Obscurity Knocks

Earnest, empathetic, industrious, unpretentious, gay Virgo in Milwaukee with a great life, amazing friends, and a wonderful family.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Beethoven Symphony No. 9

One of my highlights of 2007 was seeing Andreas Delfs conduct the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 "Choral." This was either the third or fourth time that I've seen Maestro Delfs conduct this piece, and I don't think that I could ever tire of it. Delfs is recognized as one of the best conductors of Beethoven's work in the world, and I'd argue that he's the best. He conducts Beethoven without a score; the score would be as unnecessary for him as a map of the interior of your house would be for you. He doesn't just conduct from memory - he knows Beethoven's works so well that they're internalized in his heart. For Delfs to conduct the Beethoven No. 9 is like signing our name for most of us.

My left loge seat offered me a unique view of Delfs' facial expressions. You can see angst, happiness, levity, seriousness, intensity, and fulfilment - the range of human emotion - in Delfs' conducting. He literally dances on the podium in an altogether appropriate communion with Beethoven. The orchestra and chorus cannot help but excel, even exceed their usual limitations, as a result of this conducting.

Some post-modernists trivialize Beethoven's Ninth Symphony from their deep-seeded cynicism. For me, the Ninth is the pinnacle of music in our culture. It simply doesn't get better than this. The emotion communicated in the Ninth Symphony goes beyond words and effects us profoundly and deeply.

Touching upon philosophical aspects of this masterwork, Maynard Soloman in his Beethoven (Schirmer Books, 1977) writes:

"I want to revoke the Ninth Symphony," cried Adrian Leverkuehn in Thomas Mann's post-World War II novel Doctor Faustus. The Ninth has been perceived by later generations as an unsurpassable model of affirmative culture, a culture which by its beauty and idealism, some believe, anesthetizes the anguish and the terror of modern life, thereby standing in the way of a realistic perception of society. Marcuse writes, "Today's rebels against the established culture also rebel against its all too sublimated, segregated, orderly, harmonizing forms...The refusal now hits the chorus which sings the 'Ode to Joy,' the song which is invalidated in the culture that signs it." The fatal (and destructive) error behind such attitudes is this: if we lose our awareness of the transcendent realms of play, beauty, and brotherhood which are portrayed in the great affirmative works of our culture, if we lose the dream of the Ninth Symphony, there remains no counterpoise against the engulfing terrors of civilization, nothing to set against Auschwitz and Vietnam [and Iraq] as a paradigm of humanity's potentialities. Masterpieces of art are instilled with a surplus of constantly renewable energy - an energy that provides a motive force for changes in the relations between human beings - because they contain projections of human desires and goals which have not yet been achieved (which indeed may be unrealizable)...Hegel wrote that "it is the defects of immediate reality which drive us forward inevitably to the idea of the beauty of art,"; perhaps so, but Schiller expressed his own, and Beethoven's, view when he perceived the opposite process at work: "To arrive at a solution even in the political problem, the road of aesthetics must be pursued, because it is through beauty that we arrive at freedom."


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