Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 was composed between 1822-1824 and premiered that same year in Vienna. Though he conducted the premiere, he was unable to hear any of it clearly due to his advanced hearing loss and was frequently “off” from the musicians, who instead watched a second conductor for important cues.
Symphony No. 9 takes 70-74 minutes to perform and is in four movements - the famous “Ode to Joy” final movement taking a full 25 minutes.
Symphony No. 9 was immediately notable for its unusual use of vocal soloists and a chorus. Other notable elements include the first use of piccolo, contrabassoon, and trombones in symphonic literature.
Many other composers paid homage to this great piece by quoting or incorporating material from the symphony into their works. In his first symphony, Johannes Brahms composed a beautiful melody which leaned so heavily on the Ode to Joy theme that it was often mockingly referred to as “Beethoven’s Tenth”.
CDs, those quaint tiny plastic “records” of the 80s and 90s, were engineered to hold 74 minutes of music based on the timing of the longest existing Symphony No. 9 recording at the time.
The “Ode to Joy” portion of Symphony No. 9 has been the European Anthem since 1972. Fun fact - your Colorado Symphony made a socially distanced recording of the Herbert von Karajan arrangement during quarantine in March 2020 which has been viewed nearly 800,000 times across all channels. Watch and listen below from YouTube:
Beethoven’s score calls for 2 flutes and piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons and contrabassoon, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, triangle, violins, violas, cellos, and basses, plus a full chorus and soprano, alto, tenor, and baritone vocal soloists.