Beethoven’s apartment at Ungargasse 5 sports a unique memorial plague. It reads, “In this house Ludwig van Beethoven finished his Symphony No. 9 during winter 1823/24. In memorial of the centenary of the world premiere on 7 May 1824, this plague was dedicated to the master and his work by the Wiener Schubertbund.” It is worth remembering, however, that this most monumental and iconic of all Beethoven symphonies was the result of diverse elements stirring in his imagination over many years. The thought of composing a vocal setting of Schiller’s “An die Freude” (Ode to Joy) actually goes back to his days in Bonn. In a letter of January 1793 from a Bonn professor to Schiller’s wife we read, “Beethoven proposes to compose Schiller’s Freude, strophe by strophe. I expect something perfect, since he is wholly devoted to the great and the sublime.”
Beethoven returned to Schiller’s text again and again. In 1798 and 1812 it appears in connection with sketches for an overture that later became the “Namensfeier.” And when the London Philharmonic Society commissioned two symphonies, Beethoven was determined that one of these works should contain a choral section, “a pious song in a symphony in the ancient modes,” as he put it. However, only in 1822 did these various strands come together, as Beethoven put together his plan for a D-minor symphony with a setting of Schiller’s Ode as its Finale. He now intended to conclude the work with Turkish music and a full choir. His main work on the Ninth Symphony was done throughout 1823, and in his apartments at Obere Pfarrgasse 60, Hetzendorfer Straße 75a at the “Villa Pronay,” at Rathausgasse 94 in Baden, and finally at Ungargasse 5. With all this moving around it’s almost a miracle that Beethoven was able to finish the symphony in the first place. In the event, it is one of Beethoven’s greatest works, and one of the supreme achievements in the history of western music.
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