|‘I am now writing a new symphony for|
|the Philharmonic Society [of London],|
|and hope to have it finished within two weeks.’|
|(Beethoven to Archduke Rudolf, 1 July 1823)|
Completed in 1824, the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven.
It was originally commissioned by the Philharmonic Society of London in 1817.
Beethoven’s music was regularly performed at the concerts of the Philharmonic Society of London right from its foundation in 1813. First performances in Britain given by the Society include the Fifth Symphony (1816), Seventh Symphony (1817) and Piano Concertos 1 (1822), 3 (1824) and 4 (1825).
In 1815, Charles Neate, one of the Philharmonic Society’s Directors, travelled to Vienna and made direct contact with the composer bringing back with him to London three overtures: The Ruins of Athens op 113, King Stephen op 117 and Namensfeier op 115. Enthusiasm for Beethoven’s music was so strong that in 1817 the Directors invited him to come to London to direct not one, but two symphonies to be composed by him for the Society, but the composer's health prevented his accepting the invitation. Negotiations were protracted and sadly the project was never realised. He did not start serious work on the new piece until 1822.
In 1824, in response to a commission for 50 guineas, a manuscript score of his Ninth Symphony (The Choral) was sent to the Society bearing 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 Philharmonic Society concert on 21 March 1825.
In 1827 Beethoven wrote to the society outlining his straitened circumstances:
TO SIR GEORGE SMART,--LONDON.
Feb. 22, 1827.
I remember that some years ago the Philharmonic Society proposed to give a concert for my benefit. This prompts me to request you, dear sir, to say to the Philharmonic Society that if they be now disposed to renew their offer it would be most welcome to me. Unhappily, since the beginning of December I have been confined to bed by dropsy,--a most wearing malady, the result of which cannot yet be ascertained. As you are already well aware, I live entirely by the produce of my brains, and for a long time to come all idea of writing is out of the question. My salary is in itself so small, that I can scarcely contrive to defray my half-year's rent out of it. I therefore entreat you kindly to use all your influence for the furtherance of this project,--your generous sentiments towards me convincing me that you will not be offended by my application. I intend also to write to Herr Moscheles on this subject, being persuaded that he will gladly unite with you in promoting my object. I am so weak that I can no longer write, so I only dictate this. I hope, dear sir, that you will soon cheer me by an answer, to say whether I may look forward to the fulfilment of my request.
In the mean time, pray receive the assurance of the high esteem with which I always remain, &c., &c.
When the Society learnt that Beethoven was both ill and much in need of money, the Directors decided that a sum of £100 should be sent to him in Vienna “to be applied to his comforts and necessities”, with the intimation that if this were not sufficient more would be forthcoming. The money, held up en route, reached him only a few days before he died, but time enough for him to express his heartfelt appreciation to the Society. Schindler, his amanuensis, reported that ‘the Society had comforted his last days, and that event on the brink of the grave he thanked the Society and the whole English nation for the great gift, God bless them.’
Beethoven died on 26 March 1827.
The Philharmonic Society celebrated Beethoven’s centenary in 1870 with a concert season featuring all the symphonies, culminating in a final concert on 11 July at which the Choral Fantasia and the Ninth Symphony were both performed. The Directors were fired with enthusiasm. Five days after the concert, at the same meeting at which the testimonial was decreed, it was first suggested that a medal should be struck in honour of the centenary. This led to the creation of a Gold Medal for presentation to “artists of eminence”. The medal bears the effigy of Beethoven, and has become one of the most privileged honours in the world of music.
Also a bust of Beethoven by Johann Nepomuk Schaller (1777-1842) of Vienna is traditionally placed on the platform at each concert. The bust was presented to the Society in 1870 by Madame Fanny Linzbauer of Budapest, wife of a University professor and a lady of artistic tastes, in recognition of the Society’s kindness to Beethoven during the last years of his life. She was truly devoted to the composer’s memory and bravely summoned up what English she could to express her feelings, resulting in a letter of great charm: ‘To take the bust as effigie for mint in celebration centenary to employ it for giving a prise, is a very noble idea of Lords Directors. This mind is greatly English... England will ever be considered the highest and best friend of that man, who was so much distinguished by nature.”
The bust was placed on the platform at the first concert of the season, 8 March 1871, and, as the donor requested, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony was in the programme.