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Fantasy for Piano, Orchestra and Choir Opus 80 by Ludwig van Beethoven:
an analysis by Philippe Lemoine.

1. The genesis of the work

2. Topology

3. Analysis

4. Conclusion

5. Selective Bibliography

Title1. The Genesis of the Work: Fantasy for Piano, Orchestra and Choir

The Fantasy for Piano, Choir and Orchestra op. 80  was written only a few days before the concert o 22nd  December 1808 given at the Theatre an der Wien whose programme offered among others the Pastoral Symphony which then bore the number 5 and the Symphony in c minor,  number 6 at the first hearing, the Concerto for piano No. 4 in G major, and aria (Ah, Perfido), the Sanctus of the Mass in C major and a Fantasy for solo piano (without doubt op. 77) [1] . It constituted a brilliant  epilogue and employed the full strength - the piano, the choir, and the orchestra - used during the course of the soiree of which Beethoven intervened and so he performed and conducted.

Dedicated to King Maximillian-Joseph of Bavaria, this Friendly Flattery [2] was presented I the programme as a «Fantasy for piano terminating by degrees with the intervention of the orchestra and with a finale by the choir» [3] .

The approach to the score shows the peculiarities which mark the Fanstasy as an original work, little in common with the time.  In effect, this piece at the same time concertante writing, lyric and symphonic, and reveals, by good aspects, a predetermined designed and an attempt at a fusion of different forms and genres.

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Title2. Topology
a) The forces

Synthesis of the instrumental forces employed for the concert of December 1808, the Fnatasy Op. 80 is perhaps the most diversified and singular list.

  • Piano
  • 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in c, 2 bassoons, 2 horns in c, 2 trumpets in c
  • Timpani
  • Violins 1 and 2, violas, cellos and basses
  • Choir of mixed voices

The unfolding of this work is registered in a vaste orchestral crescendo, by gradations, to the final apotheosis marked by the entry of the choir.  Like a painter, Beethoven utilises the diverse possinbilities of the orchestral colours contained within the instrumental forces : passages intended for the piano soloist, instrumentation reminiscent of chamber music, tutti orchestra, piano and orchestra, orchestra and choir.

b) The themes

The principal theme springs from and allegretto of a song of youth, written by the composer, Seufzer eines Ungeliebten und Gegenliebe (Lament of a man unloved and mutual love) [4] , and is similar to a sketch of the Ode to Joy of the finale of the Ninth Symphony [5] .

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

C. The forme.

The title «Fantasy» is generally given to works which don't have a determined form and have licence of liberty of writing and expression.

The form of the Fantasy Op. 80 answers more or less to the criteria.

In effect, the overall structure complies with that of Theme and Variations, it is nevertheless disjointed by the joining of the «foreign» elements like the cadenzas for piano borrowed from the solo literature for the instrument and the unusual use of a choir engaging a share of the process of variation [6] , the whole comprised in the form of a very free song/lied.

Another curiosity, is the term finale mentioned in the score (bar 27) whereas the work has only just begun.  This Fantasy is possibly the origin of a much more vast work ?

As we have uderlined for the theme, this very singular theme and variations form perhaps considered like the  outline of the Finale of the 9th Symphony with chorus which was performed in Vienna on the 7th May, 1824.  The relationship between the two works is moreover without doubt in the perusal of two letters dated March 1824 in which Beethoven mentions the creation of «a new grand Symphony with a Finale of the genre of my Fantasy for piano with chorus, but on a much more grand scale. [7] .

D. The text.

Schmeichelnd hold und lieblich klingen
unsres Lebens Harmonien,
und dem Schönheitssinn entschwingen
Blumen sich, die ewig blühn.
Fried und Freude gleiten freundlich
wie der Wellen Wechselspiel.
Was sich drängte rauh und feindlich,
ordnet sich zu Hochgefühl.

Wenn der Töne Zauber walten
und des Wortes Weihe spricht,
muss sich Herrliches gestalten,
Nacht und Stürme werden Licht.
Äuss're Ruhe, inn're Wonne
herrschen für den Glücklichen.
Doch der Künste Frühlingssonne
lässt aus beiden Licht entstehn.

