Monday, May 07, 2012

Ode to Joy

Late Beethoven

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony premiered in Vienna on this day in 1824. Totally deaf at this point, the composer was on stage only as secondary conductor, though also as primary inspiration.
Less than three years later he would be dead (March, 1827) so it is not surprising that Maynard Solomon would comment:
"Not all endings take their composers unawares."
Of course Solomon was commenting on the ending of the Symphony, but it turns out that the demands of potential projects and Beethoven's realization of the immanence of his own ending, the onset of his final illness would occur in late 1826, limited plans Beethoven considered when contemplating revisions to the finale of the Ninth Symphony.

According to his amanuensis, Anton Schindler, the moment of realization of the concept of the final movement occurred for Beethoven around November, 1823:  "one day [Beethoven] entered the room exclaiming 'I've got it!  I've got it!' and showed me the sketchbook with the words, 'Let us sing the song of the immortal Schiller--Freude,' whereupon a solo voice immediately begins the hymn to joy."

Friedrich Schiller’s poem “To Joy” had been immensely popular since its publication in 1786. Inspired by its triumphant Enlightenment message of moral beauty and brotherhood, dozens of composers before Beethoven had set it to music; not so many tried after him. Below, a few of the famous lines:
  Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!
Brothers, beyond the star-canopy
Must a loving Father dwell.
Do you bow down, you millions?
Do you sense the Creator, world?
Seek Him beyond the star-canopy!
Beyond the stars must He dwell….

(Photo on the right is The Vienna Philharmonic under the baton of Wilhelm Furtwangler)

Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination
Late Beethoven: Music, Thought, Imagination 

"Yes, I am resolved to wander so long away from you until I can fly to your arms and say that I am really at home with you, and can send my soul enwrapped in you into the land of spirits ..."       ― Ludwig van Beethoven, Letters of Beethoven

Solomon's study of late Beethoven complements his earlier biography of the composer. Focusing on the spiritual as well as musical development of Beethoven he considers diverse aspects of the composer's belief system and composing methods. Beginning with a chapter on the "Diabelli" Variations the book traverses compositions from the late quartets and piano sonatas to the Violin Sonata in G and the great Ninth Symphony. Along the way there are discussions of the aesthetic dimension of his work and thought, the impact of Masonic thought, and the Illuminati. This interesting analysis, consisting of two chapters, leads Solomon to the following concluding remarks on Beethoven's spiritual perspective:
"It is a fusion of unification of the world's diverse imagery of divinity that fired Beethoven's imagination and creative intellect.  Beethoven was not an atheist, as Haydn reportedly once called him in a fit of anger.  Nor was he an adherent of any established religion or church.  Rather, in the course of a stormy intellectual journey that reached a double bar with the quotation from Sturm in 1818, he revealed his close kinship to those Deists, freethinkers, and Freemasons who managed to locate in every polytheistic pantheon one supreme, omnipotent, ultimately unnamable deity." (p 178)
Both the "Missa Solemnis" and Ninth Symphony are given a thorough treatment. This is a joyous, informative, and thoughtful traversal of the last years of the genius of Beethoven.

Late Beethoven by Maynard Solomon. U of California Press, 2003.

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