Little Bits of History

Number Nine

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 7, 2015
Beethoven by Jospeh Karl Stieler, 1820

Beethoven by Jospeh Karl Stieler, 1820

May 7, 1824: Symphony No. 9 premieres in Vienna. Ludwig von Beethoven was born in 1770 and was one of the central figures in the transition from Classical to Romantic eras in Western music. He was both a pianist and composer with 9 complete symphonies, 5 concertos for piano, 1 violin concerto, 32 piano sonatas, and 16 string quartets produced in his lifetime. Along with the impressive list, he composed chamber music, choral works, and religious numbers. One of the saddest parts of the brilliant composer’s life was his deafness. By the time his ninth and last symphony was written and premiered, he was unable to hear any of it.

The Philharmonic Society of London commissions the symphony in 1817 and the main work of composition was done from late 1822 until February 1824 when it was completed. The premiere for his final symphony was held on this day at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna. Also on the play list was the overture The Consecration of the House (1822) and three parts of the Missa solemnis (the Kyrie, Credo, and Agnus Dei) finished in 1823. Beethoven was on stage for the premiere, for the first time in 12 years. The performance was officially directed by Michael Umlauf. Beethoven’s deafness had made his previous directorial performance a disaster. No one wished to hurt his feelings, so he was on stage, but the musicians had been cautioned to follow the theater’s Kapellmeister, Umlauf.

This performance brought together the largest orchestra ever assembled by Beethoven. The Kärntnertor house orchestra, The Vienna Music Society (Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde), along with a select group of capable amateurs were brought together. They were said to be under prepared as there had only been time for two complete rehearsals. The soprano and alto parts were given to Henriette Sontag (18) and Caroline Unger (21), both selected personally by Beethoven. It was Sontag’s premiere performance while Unger had already garnered some fame, although this increased her reputation. Even with the lack of preparation possible, the evening was a success.

There are several anecdotes about the evening. In one, Beethoven was still “directing” when the piece had finished and audience had begun their thunderous applause but because of his profound hearing loss, he was not aware that it was over. Unger was said to have walked up to the great man and turned him to face the audience and receive his accolades. He was given five standing ovations and people threw handkerchiefs and hats into the air and waved their hands so the deaf man could see rather than hear their praise. The last few months of the great man’s life were spent bedridden with his many friends coming to help as they might. He died on March 26, 1827 at the age of 56 with friends in attendance. His funeral procession was attended by about 20,000 Viennese citizens.

Music: The one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.

Recommend virtue to your children; it alone, not money, can make them happy. I speak from experience.

Art! Who comprehends her? With whom can one consult concerning this great goddess?

Do not wholly forget me when I am dead. – all from

Also on this day: US Patent # 203,517 – In 1878 a US patent is granted for a fire escape ladder.
Lusitania – In 1915, a German u-boat sank the RMS Lusitania.
Out of the Ashes – In 1946, Japan’s new electronics company formed.
American Medical Association – In 1847, the AMA was founded.
La Nouvelle-Orléans – In 1718, New Orleans was founded.

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