Wednesday, October 17, 2012

An ode to joy, brotherhood ... and freedom

Beethoven in 1803, by Christian Horneman
If he had never written anything else, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D Minor ("Choral") would stand as a monumental achievement in the annals of civilization. Perusing the book The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824 in tandem with the recording linked above offers a heightened way to experience this familiar masterwork afresh. As Christopher Gibbs writes in his program notes for  The Philadelphia Orchestra:
Many will remember a remarkable world-wide broadcast of Leonard Bernstein performing the Ninth in Berlin on Christmas Day 1989, soon after the city's reuniting. Leading an international orchestra and chorus made up of musicians from east and west, Bernstein changed Schiller's text from an "Ode to Joy" (An die Freude) to an "Ode to Freedom" (An die Freiheit). This alteration was certainly appropriate given the circumstances; what many in the audience may not have realized was that freedom exactly captures what the poem is about. The original message had to be disguised in a time of political repression. Schiller probably meant "Freiheit," but had to say "Freude." 
Gibbs also summarizes how profoundly the work influenced other composers:
On a more purely musical level, perhaps no other piece of music has exerted such an impact on later composers. How, many wondered, should one write a symphony after the Ninth? Schubert, Berlioz, Brahms, Wagner, Bruckner, Mahler—the list goes on—all dealt with this question in fascinating ways that fundamentally affected the course of 19th-century music. Schubert, who apparently attended the premiere, briefly quoted the "joy" theme in his own final symphony, written the following year. Almost every Bruckner symphony begins in the manner of the Ninth—low string rumblings that seem to suggest the creation of a musical world. Mendelssohn, Mahler, and Shostakovich followed the model of a choral finale. Wagner was perhaps the composer most influenced by the Ninth, arguing that in it Beethoven pointed the way to the "Music of the Future," a universal drama uniting words and tones, in short, Wagner’s own operas.
Here is part of the finale from the 1989 Christmas concert. Chills!


  1. Now I wish I were named EliseOctober 17, 2012 at 1:26 PM

    Young Ludwig is more handsome than I would have expected!

  2. The unfortunate Gustav Mahler wrote his Ninth Symphony, then died working on his tenth.
    Arnold Schoenberg is quoted: "It seems that the ninth is a limit... He who wants to go beyond it must pass away."
    Anton Bruckner and Franz Schubert also ended with their ninths; even fudging the numbers to avoid getting to #10.
    I suppose this is like the Macbeth curse in the theater.
    There is a Guardian piece on this: (not a link, sorry. RPS, how do you do it?)

    1. It's pretty simple; you use an HTML HREF tag with the URL you want. (Explained here.)

    2. Simple for thee, perhaps, but I have found a way to botch it.

    3. i think copy and paste will be sufficient for interested parties who are grateful for your largesse is sharing the link!

  3. Replies
    1. Hahahahaha I loled.

    2. Hahahahaha I loled.

  4. Beethoven's Ninth is like a cathedral, a citadel, part of a grand historic past, but unrelated to our own emotional lives. Classical music seems more like a visit to the museum than a song one can sing as one's own.
    But there are smaller pieces, songs without words, and chamber music that can fulfill that space in the heart, if only they could be rediscovered by fresh ears.
    The chances of that dwindle with every orchestra that folds for lack of interest. Is classical music sinking beneath the weight of these venerable battleships?