Beethoven's  Ninth Symphony.  One of the crown jewels of civilization.

That's the third time I've said that now.  The funny thing is, that's not a controversial or unduly hyperbolic statement.  Beethoven's Ninth Symphony goes on the short list with the Mona Lisa, Hamlet, the Sistine Chapel,  Apollo 11, and a few other choice accomplishments, Dante's Divine Comedy.  They make people listen to this symphony in undergrad Humanities classes (not music classes) and they do lump it together with other "jewels" like that.  This is part of what makes the human race the human race.  Should we all be struck dead now by a comet, this is in the short list of the legacy of what we accomplished as a species in the brief span of our existence.  This is part of your inheritance.  

Don't like classical music?  Shit.  That's not even the point.  I'd feel embarrassed to speak this way about anything else.

In fact, it's interesting to think of how many things we think are IMPORTANT right now that wouldn't make the list. Victory in Europe day, for instance.  

Back in 1980, the final episode of MASH became the most recorded television show in history (at that time).  People actually included it in countless time capsules for future generations.  Now you have to be old and out of touch to know what MASH is or why people ever thought it was funny.  It might have been important to people of that generation, but it wasn't a defining moment.  Beethoven's Ninth is.  

Don't like classical music?  I don't give a shit.  Beethoven's not even my favorite composer.  That's not the point.  I'd like it if you enjoyed it, or any of the pieces we talk about in this series, but Beethoven's Ninth transcends that as an important cultural artifact above and beyond entertainment.  I'd feel embarrassed to speak in such in grandiose terms like these about anything else.

This is the first of a four-part(!) diary on Beethoven's Ninth, part of our ongoing DailyKos Beethoven Festival 2011 series.  We will listen to the WHOLE Ninth Symphony, not just the catchy Ode to Joy part that everybody knows, and we'll try to put it all in context.  This might be the first time some of you have ever heard the complete symphony or have ever tried to put it all together.  And we'll also talk some more about the significance of this work.

And we'll talk about that four-part picture above....

[Note: No, you're not crazy, and yes, this diary is atrociously late.  Mea whatever.]

I snagged two of the pics at the top from the trailer for a yet unreleased documentary on Beethoven's Ninth, Following the Ninth, (which has its own website).

Preview of film Following the Ninth

The trailer/preview puts the Ninth in context as an artwork that has become an important cultural artifact.  And it emphasizes the relationship between Beethoven's Ninth and reform movements.  The pic at the top left, above, is from Tianamen Square.  Notice the uniformed soldier waving his arms?  He's air-conducting the Ode to Joy.  Beethoven's Ninth was there at Tianamen Square.  

Also taken from Following the Ninth, in the second picture, top right, we have a photo taken from a protest demonstration in Chile by mother's opposed to fascist dictator Agusto Pinoche's ongoing (at that time) torture of prisoners of the state.  The protesters are singing the Ode to Joy from Beethoven's Ninth.

The third photo, bottom left, I took as a screen cap from one of the many youtubes of The Daiku, the annual Japanese tradition of mass performing Beethoven's Ninth.  Thousands of average people sign up for it and take a year of coaching to be prepared to sing in the full symphony.  NOW, look at all the people in white shirts in the background of that photo.  THAT IS NOT THE AUDIENCE.  That's the chorus made up of those people.  Fifteen thousand people, all singing the full Ode to Joy.  There are many clips of the Daiku performances on Youtube, (for obvious reasons, right?) many of them amateur videos with Japanese titles and descriptions.

And, last, the pic at the bottom right, the one with the Swastika flag hanging on the wall as Wilhelm Furtwangler conducts the Ninth with the Berlin Philharmonic on April 20, 1942.  I took it from this Youtube clip.  Bear with me, guys, and you'll see why I deliberately grouped this with the other photos.

