Rethinking the politics of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Posted on: June 29, 2018

“It is a rare piece of music—any kind of music—that can bolster good as well as evil intentions,” writes writer John Terauds in Tuesday’s (6/26) Toronto Star. “One classical work in particular has an uncanny, seductive power to become exactly what its fans want it to be,” Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. “Adolf Hitler adored the Ninth Symphony. Musicians waiting for their deaths in Nazi concentration camps were ordered to play it … More than four decades later, Leonard Bernstein conducted several performances to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall, substituting the word ‘freedom’ for ‘joy’ in Friedrich Schiller’s 1785 poem to which Beethoven’s movement was set. And Emmanuel Macron chose this music as the backdrop for his victory speech after winning the French presidential election last year. Western classical music usually thinks of itself as being apolitical. But the Ninth is political. Beethoven saw it as political when he wrote it in the early 1820s…. I think we should press pause on Beethoven’s Ninth…. Am I saying we should destroy an icon? Of course not. We should treat it as any other piece of fine art—and take time to appreciate how difficult it actually is to parse.”

Posted June 29, 2018