Ludwig van Beethoven

Fantasia for piano, chorus, and orchestra ("Choral Fantasy"), Op. 80

    Description by Roger Dettmer

    Beethoven composed this work in the autumn of 1808 and played as well as conducted the first performance on December 22 of that year in Vienna. In addition to pairs of winds and brass plus timpani and strings, it calls for solo voices and mixed chorus.

    Although a hybrid work without precedent, emulated only twice since (by Ferruccio Busoni and Ralph Vaughan Williams), the "Choral Fantasy," as it has come to be called, was composed hurriedly as a crowd-pleasing endpiece for a pre-Christmas Akademie concert. A great deal went wrong during that four-hour marathon in the Theater an der Wien, yet it was destined to become one of the most famous evenings in all of musical history.

    A soprano soloist had been engaged to sing the concert aria Ah! Perfido, but quarreled with Beethoven during rehearsal and withdrew in a rage; her replacement was a teenager, not only intimidated but uncontrollably tremulous. The orchestra, which had had trouble previously with their famously irascible composer, who had badmouthed them in the bargain, refused to rehearse until he left the room. Choral parts for the Fantasie came from the copyists still wet. The old theater's primitive heating system, taxed by a cold wave that year, broke down before the concert. To cap the litany of misadventures, Beethoven forgot to tell the orchestra to ignore a repeat in the A major Adagio section of the Fantasie; thus, while he went forward on the keyboard, they went backward until the performance broke down, and had to resume in medias res. Beethoven, to his credit, accepted the blame.

    Before that debacle, an intrepid audience had shivered through the world premieres of the Fifth and Sixth symphonies, the first public performance of Piano Concerto No. 4, and half of the recent Mass in C (Op. 86, for Haydn's patron, Esterházy), as well as the works already mentioned. As for the bedeviled "Choral Fantasy," it proved to be a prototype, in effect, of the choral finale to come 15 years later in the Ninth Symphony. Even the theme of its mainly amiable variations in C-related keys resembles the more celebrated one he would compose for Schiller's Ode to Joy in 1823. Its original form, however, goes all the way back to 1795 (a year before Ah! Perfido) -- to a song, with verses by Gottfried August Bürger, entitled Gegenliebe (Mutual Love).

    Despite the rapid composition (for Beethoven) of his "Choral Fantasy," sketches in the storied Notebooks reveal that he had first thoughts about the substance and treatment in 1800. Remarkably, he published it in 1811 exactly as written three years before -- except for the solo introduction in C minor, which he had improvised at the premiere. It has never been determined definitively if the author of the text was Beethoven's friend, Christoph Kuffner. In the event, it is sung first by six solo voices -- two sopranos and alto, then two tenors and baritone -- after that by the chorus. Surely only a curmudgeon could fail to be charmed by the work's overall insouciance, just as only someone stone-deaf would fail to recognize it as stylistically authoritative, middle-period Beethoven.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Adagio
    2. Finale. Allegro -
    3. Allegretto ma non troppo, quasi Andante con moto