Short Excerpt.  Wilhelm Furtwangler conducting Beethoven's Ninth, Berlin 1942

FORGET THE MUSIC for a moment.  Look at the audience.  The SS uniforms.  The wounded soldiers, one guy with his nose apparently shot off and bandaged.  The fat and sassy Nazi elite, all applauding.  I can spot Himmler and Goebbels, and there are other choice historical war criminals, having a blast, listening to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, the very same music of universal human transcendence that inspired people in Chile and China to march against torture and tyranny.  The contrast.  The first time I saw this, I just sat stunned, not because a bunch of Nazis were enjoying Beethoven, but because of the gargantuan irony of this, these people who represent the nadir of Western Civilization applauding and embracing as their own a work of music that literally exhorts men to embrace one another as brothers.  This film was used as propaganda to demonstrate, for political purposes, one presumes, the greatness of Aryan cultural achievement.  

Furtwangler is an interesting character in the history of music for other reasons.  He barely survived the de-Nazification trials.  There is a play and film, Taking Sides, about Furtwangler after the war.  Here is a scene, however, from one of the stage play performances.

Taking Sides, live stage production preview.

Furtwangler's excuse was that he was a musician.  That he was doing what he knew how to do, keeping alive the voice of real Civilization that the Nazis were destroying.  

I thought about doing a separate diary about Furtwangler, and we may do that one day.  As messed up as his history with the Nazis is, it just remains that he was a spectacular conductor of a kind that they just don't make anymore, one that put an enormous amount of personal interpretation into the music.  I used Furtwangler clips for the diary on the Fifth, but I won't use him for the Ninth, this month because I'd rather use better quality audio for the sake of people who have never heard it properly before.

The image at right is of one of the very first compact discs ever made.  Did you ever wonder why a basic audio CD can hold 74 minutes?  Snopes places the reliability of this story as "undetermined."  Phillips engineers, when designing the very first compact discs, wanted to create a format that could hold a complete performance of the Beethoven Ninth Symphony.  In particular, they wanted to use the Bayreuth performance of Wilhelm Furtwangler with the Berlin Philharmonic, which runs... exactly 74 minutes.

As Wired tells the story:

[...] When Sony and Philips were negotiating a single industry standard for the audio compact disc in 1979 and 1980, the story is that one of four people (or some combination of them) insisted that a single CD be able to hold all of the Ninth Symphony. The four were the wife of Sony chairman Akio Morita, speaking up for her favorite piece of music; Sony VP Norio Ohga (the company’s point man on the CD), recalling his studies at the Berlin Conservatory; Mrs. Ohga (her favorite piece, too); and conductor Herbert von Karajan, who recorded for Philips subsidiary Polygram and whose Berlin Philharmonic recording of the Ninth clocked in at 66 minutes.

Further research to find the longest recorded performance came up with a mono recording conducted by Wilhelm Furtwängler at the Bayreuth Festival in 1951. That playing went a languorous 74 minutes. [...]

Beethoven's Ninth and the World Chess Championship

I'll tell you one more story about the Ninth, one that I can't document well because it's hard to find sources online for this.  The events, however, transpired in 1978 during the Chess World Championship in Manila, the Philippines, between World Champion Anatoly Karpov of the USSR, and the Soviet defector Viktor Korchnoi.  The details of all this are buried in back issues of Chess Life and Review magazine.

The Soviets hated Korchnoi.  Hated.  Hated.  Hated him.  Beyond their personal sense of betrayal that a grandmaster who they had pampered for decades had left them and was badmouthing the Soviet chess establishment, he was, obviously, a huge political embarrassment.  They did not want Karpov to lose.  The chess-playing match between these two went on for months, but the diplomatic war of the seconds and the refs ran much longer.  FIDE rules as set at that time required the display of the national flags and the playing of the national anthem of each player.  Karpov, obviously, would use the Soviet anthem.  But what of Korchnoi?  He sure as hell wasn't going to use the Soviet anthem.  Korchnoi chose to use as his flag the Jolly Roger and as his music, The Ode to Joy from the finale of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.

Korchnoi's first choice of a "national flag" in the 1978 World Chess Championship Match

Gutsy, eh?  The Soviets were outraged, OUTRAGED by this, and arguments ensued that went on for more weeks over what music and flag Korchnoi could use.  Eventually, FIDE, which was very Soviet friendly, ordered Korchnoi to use some other national flag and anthem.  As he was residing in Switzerland at that time, The Swiss allowed him to use theirs.  An awful shame, really.  

