Ten Stories of Beethoven’s Ninth

  1. Adorno thought that Beethoven had gone too far with his Ninth Symphony, that he had made the work all too intelligible.
  2. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is woven into the fabric of life in Japan with the finale available as a karaoke disc.
  3. The demonic composer Leverkühn in Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus aspires only to unwrite Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
  4. Speaking about the nature of evil, Anthony Burgess said that evil is tantamount to farting during a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.
  5. Twenty-one year old contralto Carolina Unger, who sang the contralto part at the first performance of this first major symphony to use voice, is credited with turning Beethoven to face his applauding audience.
  6. In Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of A Clockwork Orange, Mr Alexander plays Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony repeatedly in the hope of driving Alex De Large to suicide.
  7. In The Lost Steps, Alejo Carpentier replaces a madeleine with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony as the trigger for a memory of his father that sends the narrator-protagonist on a quest to war-torn Europe.
  8. It is little known today that the source of the ‘Turkish music’ (seventh variation) of the ‘Ode to Joy’ theme of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony was not Turkish drummers, but more likely the ‘African drum corps’, who were highly popular and active in European military and court bands in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
  9. In Adrienne Rich’s poem The Ninth Symphony of Beethoven Understood at last as a Sexual Message, Rich attributes to the symphony the rage of sexual impotence.
  10. On Joseph Goebbel’s initiative, Hitler’s birthday in 1937 was celebrated with a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, a performance repeated in 1942 when Hitler assumed command of the Wehrmacht on the Eastern front.

2 thoughts on “Ten Stories of Beethoven’s Ninth

  1. Great post, Anthony!
    Strange coincidences (as usual). Once saw a Japanese Youth Orchestra perform 9th at Carnegie Hall with the NY Beethoven’s Ninth Chorus, that as far as I know only sings Beethoven’s 9th. The orchestra didn’t play it ‘perfectly’ and the chorus are all amateurs but that made the performance extraordinarily moving. One of the people with whom I saw it was weeping uncontrollably during the Ode to Joy.
    This week, I just finished reading the section of Doktor Faustus where Leverkühn has his long conversation with the Devil that he has recorded on lined music paper and has given to Zeitblom.
    I imagine you know how Mann and Adorno cooperated on the musical sections of the book and that Schoenberg felt a bit put out at what he thought was a sort of plagiarism of his ideas.
    The Goebbels story sounds like a ‘real’ attempt to unwrite the 9th: a perverse distortion of the sentiment “Alle Menschen werden Brüder.”
    And the Adrienne Rich response is rather surprising – I’ve found the 9th to have the opposite effect.
    All good wishes to you!


    • Good wishes to you, Des, and thank you for that wonderful comment. I liked the cumulative effect of Adrienne Rich’s idea followed straight away by the Goebbels/Hitler layer. I’m ambivalent about the 9th, sharing Beckett’s preference for the 7th of the symphonies.


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