Großes, das ins Herz gedrungen,
blüht dann neu und schön empor.
Hat ein Geist sich aufgeschwungen,
hallt ihm stets ein Geisterchor.
Nehmt denn hin, ihr schönen Seelen,
froh die Gaben schöner Kunst:
Wenn sich Lieb und Kraft vermählen,
lohnt den Menschen Göttergunst.

With grace, charm and sweet sounds
The harmonies of our life,
And the sense of beauty engenders
The flowers which eternally bloom.
Peace and joy advancing in perfect accord,
Like the alternating play of the waves;
All harsh and hostile elements
Render to a sublime sentiment.

When the magic sounds reign
And the sacred word is spoken,
That strongly engender the wonderful,
The night and the tempest divert light,
Calm without, profound joy within,
Awaiting the great hour.
Meanwhile, the spring sun and art
Bathe in the light.

Something great, into the heart
Blooms anew when in all its beauty,
Which spirit taken flight,
And all a choir of spirits resounds in response.
Accept then, oh you beautiful spirits
Joyously of the gifts of art.
When love and strength are united,
The favour of God rewards Man.

The text was written by the Viennese writer Christoph Kuffner according to the directions of the composer.  The semantic scope is especially centred on the post-revolutionary concepts extolling liberty, equality, and brotherhood amongst mankind, concepts tinged with the mystecism notably conveyed by the Free Masons [8] .

Do the correspondances between masonic philosophy and the text of the Fantasy Op. 80 suggest  this is a masonic work ?  In his work, La Musique Maçonnique [9], Roger Cote shares some interesting explanations with us :

This last work [Fantasy Op. 80] itself sounded out like a veritable symphonic poem describing inititiation of the first degree.  The piano represents here the initiat with all the surroundings in darkness (long, non-measured introduction, with uncerttain tonality) [bars 1 to 26] then uncovering the Initiates.  A dialogue between piano and orchestra suggest an exchange of questions and responses [bars 27 to 52.  The batteries of the horns (which respond to an echo of the oboe, and then last the piano marks the entry of the profane to the Light [bars 53 to 60] [10]. It then launches into the joyous theme dear to Beethoven, which reappears in the Ninth Symphony [bars 60 and following].  At the end of the work, a mixed choir (symboising humanity in its entirety) revive the theme which the composer has supplied the essential ideas of the poet.  One finds, closely blended, the masonic symbols scarcely veiled,  and the abundant humanitarian formuals for accomplishment through the affirmation that «When love and strenght are united the favour of God rewards man.»

This symbolic reading is completed by a remark concerning tonal path of the work (c mino-major), harmonic duality frequently used by composers for evoking the passage from the Dark to the Light [11] or more possibly, a leap towards joy.

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Title3. Analysis

A. General Analysis [12] .

The piece is articulated  in four distinct parts.   It is a case of a theme and variations enclosed in the form of an irregular, transcendant lied.





Piano solo

Orchestra and Piano

Orchestra and Piano

Orchestra, Piano and Choir



27 - 184

185 - 388




In the style of an improvisation

3 sections:

1-9; 10-17; 17-26.

Introduction (27-58)

Theme (59-76)

5 strict variations (76-184)

3 free variations (185-357)

codetta (357-388)

Introduction (389-408)

3 strict variations (409-455)

codetta (455-494)

coda (494)

Some ideas on the form of theme and variations.

The process of variation consists of modifying a given theme, be it transformed, or by adding new music motives.

In his Cours de compostion musicale edited in 1909, Vincent D'Indy distinguishes three types of variations :

1.      The ornamental variation (or strict variation) affects the melody and the rhythm and always conserves the fundamental notes of the original theme.  It is achieved by the addition of ornaments, supplementary notes and rhythmic motive.  In this type of variation it is also permissable to change the tempo and the mode (originating in harmonic colouraion).

2.      The polyphonic variation (or decorative variation) consists of a contrapuntal or harmonic preparation of the theme, the rest of which remains unchanged. 