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2016 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH 13037
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4795448
    2015 Simax Classics PSC 1285
    2015 Warner Classics 0825646076017
    2015 Warner Classics 552420
    2015 Warner Classics 552420
    2015 Deutsche Grammophon 4821358
    2014 Decca / Deutsche Grammophon
    2014 Brilliant Classics 94856
    2014 Decca
    2014 Decca B002050302
    2014 RCA Red Seal 88843006072
    2014 Sony Classical 88843058862
    2014 Sony Classical 88843058872
    2013 Brilliant Classics 94630
    2013 Urania WS 121196
    2013 Entertainment Group 13204
    2013 Deutsche Grammophon
    2013 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099940434827
    2013 Entertainment Group 6111
    2013 C Major Entertainment / Major 713304
    2013 C Major Entertainment / Major 713208
    2013 Naxos 8501204
    2013 Decca 4785093
    2012 Naxos 8572783
    2012 Melodiya MELCD 1000732
    2012 Archiv Produktion 4790358
    2012 Archive / Decca / Deutsche Grammophon / Universal
    2012 Warner Classics
    2012 Deutsche Grammophon 4790913
    2012 Melodiya MELCD 1002064
    2012 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099962172
    2011 Berlin Classics 0300204BC
    2011 Brilliant Classics 94052
    2011 Decca 478 2607
    2011 Decca 4782607
    2011 Chandos CHAN 10695 4
    2011 Denon Records
    2011 Urania WS 121117
    2011 Warner Classics 63779
    2011 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099991870
    2011 EMI Classics
    2011 Doron Music DRC3032
    2011 Denon Records
    2011 Brilliant Classics 9199
    2011 ZYX Music CLABOX 005
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2010 Cascavelle 3132
    2010 BIS 1793
    2010 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon
    2009 Deutsche Grammophon 4778167
    2009 IBA BMP 8571261
    2009 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler 09007
    2008 ZYX Music CLS 1018
    2008 CBC Records 5246-3
    2008 ZYX Music 10322
    2008 EMI Classics 3615252
    2008 Initiativkreis Ruhrgebiet 8553119
    2008 Telarc Distribution 80730
    2008 Archipel 0395
    2008 Brilliant 93761
    2007 Cascade Records 2200
    2007 Brilliant Classics 93525
    2007 EMI Classics 87739
    2007 EMI Classics 3777672
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon
    2007 Deutsche Grammophon 4776162
    2006 Rca Red Seal 76223
    2006 Arte Nova Classics 82876825852
    2006 Arte Nova 825850
    2006 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 0946361533
    2006 Warner Music 63779
    2006 BBC Legends / BBC Music 41812
    2006 Urania 309
    2005 Orfeo 647053
    2005 EMI Classics
    2005 Archipel 0137
    2004 Warner Classics 2564 60602-2
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000212236
    2004 Deutsche Grammophon 000173202
    2004 Urania 4219
    2004 Decca 460825
    2003 DHM Deutsche Harmonia Mundi 77535
    2003 Music & Arts 4259
    2003 EMI Classics
    2003 Decca 000122402
    2003 Virgin 62242
    2003 RCA 55703
    2003 Preiser Records 90553
    2002 Philips
    2002 Philips 470938
    2002 Frame 137
    2001 Supraphon 3540
    2001 Westminster 471231
    2001 Decca 4689062
    2001 CBC Records 5054
    2000 Disky 70593
    2000 Deutsche Grammophon 469549
    2000 Sony Music Distribution 89200
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 67329
    2000 Tuxedo Music 1038
    2000 EMI Music Distribution 73895
    1999 Deutsche Grammophon 447910
    1999 EMI Music Distribution 72679
    1999 Naxos 8110824
    1999 Archiv Produktion 459622
    1998 Arts Music 47354
    1998 Grammofono 2000 78826
    1997 Carlton Classics 01962
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453798
    1997 Arts Music 47353
    1997 Deutsche Grammophon 453700
    1996 CBC Records SMCD5155
    1996 Philips 454038
    1996 Archiv Produktion 447771
    1996 London 440839
    1995 Capriccio Records 10910
    1995 Vox 3502
    1995 Melodiya 29462
    1995 Capriccio Records 10150
    1995 Philips 438005
    1995 EMI Music Distribution / Warner Classics 7243555516
    1994 Berlin Classics 0020772
    1994 RCA 60967
    1994 ASV/Living Era 911
    1993 Universal Classics & Jazz
    1992 Deutsche Grammophon 435617
    1992 RCA 61213
    1992 Sony Music Distribution 47522
    1992 Philips 434148
    1990 London 421719-21
    1990 Philips 422937
    1990 CBS Records 38526
    1990 EMI Music Distribution 763360-2
    1988 Deutsche Grammophon 419796
    1988 EMI Classics 69538
    1987 Deutsche Grammophon 419779
    1983 Telarc Distribution 80063
    EXL 4212
    Capriccio Records 10911
    Vox 5104
    Vox 9019
    Cascade Records 2279
    ART 003668
    Music & Arts 259
    EMI Music Distribution 49965
    Telarc Distribution 80063
    RCA 61714
    Newport Classic 60031
    Philharmonia of the Nations 08
    EXT 3001
    Supraphon 111111
    IMP BBC Radio Classics 91322
    Relief 1893
    Grammofono 2000 78904
    Grammofono 2000 78524
    Sirio 530034
    Nuova Era 2243/48
    Brilliant 93525/71
    Philips 422281
    Tuxedo Music 9001
    Arlecchino 216
    Deutsche Grammophon 445700
    Grammofono 2000 78007.11