Audio clip from the Ninth.* (RealAudio)
"Buch…attempts nothing less than a cultural history of the Ode to Joy.…Buch convincingly demonstrates how the growth of Beethoven's posthumous reputation as the musical embodiment of genius and humanism is paralleled by the development of European identity, surviving—as Richard Wagner did not—its association with the Third Reich.…Buch offers a new view of the convoluted route by which the composer's music, and the ninth symphony in particular, came to form the soundtrack of the aspirations of the European dream."—The Economist
"Buch is mainly concerned with the Ode to Joy, and he demonstrates how Schiller's poem was fundamental both to Beethoven's conception of the symphony and to its subsequent reception. The former story is interesting; the latter fascinating."—Andrew Ford, Sydney Morning Herald
"Profound and haunting…There are no conclusions to this story, only a deepened sense of the paradox of art— it must be local in order to seem universal—and of the folly that ensues when ordinary souls struggle to bend extraordinary ones to their own purposes. The Ode to Joy is, says Buch, 'the most convincing depiction of utopia in sound' and it has become 'an aural fetish in the Western world.' His book is a history of how that happened. Read it, as they say, and weep."—Bryan Appleyard, Sunday Times
"This is a thoughtful—and thought-provoking—book, full of fascinating material. Instead of ending on a conventionally upbeat note, Buch raises the heretical notion that the Ninth may, finally, be about to lose its meaning."—Ivan Hewett, New Statesman
An excerpt from
The Romantic Cult and the Ode to Joy
Ludwig van Beethoven died on 26 March 1827, and his funeral was held on the afternoon of Thursday the 29th. In Vienna, it was a major event. According to contemporary reports, the schools were closed and soldiers from the local barracks were called out to ensure public order. A crowd estimated at between ten to thirty thousand people gathered outside his residence, the poetically named Schwarzspanierhaus, the House of the Black-Robed Spaniards. The huge courtyard where the bier had been placed soon became overcrowded, and the gates finally had to be locked. The funeral cortege set out at approximately four thirty in the afternoon; although the distance between the house and the church was a mere two hundred yards, the procession took more than an hour and half to get there. Eight singers bore Beethoven's remains to the Alsergasse church, and the pall covering the casket was carried by eight Kapellmeister, who were in turn escorted and flanked by forty torchbearers, most of them professional musicians. The procession was led by a group of priests carrying the parish crucifix; the coffin was followed by the deceased's relatives, including his brother and sister-in-law, Johann and Johanna van Beethoven, a group of trombone players, a chorus, students from the conservatory, members of public bodies, and other musicians and performers. "No Emperor of Austria ever had a funeral like that of Beethoven," wrote Graf Zmeskall, one of the composer's friends. However, few aristocrats were present, and few representatives of the court, with the exception of Dietrichstein. The funeral was a tribute paid by Vienna's cultural elite to one of their own, and the state was not invited. That the death of a musician could assume the same importance as that of a dynastic political figure, deriving its significance from outside the political arena, reveals the full import of the event, which, Zmeskall was to add, "raised a hitherto unheard of furor in Vienna."
Music was played throughout the proceedings: in the courtyard, a funeral chorale from Anselm Weber's opera based on Schiller's play Wilhelm Tell was sung first; for the occasion, a Miserere that Beethoven had composed in 1812 in Linz was then performed in an arrangement for a vocal quartet with two of Beethoven's Equali for four trombones (WoO 30); during the street procession, the funeral march from his Sonata op. 26 was played in an arrangement for wind band that the composer had made in 1815 to accompany a patriotic drama. Following the mass, during which Ignaz Seyfried's Libera nos Domine was sung, many Viennese followed the hearse to the gates of the cemetery at Währing; since graveside speeches had been banned by the church, it was at the cemetery's entrance that the actor Heinrich Anschütz delivered the funeral oration, which had been written, at the request of Anton Schindler, by the poet Franz Grillparzer, Austria's foremost man of letters:
Standing by the grave of him who has passed away we are in a manner the representatives of an entire nation, of the whole German people, mourning the loss of the one highly acclaimed half of that which was left us of the departed splendor of our native art, of the fatherland's full spiritual bloom. There yet lives—and may his life be long!—the hero of verse in German speech and tongue; but the last master of tuneful song, the organ of soulful concord, the heir and amplifier of Handel and Bach's, of Haydn and Mozart's immortal fame is now no more, and we stand weeping over the riven strings of the harp that is hushed.
