Sunday, January 15, 2006

Beethoven's 9th

For the umpteenth year in a row, Beethoven's 9th symphony has been voted their favorite piece of music by listeners to WQXR. The 7th, 5th, and 6th are high on the list, too, along with the 5th piano concerto. I'm pleased -- but annoyed that Dvorak's New World Symphony has come in second. Above Beethoven's 5th, 6th, 7th, and 3rd.

Recently I asked a very well-educated gentleman, was he familiar with Beethoven? He has advanced degrees in practical subjects. He seemed embarrassed. Yes, he has some classical CDs....

Why should people be familiar with the 9th? For the pleasure that listening to it provides. People have long recognized its specialness. (Furtwangler played it for Hitler on Hitler's birthday.) While you live on this planet, you should experience as much harmless pleasure as possible.

If I were rich, I would buy recordings of the 9th--or maybe the 7th--and send them to all my friends.

But it has recently occurred to me that I've been lucky. In college, as a lark, I took a course in the symphony. Our teacher analyzed the 9th--and I learned that Beethoven, in the final movement, brings back the themes from the first three movements, only to reject them -- the last one, reluctantly -- before introducing a new, powerful theme. (Leonard Bernstein disparaged it as a beer-hall melody.) And then there's the Turkish music introduced into the final movement. And, of course, the claim that Beethoven had to turn to vocal music to communicate better. How many people hear the 9th and recognize these things?

To me, it's a question of how well educated people in general are.

I emailed some friends -- 15 or 20 -- and received responses from three, that, indeed, they are familiar with the piece of music that cultured people consider the single best piece of music ever written.

Whenever I get an opportunity to buy the 7th or 9th cheaply, I shall--and shall distribute it to all my friends who didn't respond.

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