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L van Beethoven – 9th Symphony (the Choral Symphony)

February 2 @ 3:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Ludwig van Beethoven (Baptised 17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827) was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the classical and romantic eras in classical music, he remains one of the most recognized and influential musicians of this period, and is considered to be one of the greatest composers of all time. There is no authentic record of the date of his birth; however, as children of that era were traditionally baptised the day after birth in the Catholic Rhine country (Beethoven was born in Bonn), and it is known that Beethoven’s family and his teacher Johann Albrechtsberger celebrated his birthday on 16 December, most scholars accept 16 December 1770 as his date of birth.

Beethoven displayed his musical talents at an early age and was initially taught by his father Johann van Beethoven. Some time after 1779 he began his studies with his most important teacher in Bonn, Christian Gottlob Neefe, who was appointed the Court’s Organist in that year. Neefe taught him composition, and by March 1783 had helped him write his first published composition: a set of keyboard variations. His first three piano sonatas, named “Kurfürst” (“Elector”) for their dedication to the Elector Maximilian Friedrich, were published in 1783. Maximilian Friedrich noticed his talent early, and subsidised and encouraged the young man’s musical studies. At age 21 he moved to Vienna and studied composition with Joseph Haydn. Beethoven then gained a reputation as a virtuoso pianist, and was soon sought out by Prince Lichnowsky for compositions, which resulted in Opus 1 in 1795.

Around the turn of the century Beethoven’s hearing began to deteriorate, but he continued to conduct, premiering his third and fifth symphonies in 1804 and 1808, respectively. His condition worsened to almost complete deafness by 1811, and he then gave up performing and appearing in public.

During this period Beethoven composed many of his most admired works; his seventh symphony premiered in 1813, with its second movement, Allegretto, achieving widespread critical acclaim. He composed the piece Missa Solemnis over a number of years until it premiered 1824. In 1826, his fourteenth String Quartet was noted for having seven linked movements played without a break, and is considered the final major piece performed before his death a year later.

The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, also known as Beethoven’s 9th, is the final complete symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven, composed between 1822 and 1824. It was first performed in Vienna at the Theater am Kärntnertor on 7 May 1824. One of the best-known works in the era of tonal music it is regarded by many critics and musicologists as one of Beethoven’s greatest works and one of the supreme achievements in the history of western music. It is one of the most performed symphonies in the world.

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 (4th) movement of the symphony 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 text additions made by Beethoven.

The premiere of Symphony No. 9 involved the largest orchestra ever assembled by Beethoven. Although the performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf, the theatre’s Kapellmeister, Beethoven shared the stage with him; this was his first onstage appearance in 12 years. 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.

When the audience applauded 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 the critic for the Theater-Zeitung, “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 audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, and raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovations.

Conducted by Richard Cock.


February 2
3:00 pm - 5:00 pm


Linder Auditorium
Johannesburg, South Africa + Google Map