This new departure in symphonic form set off such shock waves among contemporaries and later generations that the interpretation and assimilation of its message turned into an industry. Debussy expressed surprise, back in 1901, that the work had not already been buried under the barrowloads of verbiage put down on paper about it. The main debate, of course, was about the final movement of the Ninth and the introduction of the human voice into what had until then been a purely instrumental form; Beethoven had broken new ground and his innovation was greeted by some with passionate enthusiasm and rejected by others as aesthetically dubious and destructive of musical unity. Beethoven himself evidently decided on this momentous step at a late date – perhaps to counterbalance the three mighty movements that went before and at the same time transcend them. The main themes of these three movements are sketched in at the start of the finale like shadows of the past and roughly pushed back in their box by a recitative in the cellos and double basses; later, the heartfelt pleas of the solo “evangelist” will take up their cause with a recitative in words that sends the same message: all that has yet happened in this symphony was without joy and must be silent. The pallid cheerlessness of the first movement must not be lived through again, nor shall the raging demons of the scherzo have their way any longer; even the yearning beauties of the Adagio are to be denied access to the happy fields of Elysium. Instead, the “melody of joy”, already presented with incomparable subtlety and polished to orchestral brilliance, will now be heard from solo voices and choir. What follows is a symphonic cantata, a vast tapestry of contrasting elements, which defies purely musical analysis. The proclamation of human harmony beneath a divine canopy of stars, the collective whirl of joy and the kiss destined for the whole world have the enthusiasm of an appeal for moral renewal – and were a utopia for Beethoven himself.
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