200th Anniversary of Beethoven’s Ninth

200th Anniversary of Beethoven’s Ninth

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Vienna. The event is being marked by performances of the work around the world, including one broadcast on Arte with the four movements played in succession by four different orchestras: the first movement by Gewandhaus Orchestra (Leipzig) under Andris Nelsons; the second movement by Orchestre de Paris under Klaus Mäkelä; the third movement by Orchestra del Teatro alla Scala (Milan) under Riccardo Chailly; and the fourth movement by the Vienna Symphony under Petr Popelka. Indeed, two performances are taking place in Vienna, as the Vienna Philharmonic is also performing the Ninth. The Theatermuseum in Vienna is currently hosting an exhibition where visitors can see the autograph manuscript of the Ninth. Beethoven-Haus Bonn is marking the occasion with a number of special events, including “concerts, conferences, exhibitions, magazines, editions, books, live streams, [and] broadcasts”.

Here in Canada, Symphony Nova Scotia performed Beethoven’s Ninth on May 3rd and 4th, and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra also performed the work on May 4th. The Canadian filmmaker Larry Weinstein contributed the documentary Beethoven’s Nine: Ode to Humanity, co-produced by the German broadcaster ZDF and Arte. Weinstein was present for both the premiere at Toronto’s Hot Docs cinema on April 28th and the European premiere in Bonn on May 3rd.

The first opportunity to hear Beethoven’s Ninth live in Canada seems to have occurred in Montreal on April 8th, 1897 according to Helmut Kallmann’s article “Beethoven and Canada: A Miscellany” (1971). The performance was given by the Montreal Philharmonic Society under the guest conductor Emil Mollenhauer from Boston. Kallmann notes that in 1927, on the occasion of the centenary of Beethoven’s death, the 235-voice Toronto Mendelssohn Choir supported by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra under Fritz Reiner performed Beethoven’s Ninth on Saturday afternoon, February 26th, having given the local (and perhaps Canadian) premiere of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis the evening before. On its own website, the TMC notes that the choir performed Beethoven’s Ninth with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra under its Austrian conductor, Emil Paur, who led the work from memory. The performance took place on 14 February 1906 and was reviewed enthusiastically the next day in the Globe and Mail; this seems to have been the local premiere. The next year the choir performed the work in its Carnegie Hall debut. The choir has sung the Ninth in Carnegie Hall on other occasions subsequently (e.g. in March 1924 with the Philadelphia Orchestra under Leopold Stokowski, and in May 1984 with the Toronto Symphony under the late Sir Andrew Davis).

Kallmann ends his brief article about Beethoven and Canada with the following reflections: “But in 2027—what may the chronicler have to add to the present sketch at that time? For one thing, I wish, much more definite information about the early years of Beethoven appreciation in Canada; for another, a confirmation that this unique body of music will be as meaningful and as modern as it is today.” May Kallmann’s wishes be granted three years from now.

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