[Other highlights of that match -- the Soviets, knowing how paranoid Korchnoi was, hired "mentalists" to be Karpov's seconds, permitted to sit in the front row, their sole purpose, apparently, being to STARE at Korchnoi.  It drove Korchnoi crazy and he threatened to leave the match unless the seconds were thrown out.  This led to more arguments.  Korchnoi then hired his own mentalists as seconds, either to cancel out the Soviet mentalists through psychic wave interference, or to fight fire with fire and stare at Karpov.  It didn't matter, though, because after they were hired, sometime after play resumed, Korchnoi's mentalists were discovered to have outstanding international arrest warrants, including murder, so they had to flee.  Karpov went on to win after twenty-five games.]

About the actual music!

Let's move past all the cultural baggage associated with the Ninth, for now, and talk about the music.  We're only going to hear and talk about the first movement today.  

The Ninth symphony is BIG.  Big in many ways.  When Mozart and Haydn were composing their symphonies, symphonies generally ran about fifteen minutes long.  Mozart and Haydn's late symphonies generally run less than thirty minutes long.  Beginning with his Third Symphony, Beethoven began to extend the size and the form of the symphony, the Third taking about forty to forty-five minutes, an unheard of length at that time, and one that created resistance.  The Ninth is, as we said, about an hour and ten minutes or longer.  It's a complete concert, meaning, there's no room for second works on the program.

Furthermore, the orchestra for the Ninth was huge compared to anything Beethoven had used before, and I mean just the instrumental part of the orchestra.  All the woodwind parts were doubled to give them a chance to cut through the rest of the clutter.  And then, there is the choir on top of that!  

Music with orchestra and choir was nothing new at that time, but the way it was used was different.  First of all, there is no singing until the very last minute.  Now I want you to pause and imagine this for a moment, because, as we know, this is a very long symphony, with three very long movements, totally instrumental, before we get to the finale.  For the first forty-five minutes of any live performance you attend, you'll see all these people in robes standing in the back, behind the orchestra... And standing... and standing...  Doing nothing.  Not a peep!  If you get to attend a live performance, judge for yourself how this adds to the suspense.

Furthermore, when you get to the final movement, for the first six minutes -- still not a peep from the chorus!  At some point, through all this preliminary music heavy with tension, "The Terror Fanfare," as Wagner called it, the first Baritone soloist opens his mouth and peals out the words:

"O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern laßt uns angenehmere an stimmen,
und freudenvollere!"

"O Friends!  Not these tones!  Rather, let us raise our voices in sounds of joy!"

Those are Beethoven's words, not Schiller's.  It is meant to say, if I can put other words in his mouth, "All the strife and struggle of the first three movements (especially the apocalyptic first movement) are set aside now; we are past that, we can transcend that."

It is now, just before the chorus is to enter, you hear a great rustling in the background, as many people hitch up their pants under their robes in preparation for their entrance, the Ode to Joy main theme.  As perfect as you might want a live performance to be, as quiet as they may all want to be, the sound of dozens or hundreds -- or thousands of choir members cleaning their glasses or pulling on their bra straps one last time still creates an airy expectant hush.

There are four movements.  The first movement, the one we hear today, is the allegro movement, and it's in classic Sonata-allegro form, which, jeezy-weezy, I've explained a million times, so I'll just put up my graphic when we need it.  If you don't know what we're talking about, don't get frustrated -- just go back and read THIS DIARY which explains Sonata-allegro form in folksy terms.  It's your AAA roadmap to all symphonies.  

I described this movement just now as cataclysmic.  If I can indulge in gratuitous poetic license, I might also call it apocalyptic or volcanic.  This is a kind of aggressive Beethoven we are familiar with from the Fifth Symphony, but it is more grown-up, more subtle, with far more detail.  Beethoven's Fifth is often used to teach beginning music classes about symphonic form, and it's scaled well for that task, but this is a much bigger work.  The first movement alone runs about fifteen minutes, compared to the Fifth's first movement of about six.  It's in a minor key, D minor, making this and the Fifth Symphony the only two minor-key symphonies by Beethoven.  They are both begin predominantly dark in character, but they end triumphantly.