3.       The expanding variation (or free variation, or fantasy-variation) conserves certain passages of the melody but is brought about by paraphrase and by thematic development.   

B. Detailed analysis


This cadenza was not put on paper until 1809, Beethoven having improvised it in the concert of 22nd December 1808.

Serving the function of a preamble to the work, it renews with expedience that which was set up in the instrumental repertoire of the second half of the 18th century.  In effect, Haydn, Mozart and later Beethoven generally used a slow introduction in their symphonies and sonatas, a type of frontispiece containing the following musical content for theatrical impression.  It is furthermore interesting to note the influence of opera on the instrumental genres.  Instrumental works were not simple pieces for entertainment, but became a form of dramatic expression which had previously been the province of musical theatre.  The introduction facilitated the association of an overture with opera, the body of the instrumental work evoking the dramatic action on every movement of the action, or the different phases of the form reflected the scenes in which develop the high themes of a range of characters [13] .

The cadenza is in three distinct periodes, the second and third episodes are nourished by the thematic material stated in the first.

Period 1, bars 1 to 9 :

a)      thematic motive and arpeggios to the ending (c minor), bars 1 to 5

b)      dialogue right hand/left hand over a rocking melody of demi-semiquavers, bars 6 and 7

c)      extension of b) : rocking melody with accompanying octaves in the right hand, virtuosic passage in the left hand, bars 7 to 9.

Period 2, bars 10 to 17.

Scheme : a' - comment - concluding cadence.

- reprise of the start of the thematic motive (a), very modulating ; bars 10 and 11

- comment : arpeggios and arabesques ; bars 14 to 16

- non-measured cadenza, bar 17.

Period 3, bars 17 to 26.

- Recall of b) bars 17 to 18.

- Commentry of b) and c) with a contrapuntal motive, bars 19 to 26.

This cadenza is achieved over an ascending virtuosic arpeggio on the dominant seventh on d evoking the raising of the curtain marking the finish of the overture of an opera, the «drama» is here, the Finale.


As we have already mentioned earlier, the Finale is a theme and variations encompased in the form of a transcendant lied.


Introduction : allegro, c minor, bars 27 to 52 .

It consists of a dialogue between orchestra and piano, the latter oposing an orchestral theme and staccato crotchets and quavers in an expressive phrase quasi recitando.

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

The theme : meno allegro, C major, bars 60 to 76.

It is preceded by calling motives (2 crotchets) on horn, oboe then the piano announces the beginning of the theme.  It may be seen that these calls are an evocation of symbolic masonic elements (see above).

The theme is divided into four parts of 8 times each in a melodic configuration:

a : antecedant then consequent

b : centered part on the start of the theme and finishes on a pedal point in agreement with the cadence.

a' : reprise of the consequent of the theme

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

The strict variations.





Variation 1

76 - 92

C major

Theme : flute

Accompaniment : piano

Melodic-rhythmic varitaion

Flow of semiquavers embellish around the main notes of the theme.

Variation 2

92 à 108

C major

Varied theme : 2 oboes

Accompaniment : piano

Melodic-rhythmic variation

Rhythm used : 4 crotchets - 2 quavers

Variation 3

108 à 124

C major

Varied theme : 2 clarinets

Accompaniment : bassoon

Varied theme very close the the original

Bassoon and broken arpeggios

Variation 4

124 à 140

C major

Varied theme : string quartet

Distribution of the varied theme amongst different desks.

Relationships in character with var. 2

Variation 5

140 - 156

C major

Varied theme :

1st desks of winds and strings

underlying harmony :

2nd desks of winds and strings

supporting rhythm :

brass, kettledrums, solemn strings

Variation by orchestral extension,

Theme in its original version.


156- 184

C major

Concertante writing, dialogue piano/tutti


This central part consists of three free variations connecting to development, commenting on the thematic material.

Free variation 1 : bars 185 to 290, allegro molto, piano and orchestra, modulating.

This variation is divided into four periodes :

1)      bars 185 to 200, c minor.

Piano and orchestra converse in pure concertante style and always conserve the architecture of the original theme.

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

2) bar 200 to 219, c minor to B major.