Thus, after the sublime female figures of Adelaide and Leonore, after the symbols of power embodied in the battle music and the mass, after the "voices divided thrice and four times," the Ninth Symphony is the work that was to crown the legacy of the great composer after his death. This was the dead man's ultimate embrace of the Mankind that had avoided him. The hero, with his Christ-like attributes, is fully present in this last work, which—although it is not defined as such chronologically—else where would the last quartets fit in?—is indeed, because of its pure emblematic force, a true finale. The Ode to Joy is the swan song intended for his own veiled hearing. Beethoven was accompanied on the way to the church by his own funeral march, and at the cemetery gates it was again his own music that was sung to honor him. At the moment of his disappearance, his works were invoked for reasons that were not, or at least not only, aesthetic, but that were above all commemorative. Henceforth, listening to those works will be a way of remembering him, of renewing the link with the composer and with those other men assembled at his grave. The labors of the creator of the Ninth Symphony had produced and formed his own Denkmal, his own monument. And that monument, raised over the great man's remains, is a memorative sign for the "representatives" of a nation in the presence of its great. Within the Platonic trinity of the Beautiful, the Good and the True, music is at one with its own past, just as it is now with poetry, its sister art. There is a diachrony created in the national spirit by the line of great composers, from Handel to Beethoven; there is a synchrony, uniting Beethoven and Goethe as the two complementary halves of a classical grandeur already fading into history. Thus, in Grillparzer's funeral elegy, what we see taking form is a topography of Germany's national culture.
A highly coded set piece, the oration is neither very original nor very personal. Grillparzer knew the composer and had even planned an opera with him, but their aesthetic differences went deep. It would not be Grillparzer who would portray Beethoven for posterity but, rather, romantic writers like E. T. A. Hoffmann or Bettina von Arnim, the latter of whom was to write: "In everything that concerned his art, [Beethoven] is so true and so sovereign that no artist dares approach him. In the rest of his life, however, he is so naive that you can do anything you like with him." That letter, written to Goethe and published in 1835, depicts the composer as a kind of blind force of nature, and that picture was to prove more influential than the quasi-Apollonian image put forward in Grillparzer's funeral oration. And yet, his text is both elegy and program. In condensing the topoi already created during Beethoven's lifetime, and with his collaboration, the poet laid out the commemorative program of a vision of the artist that was to take hold and prevail throughout the nineteenth century, the century to be known as the "Bildung century," a century of culture, of ideals, and of cultivated and cultured education.
Indeed, the Beethoven myth was to flourish in a society marked by the very German idea of self-learning or self-education through general culture—Bildung—that Thomas Mann was to describe as the "universal ideal of the private man." The image of the "cultivated (gebildet) man" achieving personal freedom through a study of the arts and sciences had taken shape in the days of the great Weimar classical writers, beginning with the recognition (by the pietists, among others) of the value of personal religious experience. That model, whose example was provided by Goethe's Wilhelm Meister and whose theory was set forth in his Briefen über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen [Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man], was to accompany the bourgeoisie's rise to power: it was a corpus of extrareligious values, above political divisions, that were, in principle, accessible to all, but that, in practice, served to define and to demarcate social strata. In this ideology, the art of music has a preponderant role to play. At local concerts and at great festivals, every cultivated man can find within himself the paths to the infinite laid out by the romantic musical aesthetic. Thanks to the customs of singing and performing chamber music, he can participate in a kind of social interaction that is morally superior to the prosaic mores of community life. Through music, which Schopenhauer was to regard as the highest incarnation of an aesthetic experience that Kant had defined as basically "disinterested," the autonomy of the world of art takes on an ethical dimension and contributes to the creation of an individual's inner freedom thus turned toward the commonweal.
