An die Freude | Hamburg Ballett

Beethoven Neunte Symphonie | An die Freude

Ballett by John Neumeier

Music by Ludwig van Beethoven

Production of Staatsoper Hamburg

Premiere: Wednesday, 5 May 2021, 7 pm

Performances: 6 & 7 May 2021, 7 pm


Heroic as the Third, portentous as the Fifth, life-affirming as the Seventh: these are only three of the components that belong in the Ninth. First sketches were written in 1815, the year following the final version of Fidelio, the year of Napoleon’s return and ultimate defeat near Waterloo, and the year in which the first edition of Friedrich Schiller’s complete works was published. But Beethoven did not return to work on the symphony until 1822. The first movement begins mysteriously, with an open fifth. Tension is in the air, and expectancy rises as retained wind tones build up. This prelude is punctuated by flickers and flashes from the strings: it is the first theme that explodes over the audience after the brief introduction. The audience is overwhelmed; the first movement may be far too long, but it is a work of exquisite compositional precision. Beethoven gives us no chance to draw breath, as the second movement follows immediately, maintaining the thematic focus: the partly warlike tone of the first movement has vanished, but the stealthily demonic character remains. The third movement is the long-awaited slow movement, the lull in the symphony. It offers us respite and we can enter a new world. The thematic variations have an almost hypnotic effect as they first grow louder, then softer. The fourth movement jerks us out of our dreams again, just as if it were calling us to battle with drums and trumpets. Initially, the cellos and double basses also sound more intimidating than anything else, before they softly, and with simple beauty, encourage the entire orchestra to follow their example. And then the chorus – sacrilege or clever device? – joins in with Friedrich Schiller’s famous Ode to Joy. This proclaims nothing less than universal brotherhood and equality, beyond all differences. The Ninth epitomises the idea of the anthem perhaps more than any other ever written. And the European Union chose this majestic music as its anthem – just the music, mark you! Because for all our brotherhood, agreement on the text proved impossible.


Ludwig van Beethoven is one of the major instrumental composers that John Neumeier has yet to explore in any depth. Which is remarkable when you consider that he has already created many choreographies to music that was not originally written as ballet music, or even as music for the stage. For example, he has choreographed a number of works by Johann Sebastian Bach, as well as several of Gustav Mahler’s symphonies and his Song of the Earth. Neumeier took the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth as an opportunity to explore Beethoven’s music, its myriad facets and its overwhelming immediacy with physical effects that are almost impossible to resist. The idea that the choreographer had was that “Personal thoughts and major anniversaries sometimes coincide. I’ve been thinking about doing a large-scale project with Ludwig van Beethoven’s music for many years. If you look at the ballet music written by the great 19th-century composers it is striking that besides Tchaikovsky’s epoch-making works, Beethoven’s The Creatures of Prometheus is one of the most important scores. Beethoven’s magnificent music has moved me deeply on many occasions without this ever leading to a full-length work. Thinking about the upcoming season I felt that the time was now right. The major Beethoven anniversary on the agenda for 2020 serves as an additional incentive to do this.” John Neumeier already worked with Ludwig van Beethoven’s music on a Beethoven Project he created two years ago. He now continues this creative work with the 9th Symphony for which he will produce a full-length choreography. The ballet receives its premiere at the Hamburg State Opera shortly before Beethoven’s presumed date of birth, 16 December, and will then be staged at the Theater an der Wien to conclude the 2020/21 season. It continues the long-standing collaboration with John Neumeier and the Hamburg Ballet by bringing the Beethoven festival that began in 2019/20 to a close with a central work by our former house composer.


Choreography, Light & costume design

John Neumeier


Valentina Petraeva


Sofia Vinnik


Andrew Morstein


Ivan Zinoviev


Wiener KammerOrchester


Arnold Schoenberg Chor (Ltg. Erwin Ortner)


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