The series of all nine symphonies by Ludwig van Beethoven concludes Thursday evening on Symphony @ 7 with the Choral Symphony. This great work wraps up what is regarded as the most influential cycle of symphonies by any composer.
It's an old saying: "Beethoven changed music."
In the nine symphonies Beethoven wrote between 1800 and 1824, you really can hear it — if you listen to the whole set of these masterpieces over a relatively short time period. You'll get the full effect of the transition in Beethoven's music, from the late Classical Era to the early Romantic.
The Choral Symphony, though, is so different from what came before that it's more revolutionary than The Eroica, the great Third Symphony. While it was originally dedicated to Napoleon before Beethoven changed his mind, for many that inspired work is about the affirmation of heroic struggle by the individual against adversity.
The Ninth is even longer, and for the first time introduces the human voice in the final movement to say what can't be said with music alone. Using the words of poet Friedrich Schiller's "Ode to Joy," the symphony is a visionary affirmation of the idea of all humanity coming together in brotherhood and peace — something that can feel like an even more radical message today than when the symphony was written.
Undoubtedly, it's one of the reasons this symphony still moves us so much today. Though Beethoven was greatly admired in Vienna, who would have thought that a mostly deaf, crotchety and cranky semi-recluse had this in him?
Some wise person once said, "Never underestimate the power of the human spirit." That idea is true of Beethoven more than any composer I can think of, and the Choral Symphony embodies that spirit so completely it stands as one of the greatest achievements in all of music.
As an example of how even a very informal and impromptu performance can affect people, give this a good view and listen. Even if most of the people listening in the video don't know the words, the spirit of the music leaves nothing in doubt.
To hear Beethoven's complete Ninth Symphony in its full glory, tune in Thursday evening for Symphony @ 7 on Classical 101.