What were you doing on December 16, 1770? If you’re that old, you might recall a guy named Ludwig van Beethoven was born that day in Bonn, Germany. A little later on in 1824, the younger folks (!) certainly remember one of Mr. B’s works was performed for the first time in Vienna. He called it “Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125” (a.k.a. the “Choral Symphony”). Being a 20th century boy though, I only heard of Beethoven around 1967 from this dude:
So back to the 9th…ominous stuff, that beginning movement, Allegro ma non troppo. Dark ’n’ stormy, to borrow the name of one of my favorite cocktails. The second movement, Molto vivace, is all vigorous, unstoppable rhythm and ghostly string echoes that make the music sound like it’s bouncing back and forth off massive mountains, in and out of vast valleys. Not even the liveliest of Mozart can rival it. Movement number three, Adagio molto e cantabile, the slow one, is indeed slow, but you can’t have the whole symphony without it. And it’s got an appropriately Beethoven-ish loud, pompous fanfare in the middle.
Finally, the famous last movement. Three minutes in, the familiar melody, nicknamed “Ode to Joy” after Friedrich Schiller’s poem, which makes up most of the “choral” text, creeps along as played by low, mysterious cellos and basses. The opera-esque choral portion is the centerpiece, followed by some real German beer-stein-swinging, and then, twenty-five minutes after the opening notes, the end. WOW. The ultimate piece of music. A symphony within a symphony, it’s been called.
The colossal work was most recently performed by an equally colossal ensemble of some 300 musicians and vocalists called Distinguished Concerts International, at Carnegie Hall on December 3, 2018. Under the baton of Jonathan Griffith, the DCI orchestra and singers filled the venerable concert hall with so much intensity and jubilance that the hour-plus-long symphony seemed to pass by in a matter of minutes. And…to think Beethoven was deaf when he composed the whole thing. Amazing!
Happy 248th, Mr. B!
Images courtesy thefactsite.com, papalouiefanon.wikia.com, facebook.com/DistinguishedConcertsInternationalNewYork/photos, threadless.com