In the same way that – courtesy of the Italia '90 World Cup – everyone knows 'Nessun Dorma' while relatively few people know Puccini's Turandot, most people know Beethoven’s setting of Schiller's 'Ode to Joy' while far fewer know the symphony from which it comes.
What might Beethoven have thought about this?
On the one hand he was a politically aware radical who started out by admiring the European political ambitions of Emperor Napoleon and ended up deeply disillusioned. On the other hand he was uncertain, not about the quality of his music, but about the public’s understanding of it. So, despite his famous irascibility, it might well have delighted him to know that the theme from the final movement of his final symphony was destined to become the signature tune for Europe.
The 9th symphony was premiered May 7th 1824 in Vienna with Beethoven conducting. The rehearsal period was short and his deafness now nearly total. Contemporary reports indicate that the performance was shambolic. When the music ended, Beethoven was many bars apart from the orchestra and chorus and was still furiously conducting as the applause began. The contralto had to go over to Beethoven and turn him round to face the audience. He had heard neither the music nor the applause. Despite this the performance was acclaimed with five standing ovations and the composer was deeply moved. It was to be his last public concert.
The performance on this recording was the culmination of a cycle of the complete Beethoven symphonies given by the LSO under the direction of Bernard Haitink in 2005 and 2006. A cycle hailed by the New York Times - when it was repeated in New York - as ‘Beethoven for our time’.
James Mallinson, LSO Live Producer
Subscribe to Society of Sound to download high-quality albums from Peter Gabriel’s Real World Studios and the London Symphony Orchestra. All available in Apple Lossless and studio-quality FLAC. If you already have a Society of Sound membership please sign in