Since this is the final Artist of the Week column for the school year, I would like to thank all of you for reading. Though I tried to steer away from the iconic bands/artists/composers of a genre, for this last column I’ve picked a musical legend.
You’ve probably almost bashed in your head trying to answer that silly little question: “If you got stranded on an island for one year…” what song would you listen to? Finally the answer has come: Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9! Upon first listening to Beethoven’s immaculate conception of art, the movements chained to my subconscious, the complexity of chaos and ‘joie de vivre’ ravaged my soul bare and in the end, it has tainted my perception of listening to any other music.
Composed in 1824, the Ninth Symphony immortally reflects the pinnacle of all mankind’s achievements. The final completed symphony by Beethoven (yes, he was stone cold deaf at this point), it sets the highest standard of absolute artistic expression. The Ninth is commonly recognized for the “Ode To Joy;” however, joy does not come upon arrival. Joy is birthed from the realization of madness, the battle with madness, the heartbreak and then the rebirth (a.k.a the joy). The swelling and the churning of the first movement, so heavy, so punctuated, it boils down to ferocity. The second movement the scherzo continues with the ferocity but a battle with the beauty of hope. Whoever wins or loses is up to you. The lyrical third movement lushes out a fluidity of virginal compassion, hope and serenity. Such a stark difference from the first and second movements, its proud uplifting conclusion forces your hand to reach up to the sun with glee.
And here…is where the finale roars in. Beethoven wrangles you by the collar and throws you over his head, down into the abyss. The Fourth Movement can be broken down to even four “sub-movements.” The first “movement” is within the abyss, a time of reflection of everything past, present and future. Beethoven achieves this by recapitulating certain melodic themes throughout the movement. He then focuses on the future of the rebirth through the main “Ode to Joy” theme. The bass and cellos beautifully weave this in, as the clarinets and violins fade in and out. The whole orchestra comes together as if ready for the climax, but once again Beethoven swats you down. The horror chord comes again like fire and brimstone. The clear voice of judgment bellows as the baritone belts out the first stanza of Schiller’s “Ode To Joy” poem. Revelation follows through as the rest of the voices chime in and the unity of the chorus picks everything to bliss. The second “movement,” a sub-scherzo, features an alto solo over a Turkish-style march and gets swept by the orchestra. They crescendo higher and higher. Exhausted from such leaps, a lone trumpet makes the call for absolution. Rest. Then all is one with the tumultuous harmony of “Ode to Joy.” The third “movement” forces the listener to reflect on the intense process of divulging the soul that just occurred with slow, somber choruses. In the fourth “movement,” Beethoven picks everything up triumphantly, showcasing an unparalleled display of dynamics between the chorus and the orchestra. The end…well just think of the ending to Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”: you are cured all right.