The Ninth is the Beethoven work with the longest history. Beethoven thought of such settings early in his career. The line "a good father there must be" is contained in a sketchbook from 1798, other drafts date from 1815. The main work was done between 1817 and 1823. The score was finished in February 1824, partly in Hetzendorf (situated south of Schönbrunn Palace, today 12th district of Vienna (cf. "Österreich-Lexikon"), partly in Baden near Vienna (cf. "Österreich-Lexikon").
Setting Schiller's "Ode to Joy" first occurred to Beethoven in 1793. In 1812 he planned a setting within the framework of an overture with chorus. The idea of placing the setting in the finale first turned up in the sketchbooks of 1822. Originally he had a purely instrumental finale in mind. In 1823 he wrote the 4th movement, composing first the choral part and the preceding orchestral variations on the joy theme. The bass recitative was to begin with "Let us sing Schiller's immortal song". He used only parts of Schiller's Ode: the 1st and 3rd stanzas, the 1st part of the 2nd stanza and the 2nd part of the 4th stanza.
During a Beethoven Academy on May 7th, 1824 at the Imperial Hoftheater next to Kärntnertor. At the beginning the overture "On the Dedication of the House" (op.124) was played, a work Beethoven had written in 1822 for the opening of Josephstadt Theatre (cf. "Österreich-Lexikon"); this was followed by parts of his Missa Solemnis (Kyrie, Credo, Agnus Dei). Beethoven, by then totally deaf, could not hear the positive reaction of the public and was informed by his faithful servant Anton Schindler (cf. "Österreich-Lexikon"), by means of his notebook.
Size of the orchestra
In Beethoven's notebooks there are proofs as to the size of the orchestra and the cooperation of professionals and amateurs. On May 7th, 1824 the orchestra consisted of 44 professionals, plus a certain number (not named) of amateurs. The positioning of the orchestra was different from today. The orchestra was seated on a stage that rose in steps, whereas the choir was placed in front of the conductor.
As far as we know the audience came from all classes of the Viennese population. Among the nobility and the middle classes music was part of the educational programme. Listening to music and practising it was a part of life. Musical knowledge and practice were - one can safely assume - more widespread than today. At the first performance of Beethoven's 9th symphony an educated, interested and open-minded audience were present.
Originally the work was intended for Ferdinand Ries, who had been living in London since 1813. He was a member of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and managed invitations to London and commissions for composers. Beethoven's concert tours did not materialise and the 9th symphony was originally destined for London. So the dedication was cancelled and Beethoven thought of a new dedicatee, Tsar Alexander of Russia. When he died in 1825, he chose King Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia. As a reward Beethoven was promised a diamond ring. But he was cheated and only got a golden ring with a red stone of little value.
The text of Schiller's Ode
Reception of the work
Neither Beethoven's contemporaries nor the next generation grasped the full importance of this peak of symphonic art. Richard Wagner was one of the first to realise the full grandeur of the work, which he described in a laudatory appraisal. (On exceptional occasions Beethoven's 9th symphony is performed at Bayreuth, Wagner's special temple of music, which is on the whole reserved for Wagner compositions.)