Edo de Waart believes that Beethoven’s music continues to be relevant to every new generation of musicians and listeners because the composer speaks directly to the human condition – and always speaks from the heart.
Beethoven’s belief in the humanity of art became particularly pronounced in his late music. By the time he wrote his 9th symphony he was completely deaf and isolated from society. He compensated by making music intent on communication - reaching out to humanity through his music. And finally, this compulsion led him to the directness of words.
The words he uses in this Symphony are from a drinking song that he came across in his early twenties. Schiller's Ode to Joy predicts the brotherhood of all mankind.
After the tragedy, demonic satire, and sublimity of the first three movements of instrumental music a bass voice ushers in the chorus. Beethoven seems to suggest that by believing in the joy of togetherness, humankind can rise above the pain of life and living. It blazes with hope.
As he was deaf Beethoven couldn’t conduct the first performance. He did supervise rehearsals though and angrily refused requests from singers to make the music easier. Knowing he couldn’t hear they simply omitted the top notes…
In Beethoven’s nine symphonies, he not only wrote works that were like the world – heroic, puckish, peaceful, inevitable, and full of awe; Beethoven also rewrote the world of the symphony. In his hands it became a form like that, like all great art, could reflect ourselves back to us.
In the mirror of Beethoven’s legacy, we could now recognise our flaws – and our greatest, most joyful triumphs.
Recorded 31 August 2019, Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington by RNZ Concert
Producer: David McCaw
Engineer: Darryl Stack