This part is a modulating bridge based on the calling theme (2 crotchets) preceding the exposition of the theme.

3) bars 219 to 250, B major to a minor.

The start of the theme, purified, and here the subject of the variation :

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

It is then broken up and distributed amongst the desks of the violins and violas

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

4) concluding phase : bars 250 to 290, a minor.

The inspiration for this melodic idea (cellos and double basses) is sustained by the harmony in the chords and interrupted by the interventions of the piano

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

Free variation 2 : bars 291 to 321, allegro ma non troppo, 6/8, a minor.

The poetry and ease of delicacy of this variation evokes the instrumental romance which developed in instrumental and chamber music in the second half of the 18th century.  In the very intimate passage, the orchestration, the type of chamber music is largely left to a dialogue in the winds (clarinets and bassoons) and the piano.  The theme, entrusted to the first clarinet, does not appear here as a fillagree.

1st period : bars 291 to 307.

  • Variation of a) the theme followed by a commentary on piano (291-   297)

  • Variation of b) the theme followed by a commentary on piano (297-307)

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

2nd period : bars 307 to 316. Expressive commentary, lyric, entrusted to the piano.

Period of waiting (bar 316 to 321) announces the rhythmic motive used by the following variation.

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

Free variation 3 : bars 322 to 388, Marcia, assai vivace, 2/4, F major.

1st period : bars 322 to 338.

The first phase of the variation is close to the preoceding strict variation, the melodic and structural elements of the theme are more or less conserved.  The theme of martial aspect is punctuated by the syncopated strings destabilising the metric accentuation, a rhythmic device much prized by the composer(the + corresponds to the chords in the strings).

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale
(les + correspondent aux accords des cordes)

Interlude : bars 337 to 346 ; concertante commentary with alternating piano/tutti.

Bars 346 to 357 : reprise of bars 334 to 337 with conclusion and echo.

2nd period (codetta): bars 357 to 388.

This preorassion is a contrasting episode, legato and expressive, where a distant reminder of the original theme seems about to break out.

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale


Allegro : bars 389 to 397 ; truncated and modified citation of the instroduction to A (27-52)

Allegro ma non troppo (quasi andante con moto) : bars 398 to 408 ; citation of the chords which precede the announement of the theme (A : bars 53 to 57) with supression of the pedal point, agreeing with the arpeggio accompaniment in the piano.

The strict variations with choir.





Variation 1

411 - 427

Solo female voice


Verses 1 and 2

Original theme (C major)

Variation by modification of the strenghts

Variation 2

427 - 444

Solo male voice

piano + strings

Verses 3 and 4

As above

Variation 3

444 - 454



Verses 5 and 6

As above

Codetta and Coda.

The two parts follow eachother and a subtle sequence which only and attentive reading of the text can locate:

  • Codetta (preorassion of part A') : bars 455 to 494.

  • Coda : bar 494

The Codetta.

It procedes by a repetition of the two first lines of the sixth verse with literary liberties.  At bar 490, an acceleration of the tempo (Presto) allows a clever slide towrds the last part of this work.

1st period : bars 455 to 474, orchestral and choir dialogue with a modification of the text (Nehmt hin, ihr schönen Seelen, Nehmt hin, die Gaben schöner Kunst)

2nd period : bars 474 to 482), entry and irregular imitation (tenor/soprano) on the two fisrt lines of the sixth verse.  Note that the melody is sung by the soprano, reprise by the following in the Coda, directly inspired by the allegretto of the song Seufzer eines Ungeliebten und Gegenliebe:

Beethoven : Fantaisie Chorale

3rd period : bars 482 to 494 ; tutti, on the two first lines of the sixth verse, Nehmt  replaces Froh .

The Coda. (bar 494)

This last part marks the apotheosis of the Fantasy, affirmed by the optimistic charater of the last verse of the poem of Kuffner where the power of a universal god permits moral, spiritual and mystical redemption of man in order to accede to the fraternity.  By a careful figuration Kraft (power) and Götter (God) are musically depicted, constituting the expressive summit (climax) of this coda.

1st period : bars 494 to 530, tutti.