A-E... E-A... A-E...

Just as Beethoven's Fifth was based on a single motif, Da-da-da-DAAAH, the Ninth begins with a recurring motif that haunts us through all four movements.  It especially pops up at critical moments, like during the climax of the Ode to Joy fugue, or the climax of the slow movement.  And it's very simple, six descending notes, A-E, E-A, A-E, stepping downwards in fifth intervals.  If you don't know what I mean, you'll hear it in a moment.

A fifth interval.  What's that?  It's the most basic musical relationship of two notes.   Do and Sol if you're familiar with Do-re-mi-fa-sol-la-ti-do.  They bond together well, but they don't give you a full chord.  That's important for a reason, as we'll see.  As these six descending notes repeat at the beginning of the first movement, you hear in the background a thrumming, shimmering sound, as the strings play the same two notes, E and A, in tremolo.  What is that?  It's when the violins play the same note repeatedly very quickly, like quivering their arms, to create a single, continuous note with a bit of vibration to it.  This adds to the sense of tension.

E and A are important for another reason.  They are the two notes that violins play when tuning up before a symphony, any symphony, begins.  There are four strings on a violin tuned the same as the four bottom strings of a guitar: E-A-D-G.  Before a symphony begins, as a kind of ritual, the first violinist stands up, plays an A note on his violin, and the other players all tune their instruments to be in sync with that.

So what's the point of all this arcane technical bullshit I'm unloading on you?  The Ninth symphony begins sounding as if it was an orchestra still tuning up!  The sound is deliberately non-committal -- we don't have a key for the music for the first minute because we only have two notes being played.  No chords.  Just a very soft, quivering sense of expectation, with neither the darkness of a minor key, nor the brightness of a major key.  It is incomplete.  And it is out of this chaos that the music swells to a crescendo, FINALLY establishing on a key (D minor), with a shattering statement of the first theme.  That first crescendo is loud, is meant to be loud, and should be loud on your speakers, or you're going to miss a lot of detail.

When the second, contrasting theme enters, notice if it seems familiar.  It passed me by very easily, but Archer070 pointed it out to me in this post.  It's the Ode to Joy theme, being foreshadowed in it's first, primitive incarnation.  It will pop up in other places throughout the symphony as well, often in forms that just "seem familiar" at first.

In fact, in the Ninth Symphony, Beethoven is both foreshadowing (to use a literary term) with the Ode theme, and backshadowing with the AE-EA-AE theme.  They pop up repeatedly through all four movements, linking us both backwards and fortwards.

For the Fifth Symphony, a few weeks ago, I made a "spoiler" clip that showed ways the Da-da-da-DAAAH! motif was used in all four movements.  I made a clip like that showing some ways the EAEAEA motif pops up again in the Ninth.  

If you can't hear that tremolo "thrumming" at the beginning of the spoilers, you probably have your volume too low.  I've included some examples from all four movements, and I can think of now at least one biggie I forgot (from the scherzo).  I intend to make a similar "spoiler" clip next week showing some ways the Ode theme is jockeyed around between the different movements.

Climaxes, sexual and otherwise, in the Ninth first movement

The first movement follows traditional Sonata-allegro form, as I mentioned.  The climax of the movement comes at the end of the beginning of the recapitulation.  Now's as good a time as any to throw up my old Sonata-allegro graphic, eh?

There's our AAA road map.  The music climaxes as (5.) begins, which should be, usually, the restatement of the first theme.  But a funny thing happens getting there.  The music, having worked itself up into a real frenzy, gets stuck there, with the drum rolls and brass blaring and EA-AE-EAs playing in the background as the first theme tries and tries and tries again to make itself heard over the din.

One of my favorite analyses of the Ninth first movement comes from musicologist Susan McClary.  This should be taken with a grain of salt.  She retracted it later because it caused a firestorm of controversy, but I think it was so beautifully descriptive it's a work of art its own.

