Beethoven's Ninth: A Political History / Edition 1

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In this remarkable history of one of the most popular symphonic works of the modern period, Esteban Buch traces the complex and contradictory uses -- and abuses -- of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony since its premiere in 1824. Sensitive and fascinating, this account of the tangled political existence of the symphony is a rare book that explores the life of an artwork through time, as it is shifted and realigned with the currents of history.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this translation of his La Neuvieme de Beethoven: Une histoire politique (1999), Buch (director of studies, Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris) presents a study of music as a political vehicle, using as his centerpiece the last movement of Beethoven's most popular symphony. Based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller, Ode to Joy, Buch shows, became identified with the universal brotherhood of man as well as a symbol of Western Europe almost immediately after its first performance in 1823. Beginning in the 1730s with the first political anthems, the book covers England's "Rule Britannia" and "God Save the King" and moves on to "La Marseillaise" later in the century. Also included are a number of other songs that became identified with a particular nation or geographical entity, ending with the adoption in 1972 by the Council of Europe of Beethoven's Ode to Joy as the European anthem. In a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion, Buch looks at the music and the texts of dozens of anthems, relates them to the Beethoven/Schiller work, and discusses them in terms of world politics, philosophy, and psychology. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Timothy J. McGee, Hastings, Ont. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780226078243
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press
  • Publication date: 4/1/2004
  • Edition description: 1
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 352
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Esteban Buch is the director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is the author of Histoire d'un secret: À propos de la Suite lyrique d'Alban Berg. Richard Miller has translated more than seventy books and articles from the French, including Roland Barthes's The Pleasure of the Text and Brassaï's The Secret of the Thirties.

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Read an Excerpt

Beethoven's Ninth

A Political History

By Esteban Buch

University of Chicago Press

Copyright © 2003

University of Chicago
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-226-07824-8

Chapter One

The Romantic Cult and the Ode to Joy

Ludwig van Beethoven died on 26 March 1827, and his funeral was held on
the afternoon of Thursday the 29th. In Vienna, it was a major event.
According to contemporary reports, the schools were closed and soldiers
from the local barracks were called out to ensure public order. A crowd
estimated at between ten to thirty thousand people gathered outside his
residence, the poetically named Schwarzspanierhaus, the House of the
Black-Robed Spaniards. The huge courtyard where the bier had been placed
soon became overcrowded, and the gates finally had to be locked. The
funeral cortege set out at approximately four thirty in the afternoon;
although the distance between the house and the church was a mere two
hundred yards, the procession took more than an hour and half to get
there. Eight singers bore Beethoven's remains to the Alsergasse church,
and the pall covering the casket was carried by eight Kapellmeister, who
were in turn escorted and flanked by forty torchbearers, most of them
professional musicians. The procession was led by a group ofpriests
carrying the parish crucifix; the coffin was followed by the deceased's
relatives, including his brother and sister-in-law, Johann and Johanna van
Beethoven, a group of trombone players, a chorus, students from the
conservatory, members of public bodies, and other musicians and
performers. "No Emperor of Austria ever had a funeral like that of
Beethoven," wrote Graf Zmeskall, one of the composer's friends. However,
few aristocrats were present, and few representatives of the court, with
the exception of Dietrichstein. The funeral was a tribute paid by Vienna's
cultural elite to one of their own, and the state was not invited. That
the death of a musician could assume the same importance as that of a
dynastic political figure, deriving its significance from outside the
political arena, reveals the full import of the event, which, Zmeskall was
to add, "raised a hitherto unheard of furor in Vienna."

