This past Friday our family enjoyed the music of Ludwig van Beethoven’s 8th and 9th Symphonies performed by the San Antonio Symphony orchestra. Our daughter had joined some former classmates who were attending so my wife and I took the occasion to attend as well. It was a fine evening of music and a time to enjoy the creativity of the musicians and the creativity of Beethoven the composer.
The orchestra started with the Symphony number 8 which was Beethoven’s shortest symphony. During this piece I listened to all the intricate musical details of the movements and began to marvel at Beethoven’s creative mind. This sense of marvel increased during the performing of his Symphony number 9 which was his last symphonic work and his most popular through the ages up to the present. It was the first symphonic work to make use of a human chorus. The chorus joins during the 4th movement. The lyrics that were used came from the Poem “Ode To Joy”, by Friedrich Schiller and selected excerpts by Beethoven:
Ode To Joy
O friends, no more these sounds! Let us sing more cheerful songs, More full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity, Daughter of Elysium, Fire-inspired we tread Thy sanctuary. Thy magic power re-unites All that custom has divided, All men become brothers, Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Whoever has created An abiding friendship, Or has won A true and loving wife, All who can call at least one soul theirs, Join our song of praise; But those who cannot must creep tearfully Away from our circle.
All creatures drink of joy At natures breast. Just and unjust Alike taste of her gift; She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine, A tried friend to the end. Even the worm can feel contentment, And the cherub stands before God!
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies Which He sent on their courses Through the splendor of the firmament; Thus, brothers, you should run your race, like a hero going to victory!
You millions, I embrace you. This kiss is for all the world! Brothers, above the starry canopy There must dwell a loving father.
The symphony was completed in 1824 but in his notebooks it is seen that he was working on the piece from 1811. It is also known that he had wanted to write a musical piece that incorporated Schiller’s poem since 1793 when we was 22. The poem celebrates friendships and relationships. There is Joy in strong abiding friendships that we can count on being there with us in our life journey.
Back to my marveling at the creativity of Beethoven, while looking down from the balcony of the Majestic Theater listening to his Symphony number 9. I marveled at the variety in the four movements and how all the lines of music for the different instruments came out of one mind. He had to be able to hear in his mind the differing instrumental voices and the whole of the piece so that it was not just senseless noise. That has always amazed me about composers of orchestra symphonies and choral music. How they can write out the individual parts and when it fits together there is a unified music message expressed.
Another marvel about the piece is, that it is known from history that Beethoven was losing his hearing at this time. Concerning this there is the anecdote that when he was directing the premier of this Symphony number 9 he was completely deaf. So deaf, that when the piece was over he was still directing and a singer had to turn him around to see the crowds cheering as he could not hear them. What is amazing to me about this is his spirit of resilience. He could have given up on this piece by saying, “I can’t hear anymore so my love of music is done! I have written enough music so the masses should be happy with that. Poor, poor me as I really did want to do this piece about Schiller’s poem but it is impossible now!”. Resilience does not give in to impossibilities. This is just conjecture but maybe since he had a desire since age 22 to do a musical number about Schiller’s poem that helped as a driving force of inspiration, when otherwise it would have been natural to just give up composing. Listening to the San Antonio Symphony perform the Symphony number 9 I am glad he did not give up but continued with his creativity.
Reflection: Click on the these words - Beethoven’s Symphony number 9 and listen to the short video except of the symphony. Then read over the poem lyrics that I have above that inspired his musical piece. Write down in your journal the thoughts and feelings that come to mind.