Tuesday, 20 January 2009

234. Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony no. 9, "Choral" (1824)


Title: Symphony No. 9 "Choral"
Performers: Bayreuth Festival,
Director: Wilhelm Furtwangler
Year: 1951
Length: 1 hour 14 minutes


So we reach the apotheosis of Western music with the last symphony of Beethoven. There was never such a renowned, revolutionary, astonishing and simply original work before or after this. Freebird eat your heart out.

The influence is such that even the CD format is as it is because of this piece. In fact, curiously because of this particular recording. The standard for the physical size of a CD was one which could fit the longest recording of the Ninth, this one. 74 minutes. Bet you didn't know that.

Furtwangler gives us a messy performance of the Ninth, it is all over the place, but it also manages to convey an incredible sense of power in the sound, even in its grainy 1951 live recording technology. What is lost in perfection is more than made up for in sheer feeling. And nothing could be more appropriate than the great explosion of Romantic aesthetics composed by an old deaf man, this recording excites the feeling rather than the perfectionist, and that is what you want from Romantic music. This isn't Bach, this is power itself. And what an astonishing piece of music it is.

From the beginning where it seems the performers are tuning their instruments to the last movement where the Ode to Joy shifts constantly like some kaleidoscope this is unprecedented music. The central work in the canon, and for excellent reasons.

Final Grade



From Wikipedia:

There are a number of anecdotes about the premiere of the Ninth. Based on the testimony of the participants, there are suggestions that it was under-rehearsed (there were only two full rehearsals) and rather scrappy in execution. On the other hand, the premiere was a big success. In any case, Beethoven was not to blame, as violist Josef Bohm recalled, "Beethoven directed the piece himself; that is, he stood before the lectern and gesticulated furiously. At times he raised, at other times he shrunk to the ground, he moved as if he wanted to play all the instruments himself and sing for the whole chorus. All the musicians minded his rhythm alone while playing".

When the audience applauded - testimonies differ over whether at the end of the scherzo or the whole symphony - Beethoven was several measures off and still conducting. Because of that, the contralto Caroline Unger walked over and turned Beethoven 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." The whole audience acclaimed him through standing ovations five times; there were handkerchiefs in the air, hats, raised hands, so that Beethoven, who could not hear the applause, could at least see the ovation gestures. The theatre house had never seen such enthusiasm in applause.

At that time, it was customary that the Imperial couple be greeted with three ovations when they entered the hall. The fact that five ovations were received by a private person who was not even employed by the state, and moreover, was a musician (a class of people who had been perceived as lackeys at court), was in itself considered almost indecent. Police agents present at the concert had to break off this spontaneous explosion of ovations. Beethoven left the concert deeply moved.

Karajan conducts the whole thing:

Part 1

Part 2

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