Beethoven’s final symphony proved to be a brilliant but contentious work, producing, as it did, a schism between two groups of composers, both of which laid claim to being the true inheritors of the Beethovenian symphonic mantle .
The problem is the last, choral, movement. If you remember, the vocal section – the setting of Schiller’s Ode to Joy – is prefixed by the baritone singing a text by the Beethoven himself:
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere anstimmen, und freudenvollere.
(Oh friends, not these sounds!
Let us instead strike up more pleasing and more joyful ones!)
For symphonic purists – lovers of the abstract musical form – the introduction of words and singing was anathema, symphonies should be just orchestral, they argued.
The pro-words group – main representative Wagner – thought that, in finishing his last symphony with an extended choral finale, Beethoven was prophesying a musical future full of the combination of symphonic development and sung text i.e. Wagnerian music drama.
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