This piece changed the face of contemporary classical music and allowed other composers much more freedom in composing, since the era of "classical" music had been questioned and all of its preconceived notions had been shattered by Beethoven's 9th Symphony.
Beethoven's 9th is the work of a composer committed to undying self-expression (Swafford, 2003). He turned the classical music world upside down, which was frowned upon at the time, but now seen as a major catalyst for musical evolution in its time. Both Hitler and Mussolini were admirers of Beethoven and Beethoven's 9th Symphony (Buch, 2003). Ironically, The piece initially represented the musical freedom and unbridled expression that Beethoven was known for, but sadly, both Hitler and Mussolini used this piece in their propaganda films, and are now closely associated with much of Beethoven's work. This association has continued through the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st, but like the 9th Symphony itself revealed, this association is closely tied to a different human experience that is slowly being phased out as those who lived through the WWII era die out.
Buch, Esteban. Beethoven's Ninth, A Political History. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2003.
Swafford, Jan. "The Beethoven Mystery:Why haven't we figured out his Ninth Symphony yet?" Slate July, 2003.
Thomas, Jeffrey. "Revisiting the Ninth." American Bach Soloists. 2007.
Personal Response to Beethoven's 9th Symphony
While listening to Beethoven's 9th, I can understand how the musical world was set on its ear by this piece. The piece that starts as a whisper, then gathers steam, highlighting some of Beethoven's musical trademarks of skittering, ebullient musical movement. The adagios are breathtaking and seem to help draw connections between the less dramatic parts of the piece. As the piece moves forward, the choir adds even more depth by proclaiming that humanity can be brought together under a singular word, a singular purpose- joy. The title "Ode to Joy' is quite fitting, because I can really feel, through Beethoven's use of climactic and anticlimactic structuring, that the tension created by the initial meandering is being lifted and melted away as the choir begins to sing. The true feeling of freedom and wonder that all humans are connected and share a common thread of the desire for joy can be felt and understood through Beethoven's use of tension itself as a musical tool.
It is gut wrenching to think that the fascist dictator Mussolini once used this piece as well as Hitler to try to draw conclusions between the power and strength of this piece and the power and strength of their political and military movements during the WWII era. The intense sense of irony that comes from this realization is enough to move a person. I can understand how many people who associate this piece with the atrocities of Hitler and his fascist counterpart can still feel the way they do. Beethoven's 9th was a call for all humanity to rejoice and become unified under the joys of expression and freedom. The Nazi's used this piece under the exact opposite auspices.
The crescendo of emotion and joy, mixed with the initial staccato and then resulting gale-force timpani and crash symbol expression serve to illustrate the grandeur of the idea that humanity is free to express themselves however they see fit. The piece invokes a certain sense of emotional freedom, and I can see how many people have had nearly spiritual experiences while playing this piece or listening to it. I believe that the use of a choir is one of the most important elements in helping to tie the scale of this piece together. Without it, the 9th would be just as beautiful, just as overpowering, but by using the choir, the piece is given new life. To hear human voices, so overcome with joy and emotion, peppering into this piece give it that human touch that really makes the audience connect on an individual level. Without a doubt, Beethoven's 9th is one of the most inspiring and moving pieces in existence. It is as if the piece is being constructed before the audience's very ears. Bit by bit, line by line. In this way, I can truly appreciate what Barenboim was referring to when he talked about the strength and power of music and the need for many unique elements to come…