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Seattle Symphony and Beethoven’s 9th

The Seattle Symphony will once again be ringing in the New Year with a performance of Beethoven’s 9th. The great Choral Symphony has endured as one of the monuments of Western culture since its premier in 1824, and is so familiar that it is difficult to imagine the experience of hearing it new. However, to the listeners in Vienna that day it must have come like a thunderbolt.

The concert marked the first time Beethoven had appeared on stage in twelve years – he had been distracted by issues of his own health, the illness and death of his brother, and the protracted custody battle over his nephew Karl – and in that time he had written little of consequence. However, as he was Vienna’s greatest musical hero, the hall was packed.
The 9th Symphony was premiered along with the Consecration of the House Overture, and the first three movements of the Missa Solemnis, and marked the first time a chorus or vocal soloists had been used in a symphony. Certainly the audience could not have known what to expect

The performance had had only two rehearsals, scarely enough, and Michael Umlauf, the Kapellmeister of the Kärntnertortheater, which hosted the concert, had to deal with keeping things together while having Beethoven on the stage, conducting while totally deaf.  Umlauf had instructed the orchestra and musicians to follow only him and to ignore Beethoven’s signals, so we must imagine the scene with both Umlauf and Beethoven as, almost literally, dueling conductors, and Beethoven gesticulating passionately to music and singers only he could hear!

Whatever the difficulties, the audience was ecstatic, giving the composer five standing ovations – amazing when you consider that the Emperor himself only got three, and that, for all his fame, Beethoven, as a musician, was still considered “the help”. In fact, the ovations went on until broken up by the police. Also interesting is that the concert was repeated three weeks later and hardly anyone came.

That will not be the case this time; you can expect near sellouts for all three performances: December 28th and 29th at 7:30 PM and December 30th at 8:PM, at Benaroya Hall – a joyous way to end the year.

  • Gerard Schwarz, conductor
  • Christine Goerke, soprano
  • Luretta Bybee, mezzo-soprano
  • John Mac Master, tenor
  • Greer Grimsley, bass-baritone
  • Seattle Symphony Chorale
  • Seattle Symphony