Leonard Bernstein conducted a performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany on December 25, 1989. The performance took place in the Schauspielhaus in the eastern part of Berlin (it had now been renamed “Konzerthaus” – concert hall) and featured musicians from both East and West Germany, as well as the United States, France, and the United Kingdom in a musical celebration of Germany’s reunification.
On Christmas Day 1989 Berlin (and soon the world) experienced something like a celestial gift: the “Ode to Freedom,” a composite event, spread out over the centuries so to speak, by Friedrich Schiller, Beethoven – and Leonard Bernstein. The occasion was to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall in a manner that would impress itself once and for all on people’s minds. The Ode “To Freedom” – as Bernstein had the soloists and chorus sing in the final movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
Not only was the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra slated to participate, but also musicians from some of the most prominent orchestras worldwide. These included musicians from Dresden and Leningrad (now known once again as St. Petersburg), London, New York, and Paris. Together, they aimed to achieve a shared objective of evoking deep emotions and joy at this historic moment envisioned by Leonard Bernstein. He was much more than a mere conductor; he awakened the audience with his passionate rendition of Beethoven’s music, pouring his heart and soul into every note.
Leonard Bernstein was supported not by one, but by three choirs during his grand Berlin concert: the Bavarian Radio Chorus, members of the Radio Chorus from what was formerly East Berlin (now one of the best choirs in the world), and the large Children’s Choir of the Dresden Philharmonie. It was only fitting to include children in the performance, as they would carry the experience with them into adulthood. The solo quartet consisted of June Anderson (soprano), Sarah Walker (mezzo-soprano), Klaus König (tenor), and Jan-Hendrik Rootering (bass).
Together, under Bernstein’s baton, they delivered more than just a concert – they ignited a flame for the love of freedom and the yearning for it, beyond the momentous occasion. Thousands of spectators on the plaza, silently and emotionally moved, watched with bated breath as this musical event was televised from the hall. With Beethoven’s scepter in hand, Bernstein joined the call for freedom.
Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9
The Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125 (sometimes known simply as “the Choral”), is the final complete symphony of Ludwig van Beethoven (17 December 1770-26 March 1827). Completed in 1824, the symphony is one of the best-known works in the repertoire of classical music. Among critics, it is almost universally considered to be among Beethoven’s greatest works and is considered by some to be the greatest piece of music ever written.
The symphony was the first example of a major composer using voices in a symphony (thus making it a choral symphony). The words are sung during the final movement by four vocal soloists and a chorus. They were taken from the “Ode to Joy”, a poem written by Friedrich Schiller in 1785 and revised in 1803, with additions made by the composer. Today, it stands as one of the most-played symphonies in the world.
In 2002, Beethoven’s autograph score of the Ninth Symphony, held by the Berlin State Library, was added to the United Nations World Heritage List, becoming the first musical score to be so honored.
The symphony is in four movements, marked as follows:
- Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
- Scherzo: Molto vivace – Presto
- Adagio molto e cantabile – Andante moderato – Tempo primo – Andante moderato – Adagio – Lo stesso tempo
- Recitative: (Presto – Allegro ma non troppo – Vivace – Adagio cantabile – Allegro assai – Presto: O Freunde) – Allegro molto assai: Freude, schöner Götterfunken – Alla marcia – Allegro assai vivace: Froh, wie seine Sonnen – Andante maestoso: Seid umschlungen, Millionen! – Adagio ma non troppo, ma divoto: Ihr, stürzt nieder – Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato: (Freude, schöner Götterfunken – Seid umschlungen, Millionen!) – Allegro ma non tanto: Freude, Tochter aus Elysium! – Prestissimo, Maestoso, Molto prestissimo: Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Lyrics of the fourth movement
O Freunde, nicht diese Töne!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen,
Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.
Wem der große Wurf gelungen,
Eines Freundes Freund zu sein;
Wer ein holdes Weib errungen,
Mische seinen Jubel ein!
Ja, wer auch nur eine Seele
Sein nennt auf dem Erdenrund!
Und wer’s nie gekonnt, der stehle
Weinend sich aus diesem Bund!
Freude trinken alle Wesen
An den Brüsten der Natur;
Alle Guten, alle Bösen
Folgen ihrer Rosenspur.
Küsse gab sie uns und Reben,
Einen Freund, geprüft im Tod;
Wollust ward dem Wurm gegeben,
Und der Cherub steht vor Gott.
Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen
Durch des Himmels prächt’gen Plan,
Laufet, Brüder, eure Bahn,
Freudig, wie ein Held zum Siegen.
Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuss der ganzen Welt!
Brüder, über’m Sternenzelt
Muss ein lieber Vater wohnen.
Ihr stürzt nieder, Millionen?
Ahnest du den Schöpfer, Welt?
Such’ ihn über’m Sternenzelt!
Über Sternen muss er wohnen.
Oh friends, not these sounds!
Let us instead strike up more pleasing
and more joyful ones!
Joy, beautiful spark of divinity,
Daughter from Elysium,
We enter, burning with fervor,
heavenly being, your sanctuary!
Your magic brings together
what fashion has sternly divided.
All men shall become brothers,
wherever your gentle wings hover.
Whoever has been lucky enough
to become a friend to a friend,
Whoever has found a beloved wife,
let him join our songs of praise!
Yes, and anyone who can call one soul
his own on this earth!
Any who cannot, let them slink away
from this gathering in tears!
Every creature drinks in joy
at nature’s breast;
Good and Bad alike
follow her trail of roses.
She gives us kisses and wine,
a true friend, even in death;
Even the worm was given desire,
and the cherub stands before God.
Gladly, just as His suns’ hurtle
through the glorious universe,
So you, brothers, should run your course,
joyfully, like a conquering hero.
Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss is for the whole world!
Brothers, above the canopy of stars
must dwell a loving father.
Do you bow down before Him, you millions?
Do you sense your Creator, o world?
Seek Him above the canopy of stars!
He must dwell beyond the stars.
- Symphony No. 9 (Beethoven) on Wikipedia
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