Music was played throughout the proceedings: in the courtyard, a funeral
chorale from Anselm Weber's opera based on Schiller's play Wilhelm Tell
was sung first; for the occasion, a Miserere that Beethoven had composed
in 1812 in Linz was then performed in an arrangement for a vocal quartet
with two of Beethoven's Equali for four trombones (WoO 30); during the
street procession, the funeral march from his Sonata op. 26 was played in
an arrangement for wind band that the composer had made in 1815 to
accompany a patriotic drama. Following the mass, during which Ignaz
Seyfried's Libera nos Domine was sung, many Viennese followed the hearse
to the gates of the cemetery at Wahring; since graveside speeches had been
banned by the church, it was at the cemetery's entrance that the actor
Heinrich Anschutz delivered the funeral oration, which had been written,
at the request of Anton Schindler, by the poet Franz Grillparzer,
Austria's foremost man of letters:

Standing by the grave of him who has passed away we are in a manner the
representatives of an entire nation, of the whole German people,
mourning the loss of the one highly acclaimed half of that which was
left us of the departed splendor of our native art, of the fatherland's
full spiritual bloom. There yet lives-and may his life be long!-the hero
of verse in German speech and tongue; but the last master of tuneful
song, the organ of soulful concord, the heir and amplifier of Handel and
Bach's, of Haydn and Mozart's immortal fame is now no more, and we stand
weeping over the riven strings of the harp that is hushed.

The harp that is hushed! Let me call him so! For he was an artist, and
all that was his, was his through art alone. The thorns of life had
wounded him deeply, and as the cast-away clings to the shore, so did he
seek refuge in thine arms, O thou glorious sister and peer of the Good
and the True, thou balm of wounded hearts, heaven-born Art! To thee he
clung fast, and even when the portal was closed wherethrough thou hadst
entered in and spoken to him, when his deaf ear had blinded his vision
for thy features, still did he ever carry thine image within his heart,
and when he died it still reposed on his breast.

He was an artist-and who shall arise to stand beside him?

As the rushing behemoth spurns the waves, so did he rove to the
uttermost bounds of his art. From the cooing of doves to the rolling of
thunder, from the craftiest interweaving of well-weighed expedients of
art up to that awful pitch where planful design disappears in the
lawless whirl of contending natural forces, he had traversed and grasped
it all. He who comes after him will not continue him; he must begin
anew, for he who went before left off only where art leaves off.
Adelaide and Leonora! Triumph of the heroes of Vittoria-and the humble
sacrificial song of the Mass!-Ye children of the voices divided thrice
and four times! heaven-soaring harmony: "Freude, schoner Gotterfunken,"
thou swan song! Muse of song and the seven-stringed lyre! Approach his
grave and bestrew it with laurel!

He was an artist, but a man as well. A man in every sense-in the
highest. Because he withdrew from the world, they called him a
man-hater, and because he held aloof from sentimentality, unfeeling. Ah,
one who knows himself hard of heart, does not shrink! The finest points
are those most easily blunted and bent or broken. An excess of
sensitiveness avoids a show of feeling! He fled the world because, in
the whole range of his loving nature, he found no weapon to oppose it.
He withdrew from mankind after he had given them his all and received
nothing in return. He dwelt alone, because he found no second Self. But
to the end his heart beat warm for all men, in fatherly affection for
his kindred, for the world his all and his heart's blood.

Thus he was, thus he died, thus he will live to the end of time.

You, however, who have followed after us hitherward, let not your hearts
be troubled! You have not lost him, you have won him. No living man
enters the halls of the immortals. Not until the body has perished, do
their portals unclose. He whom you mourn stands from now onward among
the great of all ages, inviolate forever. Return homeward, therefore, in
sorrow, yet resigned! And should you ever in times to come feel the
overpowering might of his creations like an onrushing storm, when your
mounting ecstasy overflows in the midst of a generation yet unborn, then
remember this hour, and think, We were there, when they buried him, and
when he died, we wept.

