BEETHOVEN’S NINTH SYMPHONY The Anthem of Humanity A TRIBUTE TO THE GOOD IN MANKIND Michael S. Karlen, April 2022
“We should all become brothers and sisters. This is the message of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony,” “For 250 years, we have tried to find the secret behind the untouchable music of this divine architect and to comprehend the enormity of his timeless philosophical, spiritual, and human message.”
Leonard Bernstein, Composer and Conductor
A GLOBAL ODE TO JOY
When Beethoven incorporated Friedrich Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” poem into his Ninth Symphony, it was a radical call for equality, freedom, and brotherhood.
With its expansive length, mold-busting design, and the inclusion of solo singers and chorus, he was proposing nothing less than a philosophy for humanity.
Beethoven, the composer-philosopher, was a man who suffered more than we can imagine and yet he retained optimism and a sense of hope that we can admire and even envy. He believed wholeheartedly in the goodness of humanity, the power of love, joy, unity, tolerance and peace to overcome and en-dure.
I am convinced that we inherently know and feel these aspirations when we hear Beethoven’s Ninth and are drawn to it both musically and morally.
Beethoven’s Ninth has become synonymous with many important political and social events over the course of the last century. In 1985, European Union leaders chose it as the official anthem of the E.U.
Outside Europe, the "Ode" has been tapped as a protest anthem from demonstrators in Chile, who sang a version of the famous tune during protests against the Pinochet dictatorship, to the more recent Oc-cupy Wall Street–driven gatherings in Madrid.
During the 1989 Christmas holiday, Leonard Bernstein, conducted a version of Beethoven’s Ninth at the Brandenburg Gate to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall where he changed Schiller’s word "freude" (joy) to "freiheit" (freedom).
It is exactly this universality that makes the "Ode to Joy" so special in expressing our desire for happi-ness and brotherhood.
This message, filled with optimism and a fundamental faith in what is best in humanity, could not be more relevant today, when we see far too much disorder, misunderstanding and extremism.
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In this time of world agony, of hopelessness and helplessness, we love his music and we need it.
As despairing as we may be, we can not listen to this 9th symphony without emerging from it changed, enriched, encouraged. Leonard Bernstein, Composer and Conductor
If somebody comes from another planet and says “What is human civilization?” What you have to say? It is better to play the Ninth Symphony. It is the evidence of human civilization, it is like the parthenon. A non-monumental monument.
Teodor Currentzis, Greek-Russian conductor, musician and actor