Beethoven′s Ninth Up for Grabs | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 15.03.2002
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Beethoven's Ninth Up for Grabs

The British Library in London is trying its hardest to come up with enough resources to buy a priceless archive of original music scores that includes the manuscript for Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.


Beethoven bust in Bonn

Oh friends, no more these sounds!

Let us sing more cheerful songs,

A song full of joy!


Joy, beautiful spark of the gods...

It's been called the greatest composition of all times, a song that can pierce the soul of even the most die-hard music-hater, a stroke of genius, a sublime, uplifting inspiration for humanity as a whole.

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, ironically written during one of the saddest periods of his life as he battled deafness, is undoubtedly one of the best known and most revered pieces of music all over the world.

Composed between 1817 and 1823, he immortalised Friedrich von Schiller's verse "Ode to Joy" in the ninth symphony, which exudes ecstasy and joy.

The piece has underscored several momentous events in history, notably the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989.

Manuscript of the ninth in London

Considering his universal impact, it might not surprise many to know that the precious manuscript score of his ninth symphony is not locked away in some German museum devoted to the Great Master, but rather safely preserved in the archives of the Royal Philharmonic Society in London.

Not for long though.

The Society, which owns some 250 priceless manuscript scores, working papers, minute books and correspondence with great composers and performers, is quite simply broke.

Lacking resources to curate its archive, it has opted to set the precious collection up for sale.

The renowned British Library in London, home of such treasures as the Rosetta Stone, is now trying frantically to acquire the inspired scripts. The library needs to raise 200,000 pounds more to meet the 1 million pounds asked by the Royal Philharmonic Society.

The collection has been offered exclusively to the British Library so that it might stay in Englans and remain accessible to the public.

Ludwig's link

Porträt von Ludwig van Beethoven

Porträt von Ludwig van Beethoven

The question arises – what is the manuscript score of the famed ninth symphony doing in a archive in London, when Beethoven is celebrated as a composer par excellence in his native Germany?

Apparently Beethoven had close ties with the Royal Philharmonic Society. His music was regularly performed at concerts there from the time of the Society's foundation in 1813.

In 1817, the Society's directors invited maestro from Bonn to come to London to direct two symphonies specially commissioned by the Society. Unfortunately the project never took off. But in 1824, in response to a commission of 50 guineas, a manuscript score of his ninth symphony (The Choral) was sent to the Society.

It bore on its front page, in Beethoven's hand, the dedication "written for the Philharmonic Society in London".

The first British performance of the work was given in a Society concert on March 21, 1825.

In a letter written by Beethoven just eight days before his death, in 1827, the great composer pledged to write what would have been his 10th symphony, again in the Society's honour.

"I will undertake to return to the Society my warmest thanks by engaging to compose for it a new symphony, sketches for which are already in my desk", he wrote.

Even today a bust of Beethoven by F. Schaller of Vienna is traditionally placed on the platform at each concert of the Royal Philharmonic Society.

The Society also commemorated the centenary of the composer's birth by creating a gold medal to present to "artists of eminence". The medal remains one of the most distinguished honours in the world of music.

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