Entertainment & Arts

Plaque to mark Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

Portrait of Ludwig van Beethoven
Image caption Beethoven's 9th Symphony was commissioned in 1822

The site of the first UK performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is to be marked with a plaque.

Westminster Council will install one of its green plaques at 252 Regent Street, the former home of the New Argyll Rooms, which is now a bank.

Commonly called Ode To Joy, the Symphony was commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1822 and first performed in the UK on 21 March, 1825.

The plaque will be unveiled by the Society's chairman on 11 August.

Beethoven was paid £50 to write the symphony, and was completely deaf by the time of its completion in 1824.

The choral finale incorporates and adapts Friedrich Schiller's poem Ode To Joy - an idea Beethoven had first contemplated as early as 1793, but one which was still relatively new and controversial.

Following the first performance at the Argyll Rooms by conductor Sir George Smart, the work was criticised for its length and "diffuseness", with one critic branding it "an unequal work, abounding more in noise, eccentricity, and confusion of design".

Twelve years passed before the Society attempted to perform it again, but it has since become one of the most beloved works in the symphonic repertoire - and is the most-requested piece of classical music on Desert Island Discs.

Applause

Although it received its English premiere in 1825, the official debut, with Beethoven in attendance, took place in Vienna a year earlier.

According to the composer's biographer, George Grove, Beethoven was unable to hear the music, but stood next to the conductor during the performance to guide him as to the tempo.

Grove wrote that, as the symphony drew to a close, Beethoven "was not even sensible of the applause" and "continued standing with his back to the audience" until one of the soloists turned him around to face the crowd.

"A volcanic explosion of sympathy and admiration followed, which was repeated again and again, and seemed as if it would never end."

Ahead of the plaque being unveiled, Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society John Gilhooly thanked Westminster City Council for marking the "significant moment in London's musical heritage".

"Buildings come and go, but the essential nature of the human spirit, which Beethoven so perfectly encapsulates in his famous symphony, remains constant," he added.

Councillor Robert Davis, Westminster Council's deputy leader, said: "We are delighted to be working with the Royal Philharmonic Society to honour an important moment in Britain's musical history.

"Beethoven's Ninth Symphony is considered by many to be the greatest piece of music ever written - even the original score has been added to the United Nations World Heritage List."

The unveiling ceremony will feature a performance of Joie de Vivre, a new fanfare commissioned by the Society from 18 year old composer Bertie Baigent, performed by brass players from the National Youth Orchestra.

More on this story