Who hasn't been stirred by the strains of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? That's a good question, claims Esteban Buch. German nationalists and French republicans, communists and Catholics have all, in the course of history, embraced the piece. It was performed under the direction of Leonard Bernstein at a concert to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, yet it also serves as a ghastly and ironic leitmotif in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. Hitler celebrated his birthdays with it, and the government of Rhodesia made it their anthem. And played in German concentration camps by the imprisoned, it also figured prominently at Mitterand's 1981 investiture.
In his remarkable history of one of the most popular symphonic works of the modern period, Buch traces such complex and contradictory uses—and abuses—of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony since its premier in 1824. Buch shows that Beethoven consciously drew on the tradition of European political music, with its mix of sacred and profane, military and religious themes, when he composed his symphony. But while Beethoven obviously had his own political aspirations for the piece—he wanted it to make a statement about ideal power—he could not have had any idea of the antithetical political uses, nationalist and universalist, to which the Ninth Symphony has been put since its creation. Buch shows us how the symphony has been "deployed" throughout nearly two centuries, and in the course of this exploration offers what was described by one French reviewer as "a fundamental examination of the moral value of art." Sensitive and fascinating, this account of the tangled political existence of a symphony is a rare book that shows the life of an artwork through time, shifted and realigned with the currents of history.
In the years spanning from 1800 to 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven completed nine symphonies, now considered among the greatest masterpieces of Western music. Yet despite the fact that this time period, located in the wake of the Enlightenment and at the peak of romanticism, was one of rich intellectual exploration and social change, the influence of such threads of thought on Beethoven’s work has until now remained hidden beneath the surface of the notes. Beethoven’s Symphonies presents a fresh look at the great composer’s approach and the ideas that moved him, offering a lively account of the major themes unifying his radically diverse output.
Martin Geck opens the book with an enthralling series of cultural, political, and musical motifs that run throughout the symphonies. A leading theme is Beethoven’s intense intellectual and emotional engagement with the figure of Napoleon, an engagement that survived even Beethoven’s disappointment with Napoleon’s decision to be crowned emperor in 1804. Geck also delves into the unique ways in which Beethoven approached beginnings and finales in his symphonies, as well as his innovative use of particular instruments. He then turns to the individual symphonies, tracing elements—a pitch, a chord, a musical theme—that offer a new way of thinking about each work and will make even the most devoted fans of Beethoven admire the symphonies anew.
Offering refreshingly inventive readings of the work of one of history’s greatest composers, this book shapes a fascinating picture of the symphonies as a cohesive oeuvre and of Beethoven as a master symphonist.
Exploding the assumption that black women's only important musical contributions have been in folk, jazz, and pop
Helen Walker-Hill's unique study provides a carefully researched examination of the history and scope of musical composition by African American women composers from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Focusing on the effect of race, gender, and class, From Spirituals to Symphonies notes the important role played by individual personalities and circumstances in shaping this underappreciated category of American art. The study also provides in-depth exploration of the backgrounds, experiences, and musical compositions of eight African American women including Margaret Bonds, Undine Smith Moore, and Julia Perry, who combined the techniques of Western art music with their own cultural traditions and individual gifts. Despite having gained national and international recognition during their lifetimes, the contributions of many of these women are today forgotten.