The Grandest Symphony

Jul 4, 2017

Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 is arguably the grandest, most recognizable symphony of all time. It was, and still is, unprecedented in its scale and presentation of musical themes. Throughout the symphony, he expressed ideas in the styles of nations who had been in conflict with one another. The work was also surprising in its transitions from key to key, the order of its movements, and its extreme contrasts between light and dark. The first three movements gradually build into a joyful finale sung by a massive choir and four vocal soloists. Beethoven choose the text of Schiller’s revolution-era drinking song “An die Freude” for its dramatic and humanistic message. He even added his own words to the end of the poem to call for the unity of all people, addressing the audience directly as their friend.

Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820

Despite being almost completely deaf by the time of the symphony’s premiere, Beethoven “conducted” the performance. The players and singers were cautioned beforehand to pay no attention to him. Instead, they followed the reliable beat provided by the concertmaster, Michael Umlauf. After the final chord, Beethoven was oblivious to the audience’s thunderous ovation and stayed turned toward the ensemble. Only when the contralto soloist tapped him on the shoulder and turned him around did he see his public applauding wildly.

IPR’s Symphonies of Iowa encore series has begun! The season kicks off on Monday, July 10th at 7 p.m. with the Des Moines Symphony presenting their concert “Beethoven’s Ode to Joy!” under Joseph Giunta with a 200-voice choir comprised of the Simpson College Chamber Singers, the Drake Choir, and the Des Moines Vocal Arts Ensemble. Soloists include flutist Kayla Burggraf, violinist Jonathan Sturm, Gregory Hand at the harpsichord, soprano Mary Ellen Giunta, alto Mary Creswell, tenor Scott Ramsay, and bass Dashon Burton.

Along with the finale of Beethoven’s triumphant Ode to Joy, the program includes Rossini’s William Tell Overture and the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 5. Tune in on Monday, July 10th at 7 p.m. for our first Symphonies of Iowa encore broadcast of the 2016-2017 season!