Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824

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The premier of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Vienna on May 7, 1824, was the most significant artistic event of the year—and the work remains one of the most precedent-shattering and influential compositions in the history of music. Described in vibrant detail by eminent musicologist Harvey Sachs, this symbol of freedom and joy was so unorthodox that it amazed and confused listeners at its unveiling—yet it became a standard for subsequent generations of creative artists, and its composer came to embody the ...

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The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824

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Overview

The premier of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in Vienna on May 7, 1824, was the most significant artistic event of the year—and the work remains one of the most precedent-shattering and influential compositions in the history of music. Described in vibrant detail by eminent musicologist Harvey Sachs, this symbol of freedom and joy was so unorthodox that it amazed and confused listeners at its unveiling—yet it became a standard for subsequent generations of creative artists, and its composer came to embody the Romantic cult of genius. In this unconventional, provocative book, Beethoven’s masterwork becomes a prism through which we may view the politics, aesthetics, and overall climate of the era. Part biography, part history, part memoir, The Ninth brilliantly explores the intricacies of Beethoven’s last symphony—how it brought forth the power of the individual while celebrating the collective spirit of humanity.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dirda
in a "postlude" Sachs recalls his own boyhood discovery…of Beethoven and touches on the composer's importance to him. Not just the Ninth, he concludes, but Beethoven's music in general "adds to the fullness when life feels good, and it lengthens and deepens the perspective when life seems barely tolerable. It is with me and in me. And I suppose that this book is a vastly oversized and yet entirely inadequate thank-you note to Beethoven." It's more than that. The Ninth isn't a profoundly scholarly work, but it will send readers to their CD players.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Beethoven wasn't always a cultural icon. At least one critic attending the 1824 premiere of his Symphony No. 9 in D Minor likened what he heard to a “hideously writhing wounded dragon.” Just why the composer and his works endure is the question behind this absorbing book by music historian Sachs (Toscanini). Through detailed musical analysis and condensed readings of cultural politics and 19th-century history, Sachs ponders “what role so-called high culture played, plays, and ought to play in civilization.” Using the year 1824 and the premiere of the Ninth as ground zero, Sachs reviews the literary, artistic, and social movements of the time, noting how Beethoven's innovative symphony (the first with a vocal score) and its themes of equality and redemption no doubt challenged the resurgent conservatism among Europe's monarchies. Sachs places Beethoven alongside Pushkin, Byron, and other prominent romantics, whose talents he finds linked to a common quest for freedoms—political, artistic, and “above all of the mind and spirit.” After first presenting the Ninth as a Viennese social event and then as emblematic of Beethoven's artistic process, Sachs shines with a close reading of the Ninth's musical score, interpreting its techniques and emotive narrative. Readers will want a recording nearby. In the book's last chapter, Sachs deals with the impact and legacy of Beethoven's masterwork and explains what makes his music universal. (Apr.)
Library Journal
By concentrating on the year Beethoven debuted his most famous work, Sachs (Rubinstein: A Life) sets the symphony in its historical context, as the composer, along with fellow revolutionaries elsewhere in Europe (e.g., Lord Byron, Alexander Pushkin, Eugène Delacroix, Stendhal, Heinrich Heine), championed equality in the face of widespread political oppression. Sachs draws together the major influences in the political and artistic worlds of the early 19th century as a way of highlighting the importance of Beethoven's monumental work. His discussion ranges from large historical concepts to detailed analyses of specific works of art, politics, and musical compositions, which serves to paint a vivid picture of the intense artistic life of the period. VERDICT There is a bit of technical discussion that requires music theory background, but the bulk of the narrative is eminently readable, insightful, and often very personal. A thought-provoking, broadly based, well-informed discussion that should appeal to well-educated general readers as well as music specialists.—Timothy J. McGee, Trent Univ., Peterborough, Ont.
Kirkus Reviews
The year 1824, viewed through the lens of Beethoven's final symphony-a mix of cultural history, memoir and musicology. Former conductor Sachs (Music History/Curtis Institute of Music; The Letters of Arturo Toscanini, 2002, etc.) leaves no doubt of his intentions, declaring immediately that the Ninth is "one of the most precedent-shattering and influential compositions in the history of music." Following a brief laudatory prelude, the author describes a recent visit to the building where Beethoven was living when the piece premiered in Vienna on May 7, 1824, and then reconstructs that pivotal evening, writing with informed confidence about the vast demands of the piece on musicians and noting sadly that the theater no longer stands. In a bold, perhaps foolhardy, move, the author ventures briefly into Beethoven's mind, imagining his thoughts-e.g, "Even if my green frock coat were covered in shit it would be to good for the sniveling Viennese." Fortunately, Sachs quickly abandons this device, sticking thereafter to what he knows and feels, which is more than sufficient. He sketches Beethoven's family history, summarizes the complexities of post-Napoleonic Europe (taking a shot at historian Eric Hobsbawm) and glances at the lives and achievements of contemporaries, including Byron, Pushkin, Delacroix, Stendahl and Heine. Sachs then provides a long, personal response to each of the symphony's four movements, sections that engage not for their practical value-we learn few specifics-but for the passion and affection that inform every phrase. The author ends with a discussion about how Beethoven influenced some noted contemporaries-from Schubert to Rossini-and with deeply personal comments abouthow Beethoven has affected his own life since boyhood. A fan's notes-eloquent, erudite, passionate and musical. Agent: Denise Shannon/ICM
From the Publisher
“All music lovers should run, not walk, to purchase The Ninth.”—San Francisco Chronicle