Here we have a paradox of which the Ninth Symphony was to be a kind of programmatic expression—a fact that helps to explain the work's central role in what some were to call "the religion of music." In any event, this was the direction some of the earliest critics tended to take in their desire to understand the meaning and significance of the incongruous cantata at the heart of an instrumental work. In 1826, Adolf Bernhard Marx, in an article in the Berlinische allgemeine Zeitung, set out to justify "the composition's completely new form": "When instruments and voices sound together, the latter are given pride of place, as was man at the Creation, for song includes words, and the musical power inherent in man represents what is human, in contrast to the instrumental portion, which represents what is above and beyond man"—a dialectic which, Marx adds, in typically Hegelian language, ultimately consecrates man as the "conqueror, through his spiritual power, of the instrumental Proteus." Here we have an interpretation that, emphasizing the relationship between the human and the musical, appears to have little interest in the literal import of Schiller's words—an attitude it shares with the Viennese correspondent of Leipzig's Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, who, in 1824, "heard" (metaphorically) in the final chorus a salute to the "divine art of music" and to Beethoven, its "high priest."
In the nineteenth century, music became a singularly important element in the creation and perception of a specifically German identity. One sign of this change in symbolic coordinates was the 1837 publication of The Glorious Moment under a new title, Der Preis der Tonkunst, a "Praise of Music" rather than praise for the Concert of Europe. The growing number of publications devoted to music played a central role in this phenomenon by providing a forum for cultural debates that, without getting directly involved in politics, did at least touch upon them. The case of Robert Schumann, who in 1834 founded the influential periodical Neue Zeitschrift für Musik in Leipzig, illustrates "the complementary coherence between an individual's ambition to gain public prominence as a musician and a man of letters and a generational politics in which culture served as an instrument of national identity." Schumann was being very serious when he wrote: "Just as Italy has its Naples, France its revolution, England its navy, etc., the Germans have their Beethoven symphonies. With his Beethoven, the German forgets that he has no school of painting; with Beethoven, he imagines that he has turned round the outcomes of the battles lost to Napoleon; he even dares place him on the same level as Shakespeare." The concern for national greatness accompanied the universalism of the more liberal sectors of the bourgeois intelligentsia—men like the writer Robert Griepenkerl, for example, a contributor to the Neue Zeitschrift für Musik who held that art was a weltliche Evangelium, a "secular Gospel" that embodied the history of the world, and who viewed Beethoven, in retrospect, as the "prophet of the July revolution." The same idea appeared in his 1838 novel, Das Musikfest oder die Beethovener [The Feast of Music, or The Beethovenians], which described a ceremony organized to pay homage to the composer in a small German town. "Who knows what whore might have given birth to this disguised Freude of Schiller's!" one of the characters exclaims ironically after having heard a performance of the Ninth—a question to which an "editor's footnote" replies: "Es war die Freiheit" [It was Freedom!]. It was in this oblique and almost surreptitious way, in a tragicomic work of fiction, that for the first time Beethoven's image and reputation came to include the idea that in the Ode to Joy one was actually hearing an Ode to Freedom.
The commemorative ceremony described by Griepenkerl in his novel is an imaginary and parodied account of an project that was actually put forward at Bonn University at the time. The prestige of that institution had grown since Beethoven's time: since 1819, it had been able to boast of having August Wilhelm Schlegel, the great philologist, as a member of its faculty, and, since 1823, it could claim to have the first-ever professor of musicology in Germany, Heinrich Carl Breidenstein. This last novelty was not owing to any exceptional merit on the part of Breidenstein, whose actual scientific contribution, if we are to believe his biographer, was practically nil; he lacked, for example, the reputation of Johann Nikolaus Forkel, the first biographer of Johann Sebastian Bach, who had as early as 1802 hailed that "national classic" in the context of the new Musikwissenschaft. However, Breidenstein's appointment was part of a trend that, by recognizing musical studies as a science, was to bring the whole weight of academia to bear on defining and legitimizing the classical musical canon. In 1832, Breidenstein published in a local periodical an article entitled "Erinnerung an Beethoven" [Remembering Beethoven]; in that article, expanding on an idea that he had already expressed in 1828, he suggested the erection of a monument to the composer in his native town, "or, even better, a living memorial, one dedicated to art, Bildung, education, etc."