Thus, after the sublime female figures of Adelaide and Leonore, after the
symbols of power embodied in the battle music and the mass, after the
"voices divided thrice and four times," the Ninth Symphony is the work
that was to crown the legacy of the great composer after his death. This
was the dead man's ultimate embrace of the Mankind that had avoided him.
The hero, with his Christ-like attributes, is fully present in this last
work, which-although it is not defined as such chronologically-else where
would the last quartets fit in?-is indeed, because of its pure emblematic
force, a true finale. The Ode to Joy is the swan song intended for his own
veiled hearing. Beethoven was accompanied on the way to the church by his
own funeral march, and at the cemetery gates it was again his own music
that was sung to honor him. At the moment of his disappearance, his works
were invoked for reasons that were not, or at least not only, aesthetic,
but that were above all commemorative. Henceforth, listening to those
works will be a way of remembering him, of renewing the link with the
composer and with those other men assembled at his grave. The labors of
the creator of the Ninth Symphony had produced and formed his own Denkmal,
his own monument. And that monument, raised over the great man's remains,
is a memorative sign for the "representatives" of a nation in the presence
of its great. Within the Platonic trinity of the Beautiful, the Good and
the True, music is at one with its own past, just as it is now with
poetry, its sister art. There is a diachrony created in the national
spirit by the line of great composers, from Handel to Beethoven; there is
a synchrony, uniting Beethoven and Goethe as the two complementary halves
of a classical grandeur already fading into history. Thus, in
Grillparzer's funeral elegy, what we see taking form is a topography of
Germany's national culture.

A highly coded set piece, the oration is neither very original nor very
personal. Grillparzer knew the composer and had even planned an opera with
him, but their aesthetic differences went deep. It would not be
Grillparzer who would portray Beethoven for posterity but, rather,
romantic writers like E. T. A. Hoffmann or Bettina von Arnim, the latter
of whom was to write: "In everything that concerned his art, [Beethoven]
is so true and so sovereign that no artist dares approach him. In the rest
of his life, however, he is so naive that you can do anything you like
with him." That letter, written to Goethe and published in 1835, depicts
the composer as a kind of blind force of nature, and that picture was to
prove more influential than the quasi-Apollonian image put forward in
Grillparzer's funeral oration. And yet, his text is both elegy and
program. In condensing the topoi already created during Beethoven's
lifetime, and with his collaboration, the poet laid out the commemorative
program of a vision of the artist that was to take hold and prevail
throughout the nineteenth century, the century to be known as the "Bildung
century," a century of culture, of ideals, and of cultivated and cultured

Indeed, the Beethoven myth was to flourish in a society marked by the very
German idea of self-learning or self-education through general
culture-Bildung-that Thomas Mann was to describe as the "universal ideal
of the private man." The image of the "cultivated (gebildet) man"
achieving personal freedom through a study of the arts and sciences had
taken shape in the days of the great Weimar classical writers, beginning
with the recognition (by the pietists, among others) of the value of
personal religious experience. That model, whose example was provided by
Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and whose theory was set forth in his Briefen
uber die asthetische Erziehung des Menschen
[Letters on the Aesthetic
Education of Man], was to accompany the bourgeoisie's rise to power: it
was a corpus of extrareligious values, above political divisions, that
were, in principle, accessible to all, but that, in practice, served to
define and to demarcate social strata. In this ideology, the art of music
has a preponderant role to play. At local concerts and at great festivals,
every cultivated man can find within himself the paths to the infinite
laid out by the romantic musical aesthetic. Thanks to the customs of
singing and performing chamber music, he can participate in a kind of
social interaction that is morally superior to the prosaic mores of
community life. Through music, which Schopenhauer was to regard as the
highest incarnation of an aesthetic experience that Kant had defined as
basically "disinterested," the autonomy of the world of art takes on an
ethical dimension and contributes to the creation of an individual's inner
freedom thus turned toward the commonweal.

