Berlioz declared it ‘a starting point for the music of the present’, a riposte to the folly, baseness and cruelty of mankind. Schumann saw it as the image of one who ‘looks down with indescribable love upon life which gave him so little’, while Wagner viewed the whole achievement as ‘the redemption of music, out of its own element, as a universal art’. Verdi, on the other hand, condemned the bad writing for voices in the final movement, while for Spohr, among the most popular and successful of early nineteenth-century composers, this same section was simply ‘monstrous and tasteless’.
The work in question is Beethoven’s Opus 125, the last of his nine symphonies, distinguished by its inclusion of an extended choral setting of Friedrich Schiller’s ‘Ode to Joy’ as a series of variations introduced by a recitative for bass soloist. Its first performance, on 7 May 1824