At the time, the notion of erecting a monument to a musician was a novel one. There were as yet no statues of the great German cultural figures, with the exception of one of Luther (not exactly an artist), which had been erected at Wittenberg in 1821. The earliest plans for statues of Goethe and Schiller (often represented together) date from 1819, but none was realized until much later, the first statue of the author of An die Freude appearing in Stuttgart in 1839. When Breidenstein's article was written, therefore, no writer or musician had yet appeared in public in a marble or bronze version. And, as an observer remarked in 1835, "it isn't for lack of money, for business is flourishing," adding, "when the railroad can carry us at immense speed from one country to another, we are struck by the feeble efforts our cities are making to attract the traveler." The erection of such monuments was to become a familiar subject of local concern, part and parcel of the modernization brought on by the industrial revolution. The practice soon became widespread, creating a sculpted pantheon for the Kulturnation and becoming the principal way in which Germany honored its great prior to the creation of the Reich. The first statue of a musician, which was to be Mozart's in Salzburg, was unveiled in 1842; at the time, a journalist praised the "present-day mania" for erecting monuments to artists, since, he wrote, "it proves that the faddish spirit of our century, while complacently elevating so much that is mediocre, does occasionally have a twinge of conscience." At this same period, princes were dreaming up grandiose projects like the Valhalla created by Ludwig I of Bavaria in 1942, or the "great national church," the Hohenzollern sepulcher, that was conceived in 1840 by Friedrich Wilhelm IV, the new king of Prussia; or even the "monument to the nation" of the 1842 Cologne cathedral, which was built in a frenzy of neo-Gothic enthusiasm. However, whereas all of those monumental plans were in general the projects of rulers obsessed with self-legitimization, things were different when it came to cultural figures. On occasion, a monarch might go along with such an enterprise, or even take advantage of it—foremost in this regard was the young Prussian king with his romantic and conservative cast of mind, enchanted with the Teutonic Middle Ages and "great German art." However, the principal initiative was taken by civil society, and above all by the inhabitants of the cities in which the great men had created their works or spent their childhood.
Such figures were often emphatically presented as "German," but in the first half of the century the illuminist roots of the bourgeois Bildung meant that their universal significance, which toward the end of the preceding century had already made tributes to great men into veritable "European rituals," was never forgotten. In 1837, the ceremonies held at the unveiling of the monument to Gutenberg at Mainz drew printers not only from all over Germany but from many other European countries as well. With emphases that varied according to the nature of the person being honored, the historical moment and local circumstances, liberalism and nationalism, Enlightenment and romanticism all came into play in connection with every statue, every work of art that was erected as a symbol of history, which, "like Janus, looks toward both future and past." Unlike political heroes, cultural heroes would appear to fall into a category in which discourse about national identity must take into consideration both the frontiers that create it and the universalist movement that transcends and obliterates it. This is especially true of music, whose nonlinguistic character gives an empirical foundation to Kant's claim that the aesthetic experience is a universal one.
More than any other figure, that of Beethoven embodied this dual identiary dimension, both within and outside Germany. However, whereas in Germany it created a link between national culture and the spirit of universality, in France the composer's reputation grew out of a relationship with a foreign culture, "German music," to be subsumed in the universal—an attempt that went back to the very first Beethoven critics in Paris, who, as early as 1811, were describing him as a "giant genius," while commenting on his "somewhat harsh Germanisms." A few days after his death, Le Globe printed a brief notice:
The arts have just sustained a great loss. A man of rare genius, the Kant of music, Beethowen [sic] died at Vienna on the 26th of last month. Even those not sensible to the abstract and one might say metaphysical beauties of his compositions still admire him as the greatest modern harmonist. Never have the instruments of the orchestra been employed with greater novelty and magic; never have such hitherto-unknown effects been created. Like the logically abstruse works of the Königsberg philosopher, his compositions, apparently so mathematical, contain deep within them an intimate and hidden poetry. His music is little known in France: yet we recall the effect produced last year by one of his symphonies performed at the Concert Spirituel. We would hope that the coming week will enable us to hear that admirable symphony once again: we will applaud it as we would the funeral elegy of a great talent.
