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Analyzing the Form of the Ninth Symphony’s Finale Essay

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Updated: Dec 19th, 2021

In his The Form of the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Jason Weber has made two innovational maneuvers: firstly, he disputed the form of the Finale, having argued the existing versions; besides, he has extended the set of instruments that can be used while analyzing a musical composition. Besides the traditional descriptions, he uses the analytical method and provides visualized arguments for his statements.

One of the most popular versions of the form of the Finale is the sonata form. The flourishing of the classic sonata form took place precisely in the period of Beethoven’s creative work; moreover, his music can be called a culmination of the sonata form in its pure form. After Beethoven’s era, the sonata form evolved and was enriched by other principles of composition.

This makes musical critics think that the possible form of Beethoven’s Finale of The Ninth Symphony is the sonata form. This research is aimed at representing the schematic framework of the Finale and comparing it to the structure of the classic sonata form.

In the research, we will represent the interaction of different sections used in the Finale. In his article, Webster defines the “domains”, which are the devices used in composition: tonality, musical material, rhythm, dynamics, instrumentation, rhetoric, “narrative” design, the verbal text, vocal tessitura, relation between vocal and instrumental part (Webster 26). We will consider some of these elements, representing their performance by means of the visual scheme, similar to those in Webster’s work.

The classic sonata form looks as follows: Introduction → Exposition (Theme groups + Closing Theme / Codetta) → Development → Recapitulation → (Coda).

We will define the following generalized sections in the Finale:

  • the percussion section;
  • the strings 1 (instruments with high-pitched sound);
  • the strings 2 (instruments with low-pitched sound);
  • wind instruments;
  • female vocal;
  • male vocal;
  • solo vocal.

These sections can be singled out clearly while listening to the Finale; besides, each of them has it mission in terms of performing dynamics and emotion. We will watch their interaction in Tables 1 and 2. We also consider the cases of the appearance of the main theme, which is also an important characteristic in composition.

Time percussion strings 1 strings 2 wind female male solo intonation/
dynamics
0:00 +++ +++ +++ +++ anxious
1:18 + +++ +++ +++ calming
(2:18) theme
(3:03) theme
(3:50) theme theme
(4:05) theme theme theme reviving
(5:30) theme theme theme theme triumph
6:38 +++ +++ +++ + tensing
7:00 + + + + + +++ questioning
(7:50) theme reviving
(8:17) theme theme
(8:36) + theme
(9:00) +++ + + + theme theme
(9:18) + + theme
9:40-10:35 +++ + + + +++ +++ triumph

Table 1
Interaction of Sections in the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Part 1)

As we can see, each of the sectors has its mission for the atmosphere of the block: for example, the percussion section intensifies when the atmosphere is tensing or reviving, etc. This defined the number of the “+” signs. The time in brackets shows intermediate changes.

The first part of the composition shows us 3 clear blocks, which can be defined by the roles of the sections and the appearance of the theme. The first block is introductive, it does not contain the main theme. The theme itself appears in the second block, accurately performed by the wind section, and then it is passed through the other instrumental sections. The third block is characterized by the dominance of the vocal sections. They perform the main theme by turn, tensing the atmosphere. The block is ending with the triumph of the main theme.

Now we will analyze the second part of the composition in Table 2.

Time percussion strings 1 strings 2 wind female male solo intonation/
dynamics
10:35 theme (v) theme (v) calm
(11:14) theme (v) questioning
(11:48) +++ +++ +++ +++ vivid
12:05 +++ +++ +++ tensing
(13:18) +++ calm
13:33 +++ + theme theme triumph
14:19-end + + + +++ +++ +++ + tensing, ends with the triumph

Table 2
Interaction of Sections in the Finale of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (Part 2)

The fourth block performs the main theme, but it evolves, acquiring syncopic rhythm (theme (v) – theme with variation). The solo, which follows the instruments, also contributes to the variation of the theme. In the fifth block, we meet the triumph of the main theme – it is the first time when we hear with no single deviation for a long time, sounding unflinching and life-asserting. In the sixth block, which is rather long, we lose the view of the main theme completely. All the sections interact, performing the themes, absolutely different to the main one, although in the same tonic key.

Thus, we see can see the introduction (1st block), the exposition (2nd and 3rd blocks); then small development comes (4th block). However, the last two blocks do not fit the structure of the sonata form. Despite we see the triumph of the main theme, the 5th and the 6th block do not form the recapitulation and the coda. The movement of the composition deviates from the main theme for a long period, and the Finale ends with a different theme in the tonic key. It is necessary to admit, that sonata form with its classical structure cannot be considered to be present in the Ninth Symphony’s Finale.

Bibliography

Webster, James, Christopher Reynolds, and Lewis Lockwood. Beethoven Forum. Vol. 1. Lincoln, Neb. London: University of Nebraska Press, 1992. Print.

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