Know Before You Go: Beethoven's Ninth
This weekend we perform arguably the most famous piece of music—Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony—an inspiration for composers, since its premiere in 1824.
Four years had passed without a new symphony from Beethoven when, in 1817, the London Philharmonic society commissioned him to write his Ninth. Beethoven had wanted to set Schiller’s Ode to Joy to music for more than 20 years, and it was during this time he threw himself into another study of Schiller’s works. It would be five more years before he finally began working on the symphony in earnest.
By 1822, Beethoven was completely deaf when he creates his most universal opening theme—less melody than pure sound—growing out of silence. Beethoven gives us the world in music both complex and breathtakingly simple; the famous final movement is a miracle of text painting, as Beethoven conveys musically all of the myriad images within Schiller’s wide ranging poetry. In all, Beethoven had tried roughly 200 melodies, before finally settling on his now famous theme for the Ode to Joy!
We pair the Beethoven with Charles Ives Three Places in New England, another in our series of uniquely American works this season. Charles Ives, a visionary composer, credited with pioneering many of the techniques later embraced by modern era composers, is also credited with the first truly American sounding music. Ives was also an innovating and successful entrepreneur who built the largest insurance agency in the country. Although several composers championed his work, Ives’ music was largely ignored during most of his life.
In 1914, however, he created one of the first American works, which would be performed abroad, as well as at home - his Three Places in New England. In this piece, Ives sought to make listeners experience the places, as though they were there, and, as he did in many of his works, he created atmospheres using fragments of famous pieces - in this case American songs. From plantation and civil war songs in his tribute to the monument honoring the first all black regiment in the union army, to the sounds of converging marching bands (in different keys!) in a scene from revolutionary war days, Ives steeps us in the unmistakable language of America, even as he stretches harmonies and mixes rhythms!
Back to all posts