Thus, as first reaction to Beethoven's death we find an equation between speculative philosophy and instrumental music, giving the latter a potential for "metaphysical beauty," making it in France a reference to a specifically German cultural sphere. In the article in Le Globe, that musical language is to be employed for commemorative ends, as a metaphoric funeral oration, performed—in the absence of the great man's remains—in a concert hall replete with his spirit. The "admirable symphony" referred to was probably the Second Symphony, op. 36, not a particularly funereal piece. The notion that Beethoven's works were able to commemorate their own creator whatever their specific content was not, obviously, unique to Grillparzer—nor to Le Globe, for that matter.
On 9 March 1828, the Orchestre de la Société des Concerts du Conservatoire de Paris gave its first concert, under the baton of François-Antoine Habeneck; the program opened with the Eroica Symphony and included works by Rossini and Cherubini, the latter of whom was at the time the director of the Conservatoire. That concert marked the beginning of an institutional career that was eventually to make Beethoven, hitherto a marginal figure, central to Parisian musical life, as well as the first appearance of an orchestra that, through its performances of the nine symphonies, was to come to be unanimously recognized as the best in Europe. Two weeks later, the second concert in the series was held, this time offering only works by Beethoven, including, by "general demand," a repetition of the Eroica. This was indeed one way of regarding the great symphonist's works as his own funeral oration, for the concert was explicitly "dedicated to the memory of L. V. Beethoven." Thus, in nineteenth-century France, the principal body devoted to symphonic music began its career under the aegis of a commemoration of the classical canon; soon, there were to be performances "in memory of" Mozart and Haydn—which did not prevent Beethoven from dominating the repertory to an overwhelming degree. Thanks to Habeneck, the composer was to transcend the strictly musical sphere and become a presence influencing the whole of the romantic generation, as the works of Balzac, George Sand, or Victor Hugo amply attest. "A revolution has recently occurred in the musical empire," wrote Castil-Blaze in 1828 following the first performance of the Eroica; "has anyone ever produced newer effects, more startling original innovations or more elevated forms than are to be heard in Beethoven's work?"
For certain members of the Parisian elite, joined by many famous foreigners, the encounter with the musical genius created a truly international artistic community. In 1829, the young Hector Berlioz published his first piece on Beethoven in Le Correspondant, the "unknown biography" of a "volcanic genius," the composer of a "sublime music," which he was presenting "at a time when the works of this great artist are exciting such a high degree of admiration on the part of musical Europe." And he goes on to quote at length from Adolph Bernhard Marx, writing about a "symphony in D minor" that he has never heard but one that he deems "the culminating point of its composer's genius." On 27 March 1831, Habeneck finally conducted the first French performance of the Ninth Symphony. Opinions were divided regarding the Ode to Joy: "What was Beethoven thinking in this piece? That is what I cannot understand, notwithstanding my study of it," wrote François-Joseph Fétis in La Revue Musicale, where a short while earlier he had noted that owing to Beethoven's deafness, at the end of his life, "composing had been nothing but dreaming." Although Fétis continued to admire Beethoven, his reaction attests to the initial resistance to which the Ninth Symphony gave rise, not only in France but in Germany as well and, most especially, in England. Nevertheless, the romantics were to end up by imposing their version of music history. In 1838, Berlioz described "the alliance between chorus and orchestra" expressed by the baritone's "oath," prior to exalting that "popular, tumultuous joy, which would be like an orgy were it not that in the end every voice again returns in a solemn rhythm to send, in ecstatic exclamation, their final greeting of love and respect to divine Joy." And although Berlioz regarded the whole as expressive of a "purely musical and poetic" intent, the violinist and critic Chrétien Urhan saw it as an expression of the "ardent mysticism" of its composer, that Christ-like "martyr" whose biography he reads throughout the symphony until the final Ode to Joy, which he heard as "church music, but music for the church of Heaven."
