About Beethoven's Ninth
and the necessity of Beethoven_off_set
One of my earliest encounters with the master composer from Bonn was a long-playing record, a gift from my mother. It had three of his warhorses: Moonlight Sonata, Pathetique and Appassionata, played by Daniel Barenboim, surrounded by an idyllic mountain landscape.
I must have been about 11 years old. A little later I started to snack on the fruits of the Pathetique and the Moonlight Sonata myself. Parallel to this I listened to rock music and had an LP from ELO with the hit: "Roll Over Beethoven". In my children's room hung a reproduction of Andy Warhol's Beethoven portrait, on which he was depicted with a blue face and hair flying up on blue-violet note quotes. Being able to sit down at the piano and play his sonatas with still imperfect fingers gave me great support during the difficult years of puberty. Later I discovered other composers. Brahms, Bartok, Wagner, Skrijabin... But in my most intensive hours I always came back to Beethoven. The uncompromising humanity of his tonal language, a monumentality that permeated many of his creations, his rebellious, unbending spirit ... all this magically captivated me. The endless cadenza of the Moonlight Sonata, the stone-carved French Overture of the Pathetique, the incredible loneliness in the Adagio of the Hammerklavier Sonata, the rapture of Op. 111, the late string quartets with the climax of the Great Fugue (a work which, according to Stravinsky, will always be New Music), the piano concertos, his symphonies, and so much more! And of course op. 125.
This "the Ninth" had always fascinated me and repulsed me in the same way. Yes, this orchestra building is unique, not one of Ludwig's contemporaries would have been able to build such a sound building. Nevertheless, after the intimacy of the Adagio, the noisy fourth movement disturbed me. Its imperative call to humanity in a final chorus as part of a symphony, never before heard in this form, is admittedly unique. But even Wagner considered the movement to be the weakest of the symphony and Adorno even made fun of this "popular speech to humanity".
Let's just take the triviality of the melody, which was deliberately written so that every brother (and sister) of man had to understand it. It seems as if this motif was to be hammered into the last listener in endless repetitions. Debussy rightly writes here of the finale as a "puppet of public mass worship".
For most people, this five-tone theme is the only one of Beethoven's that they come into contact with in their lives, besides for Elise and the Fifth Fate motif (similar to the tourists who, after visiting Disneyland and the Eiffel Tower, believe they have seen all of France). Advertising has sufficiently exploited the effect of this melody anchored in our collective subconscious with jingles and music boxes. As a child I had to play Beethoven to my aunt, for which I usually got two German marks. For her B. was heavier than Mozart and therefore probably more substantial. Anyway, I could use the two marks.
But also the use of the melody as a European anthem is, in view of the many refugees drowned on the way to Europe, a sheer mockery nowadays. Apparently, brothers are not brothers after all.
Back to the fourth movement and my difficulties with it. All this superimposed external pathos and then this unspeakable text with its dazzling platitudes. Even the solos of the double basses! The rediscovery of the recitative, ingenious in the late piano sonatas, here it somehow seems very jerky imposed. The singers' entries - much too pathetic for my taste. But we see it through our contemporary spectacles - from the perspective of failed humanism.
The important American writer Thomas Pynchon wrote sarcastically in 1973: "When you hear this music, you immediately want to march off and conquer Poland".
A quotation from Nikolaus Frank also fits this: "And when another country was attacked and Germany did something wrong, then "the Ninth" was played". Nikolaus Frank was the son of Hans Frank, who as head of the East German government was responsible for the murder of about 2 million Jews in the so-called Third Reich. His father was a keen art lover, he owned a looted collection of Chopin. Richard Strauß dedicated another battle song to him in 1941 (!). Of course Frank was also a Beethoven admirer.
But 1821 is not the same as 1941, when there was still room for innocent utopias and the romanticism that was to end in Poland in the twentieth century at the latest was still to come. And that's how one should also see Schiller's text with all its embarrassments. The author's intention was thoroughly honest and idealistic. Odes were en vogue at the time, whether the author was called Schiller or Klopstock. Moreover, the battle cry from the French Revolution was still fresh in the air.
Nevertheless, the pompously staged finale with its permanent earwigs caused me to want to steal away from this union, crying, and I was happy to be back at my dressing room. And furthermore, the solitude of the second bassoonist has always interested me more than all the glamour of the soloists.
That is why I began in 2015 with my forty-minute orchestral piece: Beethoven_ off_set, which I completed this year in August.
Yes, some people might think I am a sacrilegious person: Is it now a desecration of one of Germany's most sacred cultural assets? Is a sacred cow being slaughtered here? Or shouldn't it be much sooner, especially today, to give the Ninth back some of its original aura? In any case, blind stone worship does not do justice to the creator of this work.
This work is not about a disguise for the common clichés. Instead, it is an attempt to expose the hidden layers of Beethoven's wonderful score, adding the experience of two hundred years of activity. In Betthoven_ off_set I have connected and continued significant passages from the Ninth Symphony with the language of our time. In the first movement, it is the almost spectral sound of the introduction with its soft tremolos, in the Scherzo the constant fire of tone repetitions, whose echo-surround seems to come from all sides, mixed with sounds from the cafeteria and the off area of the Philharmonie. The Adagio is mixed with songs and motifs from various ghettos and concentration camps. The listener hears the fragments of the original melody like signals of hope from a noisy radio station. I was also inspired by the memories of Buchenwald by the Spanish-French author Jorge Semprun (" What a beautiful Sunday").
The fourth movement, which has already been mentioned several times, shows film excerpts from Furtwängler's performance of the Ninth in 1942 in the presence of the highest Nazi prominence, as well as the performance of the symphony at the G-20 summit in Hamburg, framed by the loud protest of the summit opponents.
The structure of the ode is only hinted at in an alienated way, the choir enters on a kind of anti climax and sings the text syllables with closed mouth. While the ninth ends in noisy cheering, my composition ebbs away in delicate pianissimo as if in the farthest distance.
The goal of my work in Beethoven_ off_set is to make clear the sell-out of this masterpiece through inflationary performances as well as its abuse by politics and to open up new ways of perception. Should I have succeeded in this, the work has not been in vain.
Andreas F. Staffel, Heideblick, August 20, 2019