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Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, a masterpiece that has influenced virutally every Western composer since its premiere, has become associated with the marking of momentous public occasions. In 1989, Chinese students played its finale through loudspeakers in Tiananmen Square, and Leonard Bernstein led a performance in Berlin to celebrate the razing of the Berlin Wall. This lively and up-to-date book focuses on Beethoven's Ninth, exploring the cultural and musical meanings that surround this powerful work of genius.

David B. Levy sets the scene with a brief survey of nineteenth-century Germanic culture and society, then analyzes the Ninth Symphony in detail, with special emphasis on the famous choral finale. He discusses the initial performances in 1824 under Beethoven's direction and traces the symphony's critical reception and legacy. In the final chapter of the book, Levy examines interpretations of the work by prominent conductors, including Wagner, Mahler, and Weingartner. A fully annotated discography of selected recordings completes this comprehensive volume.

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Editorial Reviews

This first volume in the series introduces the meanings of Beethoven's final symphony and its influence on Western music. It examines the symphony in terms of the intellectual climate in which it first appeared, and contrasts this with Freudian, feminist, and other contemporary points of view. Chapters focus on the compositional evolution of the symphony, using charts and musical examples to explain the symphony's formal structure and range of styles, and discuss landmark performances and performance traditions. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300099645
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2003
  • Series: Yale Music Masterworks
  • Edition description: Revised Edition
  • Edition number: 2
  • Pages: 248
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.56 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Beethoven: [The Ninth Symphony

By David Benjamin Levy


Copyright © 2003 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-09964-5

Chapter One


Rettung von Tirannenketten, Rescue from the chains of tyrants, Grosmut auch dem Bösewicht, Compassion e'en for the evil sort, Hoffnung auf den Sterbebetten, Hope to those who lie on death's bed, Gnade auf dem Hochgericht! Mercy from the highest court! -Friedrich Schiller, original version of "An die Freude" (1785)

The utopian ideals expressed in Schiller's "An die Freude" and in the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony remain unfulfilled, but the hope engendered by these ideals is still very much alive. The end of the Cold War, symbolized by the razing of the Berlin Wall, has raised humanity's collective expectations of a brighter future. On Christmas Day, 1989 the Wall's fall was celebrated in historic fashion, when Leonard Bernstein led a performance of the Ninth Symphony in the Schauspielhaus of what was formerly East Berlin. Bringing together an orchestra, a chorus, and soloists from both sides of the defunct Iron Curtain, Bernstein decided that the occasion was a"heaven-sent moment," one that justified the substitution of the word "freedom" ("Freiheit") for the "joy" ("Freude") of Schiller's poem. The solemn yet jubilant concert was broadcast worldwide via television and radio, with subsequent distribution via videotape and recording.

It is unlikely that Bernstein realized some of the ironies surrounding his alteration of Schiller's poem. Just six months earlier, for example, the following report had come across the wires from Beijing:

Soldiers advanced down Changan Avenue ... but tens of thousands of students and others poured out into the street to stop them in front of the Beijing Hotel, several hundred yards east of [Tiananmen] Square. The middle of the square remained calm, with the "Ode to Joy" from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony blaring over the students' loudspeakers.

The students in China no doubt believed that they, too, had experienced a "heaven-sent moment." The arrival of the army the next day, however, was a cruel reminder that even the joyous finale of the Ninth Symphony begins with a fierce dissonance.

Some politicians have proclaimed that a "new world order" has been established in the wake of the events of and the subsequent dissolution of the Soviet Union. But since then the world has witnessed savage ethnic warfare in Eastern Europe and horrific tribal bloodshed in Africa. Nationalistic xenophobia has found a new lease on life in Germany, even as memories of the Holocaust remain vivid in the minds and bodies of so many of its victims. Racial tension in the United States continues to run high, and a truly color-blind society remains a distant dream. Even as Europe has moved closer toward economic unification and eastward expansion, the tragedy of September 11, 2001, and subsequent events have reminded us that the world as a whole still has far to go if the idealized goal of the brotherhood of mankind is to be realized. Alle Menschen werden Brüder-expressed so forcefully in Schiller's poem and Beethoven's finale-remains a remote dream. If anything, people are seeking justification for a host of sins behind the façade of a narrow-minded allegiance to a given and particularized faith system. Balkanization, not universalism, is the theme of the day. But no politician, terrorist, army, or spiritual leader has relieved the tension that holds the world in its grip, and no work of art has yet appeared to supercede the Ninth Symphony's lofty vision.

