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Classical Sprouts: An Ode To Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Composer Ludwig van Beethoven

You've probably heard the melody Ode To Joy, and you might even know how to play it on an instrument!

But you might not know why this melody and the entire fourth movement of the famous symphony it's featured in are so significant.

Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 is massive - the fourth movement alone is more than 25 minutes long!

It's also written for a huge ensemble, especially for Beethoven's time; it includes a full orchestra of strings, woodwinds, brass and percussion, plus a full full choir and four vocal soloists.

Beethoven used this big ensemble and other compositional tools to create a triumphant, joyful finale for his last symphony.

One tool Beethoven used to wow listeners was the suspense factor: Ode to Joy doesn't come in right away - in fact, the audience has already heard almost an hour of music before it begins.

Another was an element of surprise; several instruments and all of the vocal musicians are only used in the fourth movement, suddenly creating a hugely forceful sound.

He also uses contrast; Beethoven starts this movement with a summary of what's come before and then introduces dark, stormy music that's the opposite of joyful!

Once we finally hear the melody we've been waiting for, it's introduced by a single voice.

Beethoven was all about the drama!

This movement also includes a Turkish march, which made sense because Germans were interested in Turkish culture at the time.

As if we haven't heard enough musical genres already, Beethoven also includes a hymn with lyrics referring to a god who lives among the stars and loves everyone on earth.

Finally, we reach the end, where Beethoven ramps up the celebration with intricate counterpoint, which is a word to describe multiple melodies played at the same time, and the movement's most jubilant text.

At the piece's premiere, the audience loved the piece so much they gave it five standing ovations!

Listen to the entire piece and see if you like it as much as that audience did almost 200 years ago!

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Classical Sprouts is produced by Emily Duncan Wilson. Kacie Brown is the digital content manager.

Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.
Emily Duncan Wilson is IPR's digital content manager and is the producer of "Classical Sprouts" and "Kids Commute".