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Saturday, March 23, 2013

Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall

I recently heard, on Performance Today, the fourth movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, performed near the Berlin Wall, on Christmas Day, 1989, by musicians from East and West Germany, as well as from the US, Russia, and elsewhere in Europe, under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. The Wall had not yet been destroyed, but, for the first time in decades, East and West Germans were allowed to cross between the divided halves of the city, beginning in November, 1989. This performance may be seen on YouTube: part one; part two. The text Beethoven used was from a poem by Schiller. Schiller used "Freude," (Joy), but Bernstein had "Freiheit," (Freedom) substituted for it. "Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee," found in many hymnals, is adapted from the Fourth Movement. See here and here for reports of the concert.

Beethoven was almost totally deaf when he wrote this symphony. According to accounts, he thought he was conducting the orchestra and chorus, but the musicians were instructed not to give him their full attention. The alto soloist turned him around to the audience when the first performance was over, so that Beethoven could see the crowd's reaction. The relaxation of the iron grip of communism in what was the Eastern Bloc was apparently precipitated by Christians in Hungary and elsewhere. It is possible that Mikhail Gorbachev, who was the leader of the Soviet Union, which controlled the Eastern Bloc, at the time of these events, was himself a Christian.

Thanks for reading. Listen, and watch. 

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