer's nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend's friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Vor Gott!
Joy all creatures drink
At the breasts of nature;
All good, all bad
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and vines,
A friend, proved to the end;
Pleasure was given to the worm,
And the cherub stands before God.
Before God!
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt'gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven's glorious design,
Run, brothers, your path,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such' ihn über'm Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.
Finale repeats the words:
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über'm Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Seid umschlungen,
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Finale repeats the words:
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods
Spark of the gods!

The full libretto including repetitions can be found on German Wikisource.

In the near ending, it is, "Freude, Tochter aus Elysium", and also in the near ending, "Wir betreten feuertrunken, Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!", is omitted, then the choir sings the last four lines of the main theme, where they stop at, "Alle Menschen", before the slow part when the soloists sing for one last time the song of joy.

In the ending climax, the chorus softens quietly on the words, "Tochter aus Elysium". Then, the orchestra descends chords in arpeggio form, and in slow maestoso tempo, the full chorus sings, "Freude, schöner Götterfunken, Götterfunken!". The symphony ends with the orchestra playing the final section in prestissimo tempo.

The vocal part of Beethoven's ninth symphony thus ends with the word "Götterfunken" (literally, "spark of the gods").


Among music critics, the Ninth Symphony is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven's greatest works, and is considered by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written. "Yet early critics rejected it as cryptic and eccentric, the product of a deaf and aging composer." The finale of the Ninth has had detractors. Giuseppe Verdi complained about the vocal writing; in a letter he wrote to Clarina Maffei dated 20 April 1878, he stated that the symphony was:

...marvelous in its first three movements, very badly set in the last. No one will ever surpass the sublimity of the first movement, but it will be an easy task to write as badly for voices as is done in the last movement.

Gustav Leonhardt objected to the text itself, saying: "That 'Ode to Joy', talk about vulgarity! And the text! Completely puerile!"

Performance challenges

Metronome markings

Conductors in the historically informed performance movement, notably Roger Norrington, have used Beethoven's suggested tempos, to mixed reviews. Benjamin Zander has made a case for following Beethoven's metronome markings, both in writing and in performances with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and Philharmonia Orchestra of London.

Beethoven's metronome still exists, and it has been tested and found to be accurate.

Re-orchestrations and alterations

A number of conductors have made alterations in the instrumentation of the symphony, notably Richard Wagner, who doubled many woodwind passages, a modification greatly extended by Gustav Mahler, who revised the orchestration of the Ninth to make it sound like what he believed Beethoven would have wanted if given a modern orchestra.

Wagner's Dresden performance of 1864 was the first to place the chorus and the solo singers behind the orchestra as has since become standard; previous conductors placed them between the orchestra and the audience.

Horn and trumpet alterations

Beethoven's writing for horns and trumpets throughout the symphony (mostly the 2nd horn and 2nd trumpet) is sometimes altered by performers to avoid large leaps (those of a 12th or more), as leaps of this sort are very difficult to perform on brass instruments and may be consistently and flawlessly executed only by highly proficient musicians.

2nd bassoon doubling basses in the finale

Beethoven's indication that the 2nd bassoon should double the basses in measures 115–164 of the finale was not included in the Breitkopf parts, though it was included in the full score.

Notable performances and recordings

The London Philharmonic Choir debuted on 15 May 1947 performing the Ninth Symphony with the London Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Victor de Sabata at the Royal Albert Hall.

In 1951 Wilhelm Furtwängler and the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra reopened the Bayreuth Festival with a performance of the symphony, after the Allies temporarily suspended the Festival following the Second World War.

Political significance has attached to Beethoven's Ninth: Leonard Bernstein conducted a version of the 9th at the Brandenburg Gate, with "Freiheit" ("Freedom") replacing "Freude" ("Joy"), to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall during Christmas 1989. This concert was performed by an orchestra and chorus made up of many nationalities: from Germany, the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the Chorus of the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and members of the Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden, the Philharmonischer Kinderchor Dresden; members of the orchestra of the Kirov Theatre; from the United Kingdom, members of the London Symphony Orchestra; from the USA, members of the New York Philharmonic; and from France, members of the Orchestre de Paris. Soloists were June Anderson, soprano, Sarah Walker, mezzo-soprano, Klaus König, tenor, and Jan-Hendrik Rootering, bass. It was the last time that Bernstein conducted the symphony; he died ten months later.

Bernstein made his first recording of the Beethoven Ninth in 1964 with the New York Philharmonic, for Columbia Masterworks, with soloists Martina Arroyo (soprano), Regina Safarty (mezzo), Nicholas di Virgilio (tenor), Norman Scott (bass), and the Juilliard Chorus. It was later reissued on CD. It was the first of three complete recordings of the Ninth that Bernstein made. He made his second recording of the piece with the Vienna Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon, in 1979. This second one featured Gwyneth Jones (soprano), Hanna Schwarz (mezzo), René Kollo, and Kurt Moll (bass), with the chorus of the Vienna State Opera.

