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Freude! To Joy!

posted Mar 5, 2011, 2:03 PM by Unknown user   [ updated Mar 6, 2011, 6:49 AM ]
Although Ludwig van Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 may be his last symphony, it is the first example of a major composer using the human voice on the same level as orchestral instruments, thus making it a choral symphony.  (If you’re not familiar with the entire work, you’ll recognize the theme as the hymn Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.)

Setting Friedrich Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy as his text, he begins the fourth movement with a ferocious fanfare, interrupted by a singer’s plea:
Oh friends, not these tones!
Rather let’s strike up something more agreeable and joyful.

Soon the chorus is praising Joy! Joy! as the universal solution to life; under whose influence love will flourish and humanity unite.  And musically, it is universal; emerging through the centuries as history’s great and towering mantra to freedom, joy and brotherhood.  Every age and ideology has claimed it for its own; from Nazi nationalism to becoming the European Union’s anthem in 1985.  In 1989, Leonard Bernstein conducted it at the international celebration of the fall of Berlin Wall! 

Did you know this piece even influenced the size of your CDs?  When Philips started creating the new audio format, they originally planned it to either have a diameter of 11.5 cm (the same as the then popular compact cassette) or 10 cm, only big enough to hold exactly one hour of music.  But Sony’s president, Norio Ohga, insisted that it be able to contain a complete performance of the Ninth Symphony, so it was increased to 12 cm.  (Thank Beethoven the next time you’re listening to that free bonus track!)

Mammoth in its dimensions and its demands, I’m singing this “Symphony of Joy” next Sunday afternoon, March 13 in Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall with the National Chorale.  For more information, or to order tickets, call (212) 333-5333 or visit NationalChorale.org.