If there is…

… a more magnificent piece of music than Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, played in it’s entirety, I don’t know what it is.
XM Radio Classics did a wonderful 1/2 hour introduction / lecture on the piece before hand, and then presented the entire symphony, on period instruments, beginning to end. I ended up driving past the house and up the highway again to catch the 4th movement without having to pause to put Zach to bed (we were on our way back from Maine).
During the intro, I had forgotten this bit of history. When the piece was first performed in Vienna in 1824, Beethoven’s hearing had deteriorated completely. He was completely deaf, and therefore never actually heard his masterpiece performed. As related on the wikipedia entry for the Ninth :

At the conclusion of the performance Beethoven had to be forcibly turned 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.”

Can you imagine being in the theater and hearing this piece performed for the first time, not knowing what was to happen next, and being blindsided by the masterful 4th movement? And there, in front, the composer himself, not hearing the public’s jubilant reception of his final work, not knowing of it until one of the members of the orchestra stood up and turned him around to see the audience’s applause and cheering.


A wandering geek. Toys, shiny things, pursuits and distractions.

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6 thoughts on “If there is…

  1. there’s a book that you should really check out; it’s edited by nicholas slonimsky and is called “the lexicon of musical invective.” while i don’t recall the exact details of the entries re: the 9th symphony, i’m sure they are… fascinating. 🙂
    (i have the book and if you can help me remember, i’ll bring it the next time i think there’s a chance of seeing you. but it’s a great book…)
    of course, i agree with you about the 9th, but who am i to talk?

  2. mew: Ooh, I love Slonimsky! I read his autobiography, Perfect Pitch, back in college, and his Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns was probably my one absolutely indispensible composition resource (I was a music major).
    I’m mostly a Bach-and-earlier/Stravinsky-and-later sort of classical music fan, but the 9th is an exception. What an utterly amazing piece of music. Do you remember the ensemble/conductor? And who provided the commentary on XM beforehand? Robert Aubry Davis is a former coworker of mine.
    BTW, BBC Radio 3 just completed a broadcast of the entire Beethoven symphony cycle performed by the BBC Philharmonic. MP3s of each performance are available for download from http://www.bbc.co.uk/beethoven for one week following the broadcast. It looks like the only ones still available as of now are #7-9, although the rest are probably on BitTorrent somewhere. I have all nine, but haven’t had time to listen yet.

  3. If you’re into magnificent, you should remind me to make you a compliation once we both get moved. I’ve got some other excellent candidates for you 🙂

  4. Thank you for the pointer; I now have the 7th and 9th nestled happily on my Ipod. Damn, the 9th rocks from orbit (if classical music can be said to “rock”, that is).

  5. i think that if one performs the 9th, it is sort of clear that he couldn’t hear anymore. it is wonderful, but it is too high in every single vocal range–we had basses quitting because they were straining so–the sopranos were in pain–he send them up to an A and leaves them there for pages and pages. still i am forever grateful for having had the chance to perform it — it is just amazing to be in the middle of it.

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