The Joy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

After a long time away, I listened to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony this morning, reading the accompanying liner notes. It is from the CD collection “Beethoven: 9 Symphonies” conducted by John Eliot Gardiner. An extra CD contains interviews that he did about the music. I have been feeling low lately. When I heard the melody of “Ode To Joy” begin, my spirits rose. The song is in German. Here is the English translation:

Joyful, joyful
We adore Thee
God of glory
Lord of love
Hearts unfold like flowers before Thee
Hail Thee to the sun above
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness
Drive the dark of doubt away
Giver of immortal gladness
Fill us with the light of day

With light
With light

Mortals join the mighty chorus
Which the morning stars began
Father love is reigning o’er us
Brother love binds man to man
Ever singing march we onward
Victors in the midst of strife
Joyful music lifts us Son ward
In the triumph song of life

I hope that as Beethoven wrote this, he also felt joy, optimism, and contentment. Maybe he felt like singing. And of course, everything that came before in the work is just as beautiful.

The reading of a good biography of Beethoven may confirm this, but I think there were many times in Beethoven’s life where he wasn’t happy, as stern portraits of him have always suggested to me. It will be good at some point to have a complete picture of his life. One of the reasons I listened to the Ninth Symphony is a current book called “The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824” by Harvey Sachs. I just wanted the music in my head while I read. I’ll definitely be listening again.

When I logged onto Twitter last night, I noticed that the NSO tweeted along with its show of “Romeo and Juliet,” “West Side Story” and other romantic music. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any of these recordings, so I couldn’t pretend I was there. Last year, when the NSO performed Beethoven’s Symphony #6 (“Pastoral), I put the CD on my computer and followed along. It wasn’t the next best thing to being there, but a great start. Apparently, Beethoven felt better in the country. An escape from city life was good for him, and I can certainly understand that.

Whenever I listen to anything by Beethoven, I always recall that, eventually, he wasn’t able to hear what he created for himself and for the rest of the world. That certainly must have disappointed and saddened him very deeply. But at least he could still hear the notes in his mind, and feel them in his heart.


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