Surely the most strikingly symbolic performance of the Ninth Symphony since the fall of the Berlin Wall in took place at the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria on the evening of May 7, 2000 (the 177th anniversary of the work's premiere). On this occasion Simon Rattle led the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra before an invited audience (members of the Schwartz-Blau coalition, including Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel and Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider, were pointedly not invited). The event was televised nationally on ORF. This gesture of reconciliation and atonement achieved its most poignant moment not during the playing of the music, but in the moment that immediately followed. As the final joyful notes reverberated throughout that horrible monument to fanaticism and death, the television camera panned out on an audience seated in total and deafening silence, each member bearing a lit candle. The effect was stunning. The multiple irony of this moment was almost too obvious.

Deep divisions also exist in the artistic arena. For example, when the pop singer Michael Jackson included a sixty-seven-second segment from the finale of the Ninth Symphony in "Will You Be There" on his album, Dangerous, the consequence was not universal approbation but a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed on behalf of the Cleveland Orchestra, whose "unique" interpretation under George Szell had been used without permission. Never has the gulf between popular and art culture seemed wider.

It is unreasonable to expect that a mere piece of music could have the power to bring redemption to a troubled world, although the Ninth Symphony probably has come as close to reaching this goal as any work ever composed. But has this anthem of universal brotherhood at the same time fostered an unrealistic, unattainable, and perhaps even undesirable illusion? Has the Ninth Symphony lost its capacity to inspire people in a world that is so filled with violence and hatred that people's senses have become dulled? Has it been trivialized by overexposure (one recalls, for instance, the use of the scherzo as the theme for the Huntley-Brinkley evening news- cast on NBC) and the forces of the commercial marketplace?

When one encounters a performance of Beethoven's Sinfonie Nr. 9 mit Schluschor über Schillers Lied "An die Freude" für Orchester, vier Solostimmen und Chor, op. 125 (to give the work its full citation), the enthusiastic response it continues to elicit argues eloquently for its ongoing power and relevance. And the cheers it evokes have not been limited to those of Western audiences. The opening of Tokyo's Kokugikan Hall, a Sumo wrestling palace, in was marked not with an athletic event, but with a performance of Daiku-"The Big Nine"-with two symphony orchestras and a chorus of more than five thousand voices. Indeed, no fewer than one hundred and sixty-two performances of the Ninth Symphony were given throughout Japan during the month of December 1991! Daiku has become for the Japanese at year's end what Handel's Messiah has become in the West during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

A reason for the Ninth's universal appeal, one suspects, is that an individual need not profess allegiance to "one true faith" or nation in order to be embraced by its message. The lofty, but nonspecific religiosity present in Schiller's poem, enhanced by Beethoven's even loftier music, embraces the "millions" of the world without the slightest hint of exclusivity. The popular cast of the "Freude" tune itself is a self-conscious armation of this universality. The Ninth Symphony, consequently, is a welcome guest everywhere, and it has become the ideal symbol for international, interfaith, and interracial events. A further example of such usage has been the ongoing performance of the "Ode to Joy" at Olympic Games, none, perhaps, more vivid than the televised transcontinental simulcast under the direction of Seiji Ozawa at the Winter Games in Nagano. Only the most cynical of listeners can walk away from a performance of the Ninth Symphony without sensing that all could be well with the world, if only the world wished it so.

How did this symphony rise to its exalted status? The road that led to the Ninth's eventual triumph was not an easy one, as later chapters will reveal. In one sense, its honored place was almost literally carved in stone in when Richard Wagner performed it at the ceremony for the laying the foundation of the Festspielhaus in Bayreuth. The opening of the Vienna Secession Exhibition of 1902 with Max Klinger's famous statue and the frieze by Gustav Klimt (Plate 1-1), accompanied by a performance of Mahler's arrangement of the choral finale, was another ritualistic event that helped to magnify the Ninth Symphony's fame. As the following chapters will demonstrate, both the Beethoven myth and the legend of the Ninth Symphony loom large in our collective imagination. As is the case with all myths and legends, the lore surrounding the Ninth Symphony has its roots in shared human experience.

Schiller's Poem and Beethoven's Symphony

"An die Freude," written in 1785 and published the following year, was Schiller's enthusiastic expression of elation on joining the friendly circle of the jurist Christian Gottfried Körner in Dresden after having spent a frustrating, if productive, year in Mannheim as a theater poet. Although Schiller had completed Kabale und Liebe, Fiesko, and much of Don Carlos, he was relieved to escape from the politics that accompanied the Mannheim theater. Despite the popularity that "An die Freude" has achieved, history has judged it to be one of Schiller's poorer creations. Even Schiller himself, later in life, reached a point where he no longer was able to identify with it, as is clear from his letter to Körner of October 21, 1800:

"Die Freude" is ... I now feel, entirely flawed. Even though it occasionally impresses by dint of a certain fire of expression, it still remains a bad poem and represents a stage of my development that I since have left behind in order to produce something respectable. But because it corresponded with the flawed taste of its time, it has achieved an honor tantamount to a folk poem.

