The purpose of this article is to make it easy for you to appreciate the Nine Symphonies of Beethoven for an extended period of time (and that will be all your life) and for you to feel comfortable residing in their company whenever you feel up to it (that will be often).
No advance preparation, no previous study, no technical knowledge is necessary to appreciate the Nine Symphonies of Beethoven. In my opinion, I think it is better to know nothing, plunge right in and let the symphonies speak for themselves. Sadly, instead of listening to The Music people listen to critics. The opinions of others may inhibit your free response to this masterpiece.
That is not to say that The Symphonies would not reward profound study. They have been subjected to scholarly review for more than a century, but technical analysis is not the primary purpose of listening to music. The enjoyment of music is primarily a matter of stirring emotion.
I would not recommend that you gulp down The Nine in one or two sittings. In my opinion, I’d suggest playing one symphony only. Shortly after, go back to the same one and play it again before you play the next. I think that twice-heard music becomes four times as clear as once-heard music.
There is another approach: you may want to play all of the symphonies through—over a period of several weeks—and then go back to those of the nine which interest you most. It doesn’t make any difference in what order you listen.
The Symphonies are, of course, of unequal musical worth. Some are more profound than the others. Some are more successful than others, though none of them is a failure. George Marek numbered The Symphonies two ways: first, according to their musical importance, beginning with the least important, 1, 2, 4, 5, 8, 3, 7, 6, 9; second, according to their popularity, beginning with the least popular, 2, 4, 1, 8, 7, 6, 9, 3, 5.
If you feel like listening to just one movement of one symphony . . . well, there is nothing wrong with that — but, do not jumble various symphonies together. Don’t listen to more than you want to as if to force your attention.
In the long run you should plan to listen to all of The Symphonies. Only by passing through the entire work will you be able to obtain a panoramic view, the appreciation of the achievement, the measurement of the distance that Beethoven journeyed between the First and the Ninth.
Once more I say that no technical knowledge is required, yet it may be helpful to build a musical vocabulary in order to define what it is that you are listening to.