Sunday, February 18, 2018

Beethoven and the fall of the Berlin Wall

Beethoven's life was basically out of a soap opera - it was all so impossibly over-the-top as to defy belief.  It was a clichéexcept that it was all new then: A towering intellect, writing music like nobody had written before, tragically struck with deafness so that at the end of the premiere of this piece he couldn't hear the audience roaring its applause and the contralto Caroline Unger had to take his hand and turn him around so he could see.  Sadly, she did not get appropriate credit in the scene from Immortal Beloved.

Even in death, he maintained his flair. He died during a huge thunder storm, and witnesses said there was a prodigious thunder clap at the moment of death itself.

His 9th Symphony was so popular in Japan that when the Compact Disc was being engineered, it was decided that the disc had to be physically big enough to get the entire Ninth Symphony on a single disc. Musicologists were employed, searching the archives of recordings. It turned out that the longest recording took 74 minutes. The disc was resized from 11.5 cm to 12 cm to accommodate this symphony.

But that wasn't the end of the Soap Opera.  Beethoven put to music Friedrich Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy" which was, well, about Freude (Joy).  And thus to the final, improbable Beethoven story.

Fast forward from 1824 when Beethoven composed this to 1989.  The East German Politburo decided that they would not order their border guards to machine gun the people lined up at the Brandenburg Gate, trying to visit their relatives in West Berlin.  The Berlin Wall had divided that city for 28 years, 2 months, and 27 days.  But when the Politburo ordered the guards to stand down and the gates were thrown open, the populations on both sides of the wall took things into their own hands and tore down the wall in an orgy of Freiheit (Freedom).

Soon after, Beethoven came to East Berlin.  Leonard Bernstein conducted a symphony from both Germanys where the word Freude was replaced with the word Freiheit.  It was so improbable that if you had written a novel with that scene, nobody would have published it.  Only Beethoven could pull it off.

The Berlin Wall has now been down longer than it was up.  Berlin - and indeed all of Europe - has been transformed beyond recognition.  28 years later the dreams of Freiheit have cooled somewhat but have not been extinguished.  Beethoven's ghost looks down, waiting for the next improbable chapter in his continuing Soap Opera.

1 comment:

libertyman said...

Fabulous post and great information on the most classic of classic works of music -- ever.

"Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" -- and they did. Reagan's advisors, I am told, insisted that he not say that in his speech, but he sure did. Now there is a generation of Germans who never knew East or West Germany.

Amazing time.