Russian bass Mikhail Petrenko has toured with the Mariinsky Opera Company, performed at Covent Garden, Teatro alla Scala, Canadian Opera, Teatro Real Madrid, Théâtre du Châtelet, Deutsche Staatsoper [...]
They spoke about it
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9, recorded on this album, was performed on September 7, 9 and 10, 2011, for the inaugural concerts of the OSM’s new home, the Maison symphonique de Montréal.
Human Misery – Human Love
A word from Kent Nagano
Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is a singular work with a unique place in the history of European culture and music. The idea that emerges is permeated by the desire and effort to view the world and life as it were holistically, and subordinate one’s conception of the work accordingly. Of critical importance here is the social and ethical aspect, which determines the composition and establishes its overall framework and structure. This claim is documented in Beethoven’s own profession of faith: “The moral law within us and the starry heavens above us. Kant!”
The immediate effect on Beethoven’s world view, however, in the case of the Ninth Symphony, is that he based its
final movement on the text of an ode by Friedrich Schiller titled “ An die Freude” – “To Joy.” In so doing, Beethoven did nothing less than quash the autonomous status of music as art. Music’s intrinsic value, with its exclusive dependence on self-governing musical conditions, is rescinded. Instead, music and musical expression
are subordinated to the idea of humanitas. At the same time, the musical work’s quasi-religious quality and function are constituted. And this in turn establishes a cultural practice with a new meaning.
With this move, that is to say, Beethoven achieved a new status for music and its relation to the audience and the public. The idea, as the program, is what opens up not only the listener’s approach to music, but also the music’s approach to the listener. And what that means is that the way it is performed is the mediator of the idea’s content.
The expansion of the symphony to a symphony-cantata, as here in the Ninth Symphony, accordingly means not just a marginal expansion of the esthetic space, but also implies a more essential change in the place music occupies in regard to society. As an undisguised profession of faith, communicating a “music of ideas,” Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony marks the rise of music to the rank of a universal, socially recognized cultural asset.
The central “idea” of the Ninth Symphony is people’s right to growth, freedom and brotherhood, a social community among humankind. Interestingly, however, Beethoven, to shape the musical and dramatic climax of the Finale, chose the strophe from Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” in which the millionfold army of humankind questions the Creation and in so doing is drawn upward to behold the starry heavens and the ruling presence of God the Father behind them. “Do you sense your Creator, World?” Here in Beethoven’s music, a metaphysical reality opens up, and at the same time qualifies the claims of an exclusively secular reality.
No other musical work has exerted such far-reaching influence as Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony has upon the subsequent development of symphonic music and the cultural practices of middle-class society. No work has had to stand its ground as this composition has done in the clash of opinions and judgments. Nevertheless it has shown an unbroken topicality which continues to this day. The reason surely is that Beethoven gave such emphatic expression in this work to the conception of humanity and the notion of a progressive development of humankind toward a free and authentically better society – an expression all people, alle Menschen, can understand, and which remains unmatched in its intensity.
So too, in the Ninth Symphony, what Beethoven’s biographer Paul Bekker called “an ideal image of the space and
the audience” is part of the composition. The work’s very first performances evoked notions of a celebration, and to
this day performances of the Ninth are always accompanied by a special festive atmosphere with the aura of an exceptional event. Indeed, as a result of this development, the work’s subordination to an idea has contributed directly to its becoming a tool of ideology, which in turn has not infrequently triggered the worst sort of functionalization and instrumentalization. From a larger historical viewpoint, perhaps we may see this as its “fate.” And yet music has often managed successfully to resist this sort of exploitation and abuse. And that is due precisely to its singular musical quality.
When Beethoven builds his music upon the words of the great poet and dramatist Friedrich Schiller, it is because he
wants to make his composition’s message concrete and clear. This presentation of the “Ninth” draws upon Beethoven’s compositional approach and its enlistment of the power of words. The opening words that address the spirit of Beethoven’s music on this recording are words from the present – words by Yann Martel, who takes a deep look into the history of humankind and the crucial problems of people’s relationship to the world in which they live. Martel’s poetic words have been conceived to reflect the music of Beethoven, its inherent drama of human growth, as well as Beethoven’s real musical language in terms of our present-day understanding of the problems of our experiences. This message is special, is not of musical kind, but concerns the idea of humanity and social liberation.
Where have you gone, my revolutionary friend?
We started timidly, whispering to each other in the dark and making greater noise only when we were scared. We listened to the world around us and we felt like orphans. We prayed for daylight.
Then we saw that we had our place. A modest one by the river, cutting down only so many trees. We mastered fire. We hunted and we gathered, keeping to our territory. Sometimes we fought. At night, we whistled.
Then we saw that we were not merely creatures but creators. We improved on the music of Nature. We danced and we sang and we laughed, fearless and immortal. We thrust ourselves into the night, arms over each other’s shoulders.
Then we saw that we had lost our way. We received an invitation from the night and we shone, but did we go blind, did we go deaf? Where have you gone, my revolutionary friend? I haven’t seen you in so long. Come by for a drink. Forget those grudges. Let’s start over and rebuild things. I’ll venture this: we can’t separate the ideals of art and of politics. But first let me hear from you. Speak.
© Yann Martel
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125
In its grandeur, elemental power, cosmic scope and affirmation of the universal human spirit, Beethoven’s Ninth (the Ninth) embraces a world of emotional expression ranging from deep pathos to exultant joy, from demonic fury to seraphic tranquility, from motoric energy to beatific stasis. The span of this seventy-minute work seems to depict a vast structure forming “before our ears”… its opening moments as coming “out of the void,” in the words of the Cleveland Orchestra’s former program annotator Klaus G. Roy. “To most listeners, the same sense of awe, wonder and mystery that accompanies contemplation of the starry night applies to the Ninth.” Beethoven went through the motions of conducting the first performance on May 7, 1824 in Vienna’s Kärntnerthor Theater, but as he was totally deaf, the real work was done
by Michael Umlauf.
Though laid out in sonata form (exposition – development – recapitulation – coda), the first movement is far too complex to
discuss in terms of the traditional first and second themes. The principle of continuous growth pervades instead, with much
of the musical material distinguished by its rhythmic rather than melodic interest. The movement ends in an apocalyptic vision. For the first and only time, Beethoven precedes the slow movement of a symphony with the Scherzo, a plan Bruckner was to follow seventy years later in his own Ninth, also in D minor. As music of relentless, driving power, the Scherzo is unsurpassed.
Two lyrical and well-contrasted themes of transcendent beauty govern the Adagio movement, one of the most sublime ever written. By the closing pages, the music has acquired a mood of quiet exaltation and profound peace.
After the finale’s long instrumental antecedent is finished, the movement unfolds in free variation form. Beginning with the
bass-baritone’s first stanza, the “Ode to Joy” moves through a series of highly varied treatments including for solo vocal quartet (followed by choral response), a Turkish march with tenor solo, and an elaborate orchestral fugue answered by a mighty choral affirmation of the “Ode to Joy.” Eventually we arrive at the famous cadenza for the soloists, where each soloist climbs to the top of his or her range. In a final burst of frenzied joy, The Ninth ends in the realm of Elysium, light years removed from the cares and toils of daily life.
© Robert Markow