Here we have a paradox of which the Ninth Symphony was to be a kind of
programmatic expression-a fact that helps to explain the work's central
role in what some were to call "the religion of music." In any event, this
was the direction some of the earliest critics tended to take in their
desire to understand the meaning and significance of the incongruous
cantata at the heart of an instrumental work. In 1826, Adolf Bernhard
Marx, in an article in the Berlinische allgemeine Zeitung, set out to
justify "the composition's completely new form": "When instruments and
voices sound together, the latter are given pride of place, as was man at
the Creation, for song includes words, and the musical power inherent in
man represents what is human, in contrast to the instrumental portion,
which represents what is above and beyond man"-a dialectic which, Marx
adds, in typically Hegelian language, ultimately consecrates man as the
"conqueror, through his spiritual power, of the instrumental Proteus."
Here we have an interpretation that, emphasizing the relationship between
the human and the musical, appears to have little interest in the literal
import of Schiller's words-an attitude it shares with the Viennese
correspondent of Leipzig's Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, who, in 1824,
"heard" (metaphorically) in the final chorus a salute to the "divine art
of music" and to Beethoven, its "high priest."

In the nineteenth century, music became a singularly important element in
the creation and perception of a specifically German identity. One sign of
this change in symbolic coordinates was the 1837 publication of The
Glorious Moment
under a new title, Der Preis der Tonkunst, a "Praise of
Music" rather than praise for the Concert of Europe. The growing number of
publications devoted to music played a central role in this phenomenon by
providing a forum for cultural debates that, without getting directly
involved in politics, did at least touch upon them. The case of Robert
Schumann, who in 1834 founded the influential periodical Neue Zeitschrift
fur Musik
in Leipzig, illustrates "the complementary coherence between an
individual's ambition to gain public prominence as a musician and a man of
letters and a generational politics in which culture served as an
instrument of national identity." Schumann was being very serious when he
wrote: "Just as Italy has its Naples, France its revolution, England its
navy, etc., the Germans have their Beethoven symphonies. With his
Beethoven, the German forgets that he has no school of painting; with
Beethoven, he imagines that he has turned round the outcomes of the
battles lost to Napoleon; he even dares place him on the same level as
Shakespeare." The concern for national greatness accompanied the
universalism of the more liberal sectors of the bourgeois
intelligentsia-men like the writer Robert Griepenkerl, for example, a
contributor to the Neue Zeitschrift fur Musik who held that art was a
weltliche Evangelium, a "secular Gospel" that embodied the history of the
world, and who viewed Beethoven, in retrospect, as the "prophet of the
July revolution."


Excerpted from Beethoven's Ninth
by Esteban Buch
Copyright © 2003
by University of Chicago.
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: The States of Joy 1
Part I. The Birth of Modern Political Music
1 God Save the King and the Handel Cult 11
2 La Marseillaise and the "Supreme Being" 26
3 The Ode to Joy and the Emperor's Anthem 45
4 Beethoven and the Concert of Europe 66
5 The Ninth Symphony 87
Part II. Political Reception of the Ode to Joy
6 The Romantic Cult 111
7 The 1845 Ceremony at Bonn 133
8 The Ninth in the Era of Nationalist Movements 156
9 The 1927 Centenary 178
10 Beethoven as Fuhrer 201
11 From Year Zero to the European Anthem 220
12 From Apartheid's Anthem to the Dismantling of the Berlin Wall 243
Conclusion: Criticism and Future of a Dream 263
Acknowledgments 269
Notes 271
Bibliography 305
Index 317
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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 7, 2005

    The Ninth Comes Alive

    Ever since its premiere in 1824, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has been considered one of the greatest musical compositions of all time. It is no wonder, then, that the Ninth has played a significant role in politics and in popular culture. Esteban Buch does a superb job of tracing the political history of the Ninth from the time of its premiere to the present day. Buch discusses Hitler's use of the Ninth, the history behind the Ninth's becoming the anthem of the European Union, as well as the role that the choral movement played during the Tiananmen Square riots of 1989. This book is NOT to be missed by anyone who appreciates this beautiful symphony.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 6, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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