Susan McClary:

The point of recapitulation in the first movement of the Ninth is one of the most horrifying moments in music, as the carefully prepared cadence is frustrated, damming up energy which finally explodes in the throttling murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release.

That got tongues wagging.  Beethoven's Ninth first movement as rape allegory.  Well, I don't hear it that way but... I actually do see what she means.  There is something murderous and frustrated about it.  This is not a movement that will end happy.  The ending, when we finally reach it, will be dark and cynical, in stark contrast to the Ode to Joy ending coming much later.

Here's how Charles Rosen described the climax, in contrast to Susan McClary:

To continue the sexual imagery, I cannot think that the rapist incapable of attaining release is an adequate analogue, but I hear the passage as if Beethoven had found a way of making an orgasm last for sixteen bars. What causes the passage to be so shocking, indeed, is the power of sustaining over such a long phrase what we expect as a brief explosion. To McClary's credit, it should be said that some kind of metaphorical description is called for, and even necessary, but I should like to suggest that none will be satisfactory or definitive.[21]

We're ready to dive into the music now.  I found a great film clip of Von Karajan conducting the Ninth.  I was leary of using any Karajan recordings for this because the DG recordings of Beethoven seem to disappear from Youtube almost as quickly as people put them up.  The film that this is taken from, however, seems to be immune to that and has been there for a while.  And, in my opinion, it's superior to the famous Deutsche Gramphon recording of Von Karajan's Ninth Symphony.  (If you want to buy one recording of the Ninth, the DG Von Karajan Ninth is the one I would recommend.)

Beethoven Symphony #9 in D minor, Opus 125, Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso, performed by Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic

Introduction (0:00 to 0:26)
Tremolo strings.  AE... EA... AE...  We don't know what key we are in, whether we're in major or minor, it sounds like the orchestra is still tuning... but there is a hushed sense of tension.  At 0:18, woodwinds join in, still just E and A.  The violins play E and A faster, the volume rises...  and... Crescendo!

Exposition first theme (0:26 to 2:00)

The orchestra comes down like a hammer, finally committing us to a key, and it's the dark violent territory of D minor.  The rumble of the drums (and the drums are very clear, TOO clear, unbalanced on this recording, but I like it that way) tell us that it's going to be a bumpy ride.

Please notice the very cool thing at the end of the first theme, at 0:59.  The theme sort of skitters away very quickly, almost too fast to be played right.  Almost guilty.  

The music hushes, and the AE-EA-AE motif thing returns.  At 1:25, it builds up all over again, but this time, it leads us to the lighter, contrasting key of B-flat major.  This contrast between minor and major restatements of the main theme is going to recur throughout, especially in the development and the coda.  This ties in to the vagueness of those two notes, A and E, of the very beginning, which was free to go either major or minor.  

At 1:45, whilst in full D minor fury, the mood lightens, and we begin to segue to...

Exposition Second theme (2:02 to 3:00)

(We're now at 2b on our roadmap.)  Relief!  Those pounding drums drop out, the woodwinds step to the foreground and give us the lyrical second theme.  It's as gentle and hopeful as the first theme was angry and demanding.  

Also, pay attention and you may see how this beautiful woodwind theme is based on the Ode to Joy.  How is that possible?  Just change the rhythm -- Stop the music and whistle the second theme but make all the notes the same length.  Do you hear it now?

After a kind of fanfare at 2:49, we enter...

Exposition Codetta (3:00 to 4:24)

I'm going to label this the codetta (which would make this 2c on our roadmap)...  But I'm cheating a little.  The scope of this movement is so large, this might deserve to be better called Third Theme.  There are new musical ideas here.  So treat it either way, as you prefer.

The second theme ended with a kind of fanfare, a clear seam separating that part of the music from this part.

The woodwinds play very softly here, after the fanfare, but the music soon enters mysterious territory.  Over long, drawn out pulled notes in the strings, the rhythmic figure of the fanfare continues underneath it in the drums.  This long-note theme  alternates back and forth between major and minor several times.  It builds up to a mini-climax at 3:40.  And oh, I'm glad we have decent audio with this to hear all the detail, because this is just incredibly fast and busy.

