Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

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Something for the Weekend.  The ending of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.  This section of the Ninth Symphony gets played so frequently that we lose sight of just what a creation of genius it is.  Beethoven’s culminating masterpiece, composed, astonishingly enough, when he was completely deaf.

When it was first performed on May 7, 1824 in Vienna, the crowd was wild with enthusiasm.  Beethoven was on stage with the conductor, and could neither hear nor see the tumultuous applause.  Contralto Caroline Unger came over to him and gently turned him around so that he could see the crowd reaction.  Beethoven received five standing ovations, and the fierce old musical curmudgeon was deeply moved.

O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere an stimmen,
und freudenvollere.
Freude! (men’s chorus: Freude! )
Freude! (chorus again: Freude! )
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather, let us raise our voices in more pleasing
And more joyful sounds!
Joy! (Joy!)
Joy! (Joy!)
Freude, schöner Götterfunken*
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity*
Daughter of Elysium,
We enter, drunk with fire,
Into your sanctuary, heavenly (daughter)!
Your magic reunites
What custom strictly divided.
All men become brothers,
Where your gentle wing rests.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Whoever has had the great fortune
To be a friend’s friend,
Whoever has won a devoted wife,
Join in our jubilation!
Indeed, whoever can call even one soul,
His own on this earth!
And whoever was never able to, must creep
Tearfully away from this band!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Vor Gott!
Joy all creatures drink
At the breasts of nature;
All good, all bad
Follow her trail of roses.
Kisses she gave us, and wine,
A friend, proved in death;
Pleasure was given to the worm,
And the cherub stands before God.
Before God!
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Glad, as His suns fly
Through the Heaven’s glorious design,
Run, brothers, your path,
Joyful, as a hero to victory.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
Be embraced, millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the starry canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell.
Finale repeats the words:
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Seid umschlungen,
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Finale repeats the words:
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Be embraced,
This kiss for the whole world!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity

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  1. My favorite instrumental work, unsurpassed in all of music. Leonard Bernstein’s conducting of the 9th in 1988 with the Berlin Philharmonic after the Wall came down was truly memorable. Ever see the film, Immortal Beloved, Don? A pretty good biopic of the greatest German composer (although there are days I’d give that honor to Mozart).

  2. I haven’t seen Immortal Beloved Joe, but I’ll try and view it sometime. In regard to Beethoven and Mozart it is too bad we have very little documentation as to their one meeting. (Whether they met at all has been subject to controversy, although I suspect they did.)

  3. The clip I posted will whet your whistle for sure. Amazing scene. Mozart, supposedly after meeting a young Beethoven, is reported to have said, “Some day we’ll hear more from this young man.” (paraphrasing.) Thank you, Don, for the starting this thread. Perhaps you might put up Mozart’s Requiem some time. Absolutely stunning.

  4. This is my favorite piece of music as well. Absolute perfection. And it was watching Immortal Beloved that prompted me to start listening to Beethoven.

  5. You knew this was coming:

    “I have watched greatness touch you in another way. I have seen you sit, uninvited and unforced, listening in complete silence to the third movement of the Ninth Symphony. I thought you understood, as much as children can, when I told you that that music was the moment at which Beethoven finally passed beyond the suffering of his life on earth and reached for the hand of God, as God reaches for the hand of Adam in Michelangelo’s version of creation.” – Whittaker Chambers, “Witness”

  6. Pretty hard to hum Bach except for his lullaby and Gesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring. As for Wagner, as Twain said: “His music is not as bad as it sounds.”

    My favorite compose is Giuseppe Verdi, which is no surprise given my screen name. : )

  7. Do see “Immortal Beloved,” Don–Joe is right, it is a great film. Talented actors given superb material is too rare a combination.

    Sometimes laugh out loud funny, too: After Jeroen Krabbe’s Schindler has learned that Beethoven spurned Isabella Rossellini’s Anna Erdody, the flabbergasted Schindler blurts out “He was a *fool*!” to the flattered Erdody.

    I agreed wholeheartedly with Schindler–I’ve always been enchanted by Rossellini.

  8. My favorite compose is Giuseppe Verdi, which is no surprise given my screen name.

    Joe, it’s good to see a man of such distinguished musical tastes. As you might have guessed from my name I do have a special place in my heart for Italian artists.

  9. Figured that, Paul. I am an opera lover first and foremost. Any composer whose name ends in a vowel usually is OK by me. : )

  10. Dale, agree. Isabella was and remains a beautiful woman and she and Gary Oldman did a great job in that flick.

  11. Beethoven wrote the Missa Solemnis at the same time as the 9th Symphony. If you want to truly have your doors blown off, try the opening bars of the piece (the Kyrie), the entire Gloria, or the solo violin at the top of its register representing the Holy Spirit during the Sanctus/Benedictus. For the Gloria and the Sanctus, the tempi on the Robert Shaw/Atlanta recording is tough to beat. If you want the quality soloists, the Klemperer recording is phenomenal.

  12. Great piece of music, and is the tune to a popular hymn we sing.

    I hang my head and confess to being a phillistine from the outer fringes of civilisation 😉 and hate to admit I didn’t know it was composed by Beethoven. I promise to do penance for my culpable ignorance – sack-cloth and ashes for 7 days.

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