Beethoven was stone deaf and in poor health when his last and greatest symphony, the Ninth ("Choral") with its "Ode to Joy" finale, was premiered in May 1824. Although several eyewitness accounts...

Share story

Beethoven was stone deaf and in poor health when his last and greatest symphony, the Ninth (“Choral”) with its “Ode to Joy” finale, was premiered in May 1824. Although several eyewitness accounts of the premiere differ in the details, all include the same image: The composer, who was either conducting or assisting the conductor by turning pages and indicating the tempo, continued beating time after the music ended, and had to be turned around by one of the soloists to see the audience, which was enthusiastically applauding.

Some accounts say that that dramatic moment occurred at the end of the symphony; some say it happened after the Scherzo movement. But the image of the composer who could not hear his own music, let alone the thunderous applause, is a moving image indeed. How ironic that the exultantly joyous finale, which has inspired so many listeners, was penned by a man who had earlier reached such depths of despair over the loss of the most important of all senses for a musician.

Most Read Stories

Cyber Sale! Save 90% on digital access.

Concert previews

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, with Seattle Symphony Orchestra and Chorale, 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 2 p.m. Jan. 2, Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $27-$85 (206-215-4747 or

“Night Before New Year’s Eve,” Everett Symphony Orchestra, 6:30 p.m. champagne and hors d’oeuvres, 8 p.m. concert, Thursday, Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Ave., Everett; $45 (425-257-8382 or

Beethoven’s Ninth will be heard again in Seattle in two performances this season, the first at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (repeated at 2 p.m. Jan. 2). Gerard Schwarz will be on the podium, and he has assembled a powerful cast of singers, including dramatic soprano Alessandra Marc and heldentenor Gary Lakes. They will sing alongside mezzo-soprano Sally Burgess and bass Clayton Brainerd in the famous “Ode to Joy” final choral movement, the first of its kind in musical history.

Beethoven’s Ninth is an iconic work, so beloved internationally that its length (about 65 minutes, or twice the length of most symphonies of that period) was used as the standard when compact discs first emerged: They had to hold enough music to encompass a recording of the Ninth. The score Beethoven used at the premiere, by the way, sold at auction not long ago for $3.5 million. I think it’s safe to say that Beethoven would have been utterly mind-boggled.

Not quite New Year’s Eve

Those New Year’s Eve events can be so stressful, with all the partying and drinking, that many folks are choosing to anticipate the day a little by engaging in some festivity on the 30th — and using the 31st for reflection, resolutions and some quieter moments.

With that in mind, consider the Everett Symphony Orchestra’s “Night Before New Year’s Eve” event, with Paul-Elliott Cobbs conducting a program that includes an evening of oldies (a revue of music and memories from 1954, ’64, ’74, ’84 and ’94) with guest host Tony Ventrella.

Murl Allen Sanders, a terrific entertainer, is on hand with keyboards and vocals, as is singer Nadine Shanti. The event takes place Thursday at the Everett Performing Arts Center.

Melinda Bargreen: