Friday, June 27, 2008

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony

I am initiating a world-wide search for music that uplifts. It can be funny, celebratory, etc. We spend entirely too much time depressing ourselves with our art, so I wanted to find music that raises our spirits. What piece could possibly be more appropriate to start with than "Ode to Joy", Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

The story behind this piece is wonderful! Beethoven took approximately 12 years to write it, and of course was completely deaf throughout its composition. He and the Kappelmeister at Vienna were in charge of directing it for its premier, but because Beethoven could not deliver coherent instruction that was follow-able, the Kappelmeister instructed all of the performers to ignore Beethoven. That being said, Beethoven still conducted the premier at his pace, while the performers followed at their own (I have no idea how they pulled that off).

Here is an excerpt from wikipedia's story of the account:

When the audience applauded ... Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven around to accept the audience's cheers and applause. According to one witness, "the public received the musical hero with the utmost respect and sympathy, listened to his wonderful, gigantic creations with the most absorbed attention and broke out in jubilant applause, often during sections, and repeatedly at the end of them." The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation gestures. The theatre house had never seen such enthusiasm in applause.

Ever since Beethoven composed his ninth symphony composers have been intimidated at the prospect of writing their own. This was the first symphony to include singing in the last movement, and here are the words as written by Friedrich Schiller, a famous German poet, author, and philosopher (the words in italics were written by Beethoven):
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let us sing more
pleasant and more joyful ones.
Joy! Joy!
Joy, beautiful spark of gods,
Daughter of Elysium (Heaven)!
We enter, drunk with fire ,
Heavenly one, your shrine.
Your magics again bind
What custom has strictly parted.
All people become brothers,
where your gentle wing alights.
Whoever succeeds in the great attempt
To be a friend of a friend,
Whoever has won a lovely woman,
Let him add his jubilation!
Yes, whoever calls even one soul
His own on the earth's globe!
And who never has, let him steal,
Weeping, away from this group.
All creatures drink joy
At the breasts of nature;
All the good, all the evil
Follow her roses' trail.
Kisses gave she us, and wine,
A friend, proven unto death;
Pleasure was to the worm granted,
And the cherub stands before God.
Glad, as his suns fly
Through the Heavens' glorious plan,
Run, brothers, your race,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, you millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the star-canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.
Finale repeats the words:
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of the gods
This symphony celebrates those who love and are loved as being touched by God. Such a simple concept, to have someone to love, and yet for Beethoven that love was divine.

A couple of fun resources:

CLICK HERE for the entire wikipedia article (very informative).
CLICK HERE to "explore" Beethoven's ninth with conductor Robert Kapilow.
CLICK HERE to see actual scanned copies of the original score.

Here is Leonard Bernstein conducting the famous last movement:

Go to my forum (CLICK HERE) to discuss this piece and suggest more that strike you as uplifting in any way.