“An inspiring examination of one of music’s supreme masterpieces.”—Pittsburgh Tribune Review

“Insightful . . . Reading this book, you feel for the composer, trying to bond with others through an astonishing symphony.”—The New York Times

“Sachs’ enthusiasm is infectious, his knowledge impressive.”—USA Today
 
“A revelatory ride through a creative time and four symphonic movements.”—The Dallas Morning News
 
“Will send readers to their CD players.”—The Washington Post

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780571221462
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber
  • Publication date: 8/28/2011

Meet the Author

Harvey Sachs is a writer and music historian and the author or co-author of eight previous books, of which there have been more than fifty editions in fifteen languages. He has written for The New Yorker and many other publications, has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow of the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and is currently on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He lives in New York City.
 

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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted July 9, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Does Beethoven's Ninth have an historical meaning?

    Sach's argues that the Ninth symphony expresses a 'quest for freedon: political freedom from the repressive conditions that then dominated Europe...'. But the argument is not convincing. Sachs discusses at some length the work of several artists and writers active around the time the symphony appeared, among them Byron, Pushkin and Hegel. He argues that these artists provide the 'hidden thread' that enables us to see the symphony as a work of political liberalism. Byron voiced radical political views and Pushkin was at odds with Tsar Alexander, but Sachs does not demonstrate any thread connecting Beethoven with their views. Beethoven in Vienna was as close to Austrian and Russian aristocrats as he was to the populus. His Wellington's Victory symphony was a paeon to the conservative forces that had overcome Napoleon - the very forces Sachs believes Beethoven was opposing in the ninth symphony. Beethoven dedicated the ninth symphony itself to the King of Prussia and given the exulted tone of the music it is difficult to see this as an act of cynicism.

    Hegel, whom Sachs also discusses, was hardly a democrat.

    The argument of course must focus on the setting of the Ode to Joy in the last movement. A burning need to communicate prompted Beethoven to use words for the first time in a symphony. But the words do not convey a political message. There is no mention of freedom but of friendship, brotherhood and love.

    The best part of the book is Sachs's debunking of those who seek verbal meanings in absolute music. If he believes this, why has he tried so hard to read a political message into Beethoven's all-embracing work? "Be embraced you millions", sings the choir, "by this kiss for the whole world." This, and Beethoven's music, transcends politics.

    2 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 2, 2011

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