Bopping with Niall JP O'Leary

Niall O'Leary insists on sharing his hare-brained notions and hysterical emotions. Personal obsessions with cinema, literature, food and alcohol feature regularly.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Ode to Joy

BBC4 broadcast a performance of Beethoven's Ninth at the Proms tonight, one of my all time favourite pieces of music. Tonight they had subtitles for the choral movement. I am ashamed to say I had never read Schiller's Ode to Joy (the lyrics) before. What fantastic poetry! Woodstock for the 19th Century (though the ode was composed in the 18th)! Really beautiful, beautiful stuff. What struck me was the very modern view of God adopted. Not my strongest topic, but with its 'His suns' hurtling through space, and the egalitarian tone of the whole piece, it could be Olaf Stapledon's 'Starmaker' for all it matters. The combination of science and theology was surprising, yet still expansive. Of course the hope of the whole thing is more appropriate to Woodstock than the early 21st Century, but combined with Beethoven's glorious music, you just have to go along with it. Aye, there wasn't a dry eye in the house (well, my apartment anyhow)!
The performance, by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and the City of Birmingham Symphony Chorus, was pretty fine too. I particularly liked how conductor Ilan Volkov brought some discipline to the occasionally lolling third movement (bizarre, but it reminded me just a little of Mahler at times). Not to say there's any sloppiness on Beethoven's part. The Ninth is still a summation of so much that went before Beethoven and a prefiguring of much that was to follow. And isn't it great how Beethoven does a little recap of the previous movements before bursting into that choral finale, movements that have hidden in each the germs of the final big theme!
A lot of people have criticised that last tune, and it is used everywhere now, but one of the commentators at the break, a composer no less, called it 'rubbish' while explaining how the symphony called for people to get together. Hmmmm! If it is 'rubbish', so be it, I still love it, but the truth is he's on the wrong track if he's calling for unity! You're messing with something really heartfelt to many, many listeners. And Beethoven knew what he was doing. He prefaces the choral movement with words to the effect that we've had enough unhappy sounds, let's have some joyful music now, and that's what it is; music everyone can enjoy. What's more if Beethoven didn't have faith in the power of that last melody, why use it as the base for all that has gone before. It's far from rubbish. It's something from above the canopy of stars, something from beyond....
Enough! I'll just creep tearfully away from this circle.

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