At 3:50, the dense business (counterpoint) gives way.  The woodwinds make something like a final statement on the subject, three times, punctuated by a little bit of the A-E motif each time.

At 4:09, we begin the last cadence that puts the wraps on the exposition and makes it complete.

Development (4:24 to 8:10)

With the last little dum-dedah cadence, we fall through a hole...  And we are now at (4.) on our all-purpose Sonata-allegro roadmap.

In my diary on Sonata-allegro form, I described it as Boy Meets Girl, Boy Loses Girl, Boy Gets Girl Back.  Well, the Development is Boy Loses Girl.  It's trouble.  The musical ideas that were PRESENTED to us for the first time in the exposition are now ready to act out their parts in a tense drama.

And as expositions go, this is the most complicated development of any Beethoven symphony.  It's fucking gorgeous.

4:24, it begins.  The tremolo string are back, AE-EA-EA motif is back.  It's like we are back at the very beginning of the symphony, in a situation both tranquil and tense.  Expectant.  At 4:58, we suddenly take a detour to a new key (G minor), and we know it's not going to be that simple.  

At 5:16, the main first theme reasserts itself for a few econds.  but just for a moment.  It trails off, and is replaced, at 5:27, by a sad and passionate variation on the strings of the AE motif.  But that, too, is interrupted (5:41) by the reassertion for a few seconds of the main theme.  

It's like these two attempts to find stable ground have failed, beaten down by the main theme.  [poetic license]

... Fugue time!  6:02.  Now a very powerful fugue begins, a collision of many simultaneous voices.  Beethoven, in this, his late period, was putting fugues into a lot of his work, and three of the movements of this symphony include fugues.  

The main theme of this fugue is the main theme, in both its major and minor form.

At 6:34, the fugue begins to work its way into worrisome territory, begins to feel unstable, like something is wrong.  The drums enter strongly here, reinforcing that.  At this point, you can also notice, the violins playing strong A-E downward motifs (but not the real notes A and E, mind you) over a nervous tremolo in the strings.  The rhythm seems troubled, as well, with both 3/4 and 4/4 times colliding.

At 6:56, the fugue just fades away and the woodwinds reemerge with simpler statements.  The scene is still a very tense one, with that choppy da-da-da-DAH rhythm in the accompaniment.  The woodwinds take turns playing four note da-da-da-DAHs (based on a sliver of the main theme if you notice).  Beethoven and da-da-da-DAH, you know.  Pops up everywhere.  

At 7:29, the woodwinds play a sadder variation on the material from the second theme, one that alternates from minor to major.  

We are quickly reaching the crisis point of the movement.  As this variation climbs higher, reaches its zenith, suddenly we are TUMBLING, 7:58 -- and that's just how I feel listening to it -- like I've been thrown down some stairs.  And we are ready for the climactic recapitulation that I warned you about.

Recapitulation.  First theme again (8:10 to end of clip)

We are at 6a on our roadmap.  It's AEEAAE theme again, but it is huge now, and TRANSFORMED.  Perhaps a better word is transfigured.  Instead of the hushed tremolo, there is a steady barrage of drumrolls and brass.  And most important of all, we are not in some vague E and A thing anymore.  We are in a clear key, A major.  And everything you thought you knew about major key being happy and minor key being sad is turned upside down here, because the sense here is not one of happiness at all.  Completed this way, with the drums and brass, it is harsh and glaring and terrifying.  This is a trainwreck.  

The AE-EA notes continue, as in the beginning, but they are almost drowned out now by the blaring of the full orchestra.  And it just stays there..  Where is it going?

At 8:32, it finally breaks, and it crashes down in D minor, and now it is clearly, clearly tragic.  The brass and drums, though, STILL do not let up.  The strings are trying hard to play the first theme, but they are still being drowned out by the siren-like blaring of the brass and drums.  They can't do their job.  (Or as Susan McClary might say, they can't come.)  

