Leonard Bernstein Marked The Fall Of The Berlin Wall With 'Ode To Freedom'

Aug 16, 2018

For East Germans, the Berlin Wall wasn't just a vast, 96-mile structure — it represented what they called "the wall in the head," a looming feeling of no escape and no hope.

The Berlin Wall had been down just six weeks when Leonard Bernstein took to the podium to conduct a Celebration Concert.

For the first time in 28 years, East and West Berliners were free to spend Christmas together.

For Christmas 1989, Bernstein evoked a spirit of brotherhood by leading a performance of Beethoven's monumental Ninth Symphony, with choir and orchestra members gathered from East and West Germany, as well as the four allied powers: France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and the U.S.

And to make the point even clearer, Bernstein took one little liberty — or maybe not so little.

In the symphony's final movement, Bernstein changed Friedrich Schiller's beloved "Ode to Joy" into an Ode to Freedom. From Freude to Freiheit.

He changed just one word for the chorus and soloists — but it meant a lot. Not only to the musicians and the audience in the sold-out concert hall, but to the thousands lining the streets outside, watching the concert projected onto screens overhead, standing in drizzling rain and near-freezing temperatures.

At that concert in 1989, Bernstein was at his most vital: passionate, abandoned, consumed by the music.

And less than a year later, he was dead — at just 72 — from a heart attack brought on by his increasingly severe respiratory problems, exacerbated by years of heavy smoking.

That moving concert was captured on video and is available as a recording as well.

Find it:
Recording - ArkivMusic | Amazon
Blu-ray - ArkivMusic | Amazon
DVD - ArkivMusic | Amazon

Leading up to the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein's birthday on Aug. 25, 2018, Classical 101 is celebrating A Bernstein Summer on air and online.