Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Beethoven's 9th

The Beethoven Symphony cycle at Lincoln Center concluded on Sunday afternoon, this time in Avery Fisher Hall. It ended, as you might expect, with the 9th Symphony. It is a monumental work, but somehow I wasn't prepared for how it overwhelmed me. There is something intrinsically dramatic about it all. The four soloists who come on the scene at the end of the second movement. The rows of chairs filled up by the great 9th Symphony chorus which numbers more than 100 people. The triangle player and cymbalist who lurk in the back of the stage. All this sort of reminds us of what it is that is about to come. And even the opening of the 4th movement itself prolongs the drama a bit, with the sounding of the three previous themes from the earlier movements and the rejection of these themes by both the conductor and the orchestra. We hear echoes of the Ode to Joy played first by the basses in the back, then picked up by the woodwinds, and finally played softly by the great violin section.

The orchestra now returns to what Wagner called the "Terror Fanfare" which launched the 4th movement and is heard again about 7 minutes into the movement. Abruptly, the first male singer stands and sings out the first strains of the Ode. The enormous chorus sitting almost directly in front us, stands in union, turns toward the audience with surprising synchronization and now sings the ode as well at nearly full volume, echoing the male vocalist. I can feel the shiver down my spine and even a few tears gathering at my eyes. It is all just so beautiful and magnificent. And it's all happening just a few blocks from where we live.


  1. Random thoughts on the 9th:
    First awareness on my part, the theme from the second movement which served as the music for the Huntly-Brinkley news show on NBC in the '60's.
    Figuring out that the theme from 4th movement was the melody of the song we all learned in Religious School.
    Seeing the Beatles sing the Ode in 'HELP'.
    Finally purchasing the Fritz Reiner recording of the Chicago Symphony playing the 9th on iTunes after wearing out both my vinyl and CD copies.