In Urhan's article, the religious vision contrasts with that of others who found a Masonic message in the Ninth Symphony, where Schiller's lines about "brothers" crown the "trials" depicted in the first three movements. In the 1830s, the author of the "revolution" that Castil-Blaze described in purely musical terms was beginning to take on political significance as well. At the time of France's July revolution, the youthful Franz Liszt was to make sketches for a "Revolutionary Symphony," which, with its quotations from the Marseillaise and Luther's chorale Ein' feste Burg, was directly inspired by Wellington's Victory. The simultaneous—and often contradictory—projection of Beethoven's works into the religious and social spheres was taken up by some of the followers of Saint-Simon, who, addressing those "artists who love the people," were to dream of massive performances of his symphonies or of some "hymn for the future" in which Beethoven would somehow be combined with Rossini. It was this "emotional power exclusive to music" that the composer Félicien David wished to put at the service of Saint-Simonian ideals, claiming that he had never heard "a more sublime composition than the symphony for large chorus." At the time, however, the effect of such political readings was to be relatively limited. The great discovery of the 1830 romantics was to be the expressive power of the art of music on the individual, as well as music's openness to an infinite variety of interpretations. As Balzac was to write in 1839, "everyone interprets music according to his own sorrow or joy, his hopes or his despair."
Agreement on the private and personal nature of aesthetic experience and the "monumental" scope of Beethoven's works, however, did not obviate the desire to pay tribute to the great man in some visible and permanent form, namely, by means of a statue. And when, in Bonn, that desire began to take concrete form, its promoters, aware of the composer's international fame, would turn not only to the rest of Germany but also to what they were to call "the artistic world." On 17 December 1835, the "Bonn Association for the Beethoven Monument" issued an "Announcement to Beethoven Admirers":
At all times and by all peoples it has been viewed as a sacred duty to honor the memory of great men with lasting monuments, left to future generations as symbols of contemporary admiration. That obligation, so pressing with regard to all outstanding men, is even more imperative when it is a question of a genius whose admirable works are known not only in Europe but even in the most-distant lands; when it is a question of a man whose name comes first to mind whenever there is a question of the most daring and sublime works of the human imagination, of the most prodigious spring of artistic invention, and, above all, of the perfection of music as an independent art; in short, when it is a question of Ludwig van Beethoven!
The committee was presided over by August Wilhelm Schlegel and made up of the elite of Bonn's cultural life—including Breidenstein, the only musician in the group, a professor at the Bonn Gymnasium, a geologist, a jurist, and a canon. The document, dated on the composer's birthday, was sent to all of the principal musical publications in Germany, France, and England; the signatories were addressing "all of Beethoven's admirers for their support, either though private subscriptions, concerts or dramatic offerings." In Germany, the appeal proved effective, particularly with Ludwig I of Bavaria and the future Friedrich Wilhelm IV. In Paris, it was printed in the Revue et gazette musicale of 24 April 1836, whose editor, the German Maurice Schlesinger, was to be the project's principal Parisian representative. However, the response was neither rapid nor effective. Later, Breidenstein reported that Cherubini, who had written promising to give a benefit concert on behalf of the monument, had later turned a cold shoulder. Whether this reflected jealousy on Cherubini's part or was a sign of some tension between Habeneck and Schlesinger, the fact remains that in Paris, where the Beethoven cult was then at its peak, Bonn's first "Announcement" was received with virtual silence. The same was true for London. In July 1837, the Musical World expressed regret at the absence of the fashionable public at the benefit concert given at the Drury Lane Theatre by George Smart and Ignaz Moscheles, who conducted what the journalist described as "the universal Hallelujah" of the Ode to Joy. However, he added, "why is the monument to be at Bonn and not at London, in St. Paul's, or Westminster Abbey?" Indeed, the very idea of a statue was itself questioned, for, he went on, "after all, the greatest monument Beethoven can have is the proper performance of his works: the annual repetition of the choral symphony by 1000 or 1500 persons—the grand masonic hymn of Europe upborne by 1000 voices, and supported by an orchestra of 500 instrumentalists, would be the apotheosis which even the composer would have desired for an extension of his thread of life to have witnessed." It is probable that this mention of a "grand masonic hymn of Europe," an opinion shared by enthusiastic French Freemasons, represents the first attempt to make the Ode to Joy into an explicitly "European anthem."
Copyright notice: Excerpted from pages 111-123 of Beethoven's Ninth: A Political History by Esteban Buch, published by the University of Chicago Press. ©2003 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law, and it may be archived and redistributed in electronic form, provided that this entire notice, including copyright information, is carried and provided that the University of Chicago Press is notified and no fee is charged for access. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the consent of the University of Chicago Press and of the author.