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"Ode to Joy" for Royal Philharmonic Society's 200th

By Michael Roddy

LONDON (Reuters) - The British music society that commissioned Beethoven to write his Ninth Symphony and its "Ode to Joy" announced on Wednesday it will celebrate the society's 2013 bicentenary by showing off its manuscript of the work on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Royal Philharmonic Society, founded in London in January, 1813, also will sponsor performances of Beethoven's last symphony, splash out on commissions of new music and will digitize its archive held at the British Library, the society announced in the London pub where its founders used to meet.

"Some of the most famous works in the classical repertoire were either commissioned by the Philharmonic Society or premiered in the UK at Philharmonic Society concerts," John Gilhooly, the society's Irish chairman, told reporters.

"Works by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Rachmaninov, Sibelius, Wagner, Brahms, Bruckner and Delius, Debussy and Shostakovich, to name but a few," Gilhooly continued, adding that the society had commissioned "over 60 composers in the last decade alone".

The society will participate in exhibits in New York and London featuring manuscript versions of Beethoven's last symphony which contains the "Ode to Joy" that has become a theme song for world peace and freedom.

The society's archives record that in 1817 it paid Beethoven 50 guineas for the work. The society, which is not publicly funded and is financed by donations, got the "royal" tag in its centenary year.

Gilhooly said a much-photographed and copied bust of Beethoven that the society owns would be making a return visit to concert stages after having been squirreled away in the RPS headquarters for most of the past 30 years.

"It's going to be a bit like the Olympic torch," Gilhooly said. "It's busted out in preparation for a grand tour."

Founded by a group of professional musicians to make classical music available to a wider audience, the RPS said it was commissioning 16 new works by such prominent composers as Harrison Birtwistle, Wolfgang Rihm and Magnus Lindberg, some of them in conjunction with the Britten-Pears Foundation which is celebrating the centenary of British composer Benjamin Britten.

"I very much admire that they are sponsoring young composers, older composers, making it possible that music, even avant garde or little known music, is written and performed," Alfred Brendel, one of the world's most distinguished pianists and a RPS gold medal recipient, who retired from public performance several years ago, told Reuters at the launch event.

The exhibit of letters and manuscripts will be mounted in cooperation with the British Library and the Morgan Library and the Juilliard School of music in New York, which holds another copy of the Beethoven Ninth.

The American and British manuscripts of the symphony, annotated by Beethoven, will be seen together side by side for the first time since 1824 in New York later in the year, the society said.

(Editing by Paul Casciato)

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