Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 – Ode to Freedom (Bernstein) – Beethoven Cult Album #5 – Eleonore Büning

Bernstein wasn’t the first to have
the idea of changing Schiller’s text from “joy” to “freedom”
because of contemporary political events. The founder of gymnastics, Jahn,
and several others had the idea before him. But that’s all beside the point. It was a historic date,
a happening to celebrate reunification. The idea came after
the wall came down on November 10. Then came these two huge concerts
in late December. Actually, the charming thing
about this document are the imperfections caused
by the historical situation. That makes this recording great. The Ninth was played
for the founding of the GDR. When the GDR had collapsed,
the Ninth was played. It was Stalin’s favourite piece. The Ninth was always
played for any festivity. There have been
whole dissertations written on it. The Japanese still use it for celebrating:
On New Year’s Eve they always sing “Freude, schöner Götterfunken”
at jam-packed football stadiums. A great musicologist colleague of mine, Reinhard Karrenbach, once wrote: “We don’t get the chance
to hear Beethoven’s symphonies” “as if they were played for the first time.
That chance is over. And that’s tragic.” I also feel it’s tragic. It happens with other pieces. Take for example “Yesterday”
by the Beatles: I heard that for the first time when I was
young and then not at all for decades. But if I hear it in a certain situation,
it brings back certain memories. Then it really is just like the first time. But regardless of whether you take
Beethoven’s famous sonatas – the “Moonlight” or “Waldstein” – or play his Third, Fifth, Seventh,
Sixth or Ninth Symphonies: Everybody’s heard it before,
even children in kindergarten, even babies in their mothers wombs
have heard some part of it at one point, because it’s present everywhere. And because it’s associated
with political ideology. Even when you ask people on the street
and they can’t name the piece, they do know that
it’s an important piece. Leonard Bernstein was a musician
who truly thought politically, a rare breed of musician today. The popularity he had as a classic star – he was essentially a pop star, too – he also used for political purposes. And when you hear this recording, then you should also think back with a bit
of sentimentality and say: “Oh, Lenny.”

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