At 8:58, the first theme having attempted to make its comeback (and we should feel free to talk about it as if it's a character), it begins to trail off in disastrous failure.  (I could probably draw a direct line between this moment, at 8:58, and the similar moment in Tchaikovsky's Pathetique first movement.)

As the first theme drags itself away, the second theme is ready to reemerge.  And for that we need to continue with the second of the two clips.

Beethoven Symphony #9 in D minor, Opus 125, first movement part 2 of 2.

Recapitulation, Second theme again (0:00 to 1:03)

(We are at 6b in our roadmap.)

The second theme is back, but it has picked up some baggage along the way and become darker.  Sweet, lyrical, and happy at first, improperly so after what we have just witnessed, it suddenly spins to show us its darker side at 0:36.

Recapitulation Codetta material  again (1:03 to 2:22)

(We're sorta off our map now, but close to 7, the coda).

The codetta theme is repeated again.  As before, it alternates between major and minor -- one of the recurring thematic ideas of this movement.  However, before, it ended in a glorious major key fanfare of dense counterpoint.  That same fanfare is translated to minor now, and it's done in a squishy non-committal way, offering us glimpses of major key, like glimpses of hope -- but dashing it before our eyes.  This is cruelty represented in musical form.  

Coda (2:22 to end)

Now, in the final stretch, Beethoven leads us deeper into the abyss.  Beethoven's codas are elaborate and sometimes more complicated than the rest of the movement.

The violins spin a melody now out of the fragments of the first main theme.  This is very interesting here, how he makes it sound so wounded through the weird angular movements it takes.  It grows more and more agitated, the harmony more dissonant.

At 3:23, one more fanfare, copied from the second theme section, in a minor key... but we get a glimpse of minor key light.  It stands out as downright peculiar in its isolation.

At 3:44, the music is calm, rational sounding, but depressed.  Tired from the long battle.  The woodwinds play a variation of the first theme, alternating between major and minor.  (Very Mahlerish how they are allowed to stand out so.)

At 4:35, after having been whipped into a frenzy again, the music settles, and there is a sound of finality to it, the way it slows, softens, telling us that we're approaching the end.

At 4:47, a squirmy chromatic bassline begins, ominous.  Atop this the winds announce their goodbyes.  More and more instruments join, the music climbs in volume, all on top of that ominous bass line.

At 5:18, the strings enter in full force with a sound like horrible shrieks.  And then we are done.

THE END. (Of the first movement).

As I said, this is cruelty represented in music.

And if you've never heard the whole Ninth Symphony before, just the Ode to Joy, if this is your first time with the first movement, then you might be shocked or disappointed to find out this is how it begins, perhaps expecting something more uplifting or positive.  

But remember what Beethoven says at the beginning of the Ode: "O Friends!  Not these tones!  Rather, let us raise our voices in sounds of joy!"  This is how the symphony begins.  In violence and despair.


I've been mumbling in other quarters for a while about possibly running up to OccupyLA and making a music video of Occupyer's lip-synching the Ode to Joy.  I'd still like to do that, although I'm hampered by a few things, including 1) I don't know for sure if there's enough OccupyLA left to do that, 2) my schedule is very dicey at the moment because of a sick family member and 3) I've only got a shitty camera.  My game plan was to take as much footage of as many people's faces as I could, individually or in small groups, and put it all together using about two seconds per close-up.  If anybody wants to offer any advice or better gear for arranging something like this to be done, let me know.  If we do this, I'd like it to be all outdoors shots on location, as many people as possible.  Anybody determined to actually sing or play an instrument, I can try to work them in somehow.  I would especially like people who has "dumb" talents, like juggling or making faces with their belly button or whirling a lasso or blowing square bubbles. And any mothers with children.  That kind of thing.  The Ode to Joy diary will probably be posted on December 29, the way things look now.

December 15: Beethoven Ninth second movement
December 22: Beethoven Ninth third movement
December 29: Beethoven Ninth finale.

Originally posted to Dumbo on Fri Dec 09, 2011 at 12:21 AM PST.

Also republished by DKOMA and An Ear for Music.

Your Email has been sent.