Sir Georg Solti recorded the symphony with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra several times. Their last recording of this symphony in 1986 won the Grammy for Best Orchestral Recording.

There have been various attempts to record the Ninth to come closer to what Beethoven's contemporaries would have heard, i.e., with period instruments. Roger Norrington conducting the London Classical Players recorded it with period instruments for a 1987 release by EMI Records (rereleased in 1997 under the Virgin Classics label). Benjamin Zander made a 1992 recording of the Ninth with the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra and noted soprano Dominique Labelle (who first performed the work with Robert Shaw), following Beethoven's own metronome markings. 12 years later after Norrington, Philippe Herreweghe recorded the Ninth with his period-instrument Orchestre des Champs-Élysées and his Collegium Vocale chorus for Harmonia Mundi in 1999. Sir John Eliot Gardiner recorded his period-instrument version of the Ninth Symphony, conducting his Monteverdi Choir and Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique in 1992. It was first released by Deutsche Grammophon in 1994 on their early music Archiv Produktion label as part of his complete cycle of the Beethoven symphonies. His soloists included Ľuba Orgonášová, Anne Sofie von Otter, Anthony Rolfe Johnson and Gilles Cachemaille. An additional period-instrument recording by Christopher Hogwood and the Academy of Ancient Music was released in 1997 under the label Éditions de l'Oiseau-Lyre.

At 79 minutes, one of the longest Ninths recorded is Karl Böhm's, conducting the Vienna Philharmonic in 1981 with Jessye Norman and Plácido Domingo among the soloists.

Osmo Vänskä, conducting the Minnesota Orchestra, recorded the symphony as part of a cycle of all the Beethoven symphonies. Released on the BIS label, it included soloists Helena Juntunen, Katarina Karnéus, Daniel Norman and Neal Davies, as well as the Minnesota Chorale. It received a positive critical reception, including a Grammy Award nomination in the Best Orchestral Performance category.


Many later composers of the Romantic period and beyond were influenced specifically by Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

An important theme in the finale of Johannes Brahms' Symphony No. 1 in C minor is related to the "Ode to Joy" theme from the last movement of Beethoven's Ninth symphony. When this was pointed out to Brahms, he is reputed to have retorted "Any fool can see that!" Brahms's first symphony was, at times, both praised and derided as "Beethoven's Tenth".

In the opening notes of the third movement of his Symphony No. 9 (The "New World"), Antonín Dvořák pays homage to the scherzo of this symphony with his falling fourths and timpani strokes.

Likewise, Béla Bartók borrows the opening motif of the Scherzo from Beethoven's Ninth symphony to introduce the second movement Scherzo in his own, Four Orchestral Pieces, op. 12.

One legend is that the Compact Disc was deliberately designed to have a 74-minute playing time in order to accommodate the length of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Kees Immink, Philips' chief engineer, who developed the CD, recalls that a commercial tug-of-war between the development partners, Sony and Philips, led to a settlement in a neutral 12-cm diameter format. The 1951 performance of the Ninth Symphony by Furtwängler was brought forward as the perfect excuse for the change.

Use as anthem

During the division of Germany in the Cold War, the Ode to Joy segment of the symphony was also played in lieu of an anthem at the Olympic Games for the Unified Team of Germany between 1956 and 1968. In 1972, the musical backing (without the words) was adopted as the Anthem of Europe by the Council of Europe and subsequently by the European Communities (now the European Union) in 1985. In 1985, the European Union chose Beethoven's music as the EU anthem.

New Year's tradition in Japan

The Symphony No. 9, with accompanying chorus, is traditionally performed throughout Japan during its New Year's celebrations. In December 2009, for example, there were 55 performances of the symphony by various major orchestras and choirs in Japan.

The Ninth was introduced to Japan by German soldiers held at the Bandō prisoner-of-war camp during World War I. Japanese orchestras, notably the NHK Symphony Orchestra, began performing the symphony in 1925. During World War II, the Imperial government promoted performances of the symphony, including on New Year's Eve, to encourage allegiance to Japanese nationalism. The symphony was considered appropriate in this regard because Germany was an ally of Japan. After the war, orchestras and choruses, undergoing economic hard times during the reconstruction of Japan, promoted performances of the piece around New Year because of the popularity of the music with the public. In the 1960s, performances of the symphony for the New Year became more widespread and included participation by local choirs and orchestras, establishing the tradition which continues to this day – and which includes, since 2003, a concert of all nine symphonies.

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