Beethoven’s Ninth celebrates its 200th anniversary: ​​a universal anthem?

Beethoven’s Ninth celebrates its 200th anniversary: ​​a universal anthem?
Beethoven’s Ninth celebrates its 200th anniversary: ​​a universal anthem?

200 years ago to the day, one of the most famous works in the history of music was created in Vienna: the Ninth Symphony by Beethoven. Why this monumental work, with its Ode to Joy, its soloists and its choir, has it become a metaphor for Western classical music? How did it acquire its philosophical and political significance?

A work inseparable from its political significance

We sometimes know this melody, even before knowing that it belongs to the Ninth Symphony by Beethoven, composed 169 years before the establishment of the European Union. In 1972, the Council of Europe established the political scope of the Ninth of Beethoven by choosing his Finale for the European anthem: theOde to Joy. The decision was confirmed by the Treaty of Maastricht in 1993. Saskia de Ville testifies: “I discovered when I was little that the hymn to joy, which I knew well, was by Beethoven. I was struck by the fact that his music was used to represent a Europe united in fraternity, in defense, in the community of interest. This is something that upset me.“This anthem has marked History several times, and Magali Mosnier, principal flute of the Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra, evokes significant memories:”Obviously I remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and the times when we played it even more strongly“.

A musical innovation

When it was created in Vienna, the Ninth by Beethoven is unevenly received by the public. While the press bears witness to an unprecedented moment in the history of music, others condemn the form of this symphony with choir: unheard of! According to Elisabeth Brisson, historian “It was quite possibly the happiest day of Beethoven’s life.“.”It had never been done before: a symphony of such length, with such a force. As a musician, I feel like I’m participating in a great epic when I play it!” enthuses Magali Mosnier.

Sheet music found and a well-kept secret

For two centuries this symphony has resounded in concert halls around the world. Two centuries of the same score, which has recently been updated. “It was revisited by Beate Angelika Kraus, in 2020, as part of the Beethoven-Haus, explains Elisabeth Brisson. The score used by Beethoven on May 7 is not the only one he left behind. There are a lot of other sources: copies made for orchestral material or for dedications, and to which Beethoven added things, even after May 7! In particular, he added trombone parts found in the papers of Schubert, who had acquired them. We recently discovered a contrabassoon part, which Beate Angelika Kraus now has to add to her 2020 edition.”
There Ninth Symphony by Beethoven therefore still conceals many secrets to be discovered.

This week, France Musique gets in tune with the Ninth:

  • Friday May 3, 12 p.m.-12:30 p.m.: At the heart of the ballet by Hyppolite Pérès “Dancing to the music of Beethoven”
  • Sunday May 5, 2 p.m.-4 p.m.: Mazette! by Jean-Yves Larrouturou “The Terrible Curse of the 9th Symphony for Dummies”
  • Sunday May 12, 4 p.m.-6 p.m.: The Record Critics Tribune by Jérémie Rousseau “Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 12, op.127 (contemporary work of the 9th Symphony”


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