Back to Editing, But Stuart Isacoff Sums Up
I must get back to editing, but wanted to post this excellent piece by Stuart Isacoff, from the WSJ a year ago. Many thanks. I'll post more about the film through the 27th. Freude! kerry candaele
By STUART ISACOFF
In 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven, 53, deaf, cantankerous and increasingly world weary, bared his soul in a work so stunning in originality, scale and emotional power that virtually every great composer who followed has lived under its shadow. Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, with its final movement for chorus, four vocal soloists and orchestra set to Friedrich Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy," left so great an impact on the classical music world that a superstition arose in its wake. "It seems that the ninth is a limit," stated Arnold Schoenberg, mulling over the fortunes of Schubert, Bruckner, Mahler and other symphonists who never managed to complete a 10th symphony. "He who wants to go beyond it must pass away."
Beethoven's last symphony seemed to sum up everything the composer had learned and lived. A critic of his day described the music as filled with "never-imagined magical secrets." The piece has everything: Universes seem to collide; intricate textures give way to wild rhythmic contractions -- the birth pangs of a new musical art. There are long, exquisite stretches of heavenly repose, passages of punctilious counterpoint, and moments of earthy humor. There is even a Turkish band thrown in for good measure. And in the end, Beethoven delivers Schiller's ardent plea for universal brotherhood.
The conception is as modern and relevant today as it was nearly 200 years ago. Little wonder this was the work Leonard Bernstein chose to perform in the former East Berlin Schauspielhaus on Christmas Day, 1989, to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, substituting the word "Freiheit" (freedom) for Schiller's "Freude" (joy). (The two words were as connected for Beethoven and Schiller as for Bernstein.) Earlier that same year, student protesters in Beijing's Tiananmen Square blared Beethoven's music over their loudspeakers as they stood up to armed Chinese troops.
The symphony's popularity has, if anything, grown over time. Last summer, I heard a performance at the Hollywood Bowl with Michael Tilson Thomas conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic and nearly 13,000 people were in attendance; the previous fall in Turin, Italy, I witnessed the La Scala chorus and orchestra performing it in an ice-hockey stadium that had been built for the Olympics. There, 10,000 men, women and children sat motionless at the conclusion of the performance, then stayed long into the night to cheer the orchestra members and singers.
And yet, this music is not especially easy to comprehend. Composer Hector Berlioz admitted that in some ways it remained unfathomable to him. Nevertheless, he asserted, if in composing it Beethoven broke some musical laws, as some contended, "So much the worse for the law!"
Listen to a clip from Beethoven's Ninth Symphony.
These were new forms, new visions of what music could do and say. The composer had begun early in his career to construct his compositions out of small musical cells, which grew organically, as if governed by a kind of musical DNA. Now, toward the end of his life, he shattered the model, allowing elements of his structures to break free and move in unorthodox ways, blurring distinctions between endings and beginnings, forming strange convergences and unconventional resolutions. The music unfolds as a psychological drama in which themes are declared, wrestle with each other and, in the final movement, strive to re-emerge -- only to become subsumed in the flame of heavenly bliss.
There are parallels here with Schiller's poem, and with the poet's philosophy of art. Schiller later called his "Ode to Joy" "entirely flawed." Nevertheless, Beethoven, who had some trepidation about adding singers to his symphonic work (a radical move), had begun trying to set the poem to music more than 32 years earlier. He was clearly attracted to its sentiments, which were fully outlined by Schiller in a work called "On the Aesthetic Education of Man" (1795): Art leads man, in stages, from primitive sensuality to ultimate perfection -- to a state of freedom and joy rooted in morality. The process involves a series of oppositions and syntheses -- an antagonism of forces that results first in disintegration, and then in the creation of a new, joyful wholeness. This could almost serve as an outline for Beethoven's method.
Naturally, the Ninth Symphony has its critics, and chief among them is a new breed of musicologist who sees the organizing principle of Western art music -- its reliance on the gravitational pull of tonal centers, and the artful control of musical tension and resolution -- as a direct reflection of the male libido and its primal urge toward domination. One of the leading figures of this school of thought, Susan McClary, found in the opening movement of Beethoven's masterpiece the "murderous rage of a rapist incapable of attaining release" (in her article "Getting Down Off the Beanstalk"; she subsequently toned down the language for a reprint in a published collection, but the sentiments remained the same). In the last century, thinkers like Max Weber and Theodore Adorno, who set out this sociological approach to musical analysis, quickly reached an intellectual dead end. But it thrives today on many college campuses, where scholarly rigor often takes a back seat to freakish conjecture -- especially when this serves the ideological goal of reducing great works to the mere tinkerings of "dead white men." (The irony, of course, is that cultures producing music free of those tonal principles -- the presumptive ideal -- generally turn out to be the most historically oppressive to women.) Beethoven will survive.
The genesis of the Ninth Symphony was a request made to the composer in 1822 by the London Philharmonic Society for a new work. Two years later, when word leaked out that Beethoven was considering premiering it in Berlin, a petition emerged in his hometown of Vienna, signed by some of the city's most distinguished musicians and patrons, pleading with him to reconsider because only Austria "may claim him as its own." Beethoven relented. But it's safe to say that from Berlin to Beijing, Turin to Los Angeles, when we hear this remarkable music today -- and perhaps dream a little, with Schiller, of a time when the spirit of joy "reunites all that custom has rudely divided" -- we can each claim him as our own.
pledged of $8,000 goal
seconds to go
Jan 31, 2011 - Feb 27, 2011
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For a $25 contribution you receive a copy of the DVD upon release.
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With your $50 contribution you receive a copy of the DVD upon release, and recognition in the film as a sponsor.
Pledge $100 or more
With you $100 contribution you receive a a copy of the DVD upon release, an invitation and 2 tickets to a screening nearest to your home town, and a copy of a CD "Nine On The Ninth" with nine songs inspired by the Ninth by various musicians. You will also be crediting as a sponsor in the film.
Pledge $500 or more
With your $500 contribution you will receive ten copies of the DVD for family and friends, four tickets to a screening closest to your home town and a cocktail party with the director, a CD "Nine On The Ninth" with 9 songs inspired by the Ninth Symphony by various musicians. You will also be noted as a Gold Sponsor credit at the end of the film.
Pledge $1,000 or more
With a $100 contribution you will receive ten copies of the DVD for family and friends, six tickets to a screening closest to your home town and a cocktail party with the director, a CD "Nine On The Ninth" with 9 songs inspired by the Ninth Symphony by various musicians. You will also be noted as a Platinum Sponsor credit at the end of the film.
Pledge $2,500 or more
With you $2,500 contribution, besides receiving everything at the $ 1,000 level, I will personally travel to anywhere in the United States (on frequent flyer miles accrued over the years of filming around the world) and give a private showing of the film to your house party. You might want to take up a collection for this one. And I'll stop and buy wine on the way in from the airport.