2nd period : bars 530 to 554, reprise of bars 474 to 490 of the codetta

3rd period : bars 554 to  596, reprise of bars 494 to 530 with a change in the text.

Preorassion : bar 596.

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Title4. Conclusion

A work inspired by previous works but also predicting what is to come in the Ninth Symphony, the Fantasy for piano, orchestra and choir Op. 80 contains the essence of Beethovenian language.  And what the language is original, begs another much discussed question, is Beethoven a classical composer ?

Beethoven is above all a bridging composer whose expressive inspiration os found in the classical aesthetic, but also allows a large part of the emanation of «me», an artistic attitude advocated by the generation of romantic composers to come.  As such, it could perhaps he considered as a representation of a musical art belonging to a society in mutation  in it's idealogical, social and moral viewpoints.  Cherished by the aspirations of revolutionaries finding and echo in the areas of the masons, also influenced by Lessing and Kant, Beethoven had the belief in man and though in a universal understanding where the unifying principals are Nature and God, more philosophical than religious, much closer the the Supreme Being set up by the French Revolution.  The artist is first of all a free man, a humanist, rejecting all dogmatique belonging and breaking the feudal system wchi imprisoned Haydn and to which Mozart was, some of the time, forced to yield.

The work of Beethoven is impregnated with this thought.  To the classical essence, his mucic always seemed amateurish and transcendant and sometimes dislocating to the aesthetical and structural canons exalted by musical art in the second half of the 18th century :

« Oh ! it is not for you !  It is for a time to come ! »
(Beethoven about the 7th string quartet in F major Op. 59, 1806)

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Title5. Selective Bibliography

BOUCOURECHLIEV (A.), Le langage musical, Paris, Fayard, Les chemins de la musique, 1993.

LECOMPTE (M.), Guide illustré de la musique symphonique de Beethoven, Paris, Arthème Fayard, Les Indispensables de la musique, 1995.

PESTELLI (G.), La musique classique, Paris, Lattès pour la traduction française, 1989.

MASSIN (B. et J.), Ludwig van Beethoven, Paris, Fayard, 1967.

ROSEN (C.), Le style classique, Paris, NRF Gallimard pour la traduction française, 1978.

TRANCHEFORT (F.R.), Guide de la musique symphonique, Paris, Fayard, Les indispensables de la musique, 1986.

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[1] Massin (B. et J.) ; Ludwig van Beethoven, Paris, Fayard, 1967 ; p. 176.

[2] Title of the original edition : Phantasie : Schmeicheln Hold. It was published in 1811 by Breitkopf and Härtel.

[3] Massin, Op. cit., p. 663.

[4] 1795, WoO 118.

[5] One may consult the Guide illustré de la musique symphonique de Beethoven (Paris, Fayard, Les Indispensables de la Musique, 1995), where the author, Michel Lecompte, catalogues the works such as «thématique de l'Hymne à la Joie» and sketched or cited. (p. 180)

[6] We will elaborate more precisely on the structure of the work in the following chapters.

[7] ANDERSON (E.) ; Les lettres de Beethoven, Ilte, 1968 ; letters 1269 and 1270.

[8] Well  known as a friend of the freemasons, Beethoven's possible membership of the freemasons is still a very controversial topic.

[9] Paris, Editions du Borrégo, Maçonniques, 1987 ; pp. 135-135.

[10] It is not without similarity to The Magic Flute of Mozart, and opera with a masonic inspiration, notably in the overture and the three chords which precede the entry of the initiating priest, Sarastro. (Author's note).

[11] Refer to the beginning of the oratorio by Haydn, The Creation.  The introduction represents Chaos and is a largo in c minor (cf. The start of the Fantasy) then c major follows swiftly with four forte chords with the words Es werde Licht, und es war Licht (Let there be light, and there was light).

[12] Material used : Editon Eulenburg no. 1333.

[13] One can refer to La Poétique de la musique (Paris, 1785) of Lacépède, a work in which the author proposes to musicians and composers an instrumental work «like the action of an opera».

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Many thanks to Melanie PIDDOCKE for her translation of this page from French into English
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