"An die Freude" is an example of a geselliges Lied, or social song, an eighteenth-century category of poetry that lent itself to musical setting. The author of a geselliges Lied expected the poem to be sung by a company of friends with glasses in hand, hence its mood of intoxication as well as its structural division into stanzas and choruses. Two versions of "An die Freude" were published during Schiller's lifetime. The original version was published in the second volume of Schiller's journal, Thalia, in . A slightly revised and shortened version of the poem was issued in 1803. Figure 1-1 presents the entire text of the 1803 revision, the version of "An die Freude" upon which Beethoven based his finale. Beethoven, whose interest in "An die Freude" dates from at least as early as 1792, knew both versions of the poem, as also evidenced by his choice of "run" (laufet) from the original version instead of "travel" (wandelt) found in the revised version. Words given in brackets in Figure 1-1 denote the original version of "An die Freude." Alterations in spelling or other changes in orthography are not indicated.

One can understand how the mature Schiller might have been embarrassed by some of the excessive imagery in "An die Freude." It is important to bear in mind, however, that the poem is an Enlightenment document, filled with the hopes and expectations of an era that had yet to suer the disappointment and disillusionment of the French Revolution, the Reign of Terror, and the Napoleonic era. The fact that its "certain fire of expression" continued to inspire many-most notably Beethoven-well after its author had abandoned its style is telling. "An die Freude," for all its flaws, gives impassioned expression to an utopian ideal. The content of the poem is consistent with Schiller's belief, articulated in On the Aesthetic Education of Man (1795), that a rational and a moral life is attainable only after first achieving the proper aesthetic condition. As Reginald Snell has explained in the introduction to his translation of On the Aesthetic Education of Man:

The aesthetic condition itself has no significance-all it does is to restore Man to himself, so that he can make of himself what he wills. He is a cipher; but he is capable of becoming anything (Schiller here treats art much as Kant did religion). Sensuous Man, then, must become aesthetic Man before he can be moral Man.

"An die Freude" oers a vision of the elements that contribute toward the moral life. Joy, a gift of nature and God, is the agency through which the Elysium of antiquity and the heaven of modern man may be reconciled. Joy begins in sensuality (Küse, Reben, Wollust), but then becomes a metaphor for the mainspring (starke Feder) of a Newtonian mechanistic clockwork universe (grosen Weltenuhr) that rolls the heavenly spheres in their orbits. Joy in turn evolves into a creative (aesthetic) force that brings forth flowers from their seeds (Blumen lockt sie aus den Keimen). Joy's goal, of course, is the state of moral freedom, presided over by a "loving father" (ein lieber Vater) whose throne lies beyond the starry canopy (überm Sternenzelt). Despite its obvious imperfections and a less-than-subtle political agenda (one notes the lines "Rescue from the chains of tyrants" and "Beggars become the brothers of princes" in the earlier version of the poem), "An die Freude" is not devoid of structure. Its eighteenth-century readers understood full well that the idea of freedom, if not synonymous with joy itself, forms the poem's larger subtext. Freedom, of course, could be interpreted in a purely political sense, especially when one considers the earlier version of "An die Freude." But according to Schiller's philosophy, articulated more clearly in the less politicized revision of "An die Freude," freedom of any kind must by definition be rooted in morality.

Beethoven, as those familiar with the Ninth Symphony are aware, selected only a small portion of "An die Freude" for use in the work's finale-verses and choruses that concentrate on the sacred and secular manifestations of joy. Freedom that is strongly rooted in morality, however, also was close to the composer's heart. Beethoven's commitment to these ideals is exhibited, for example, in his overture and incidental music for Goethe's Egmont, as well as in the opera, Fidelio. Beethoven was well read in Schiller, and he also was familiar with the writings of Immanuel Kant. While engaged in the composition of the Missa solemnis in 1820, Beethoven jotted down a paraphrase derived from the great German philosopher in his conversation book-a quotation that links Kant with Schiller: "the moral law within us, and the starry heaven above us." Beethoven, indifferent as he may have been throughout his life toward organized religion, and disillusioned as he may have been by the repressive and immoral Austrian politics of the post-Napoleonic era, continued nevertheless to harbor a belief in humankind's moral perfectibility.


Excerpted from Beethoven: [The Ninth Symphony by David Benjamin Levy Copyright © 2003 by Yale University . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 1
Ch. 1 From "Rescue from the Chains of Tyrants" to "All Men Become Brothers": The World of the Ninth 5
Ch. 2 The Genesis of the Ninth 20
Ch. 3 The Ninth: Movements I-III 49
Ch. 4 The Ninth: The Choral Finale 89
Ch. 5 The Performances of 1824 122
Ch. 6 In the Shadow of the Ninth 145
Ch. 7 Performance Traditions 174
Nine Ninths: A Select Discography 192
Notes 205
Bibliography 221
Index 227
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