Ode to Joy!
Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been rehearsing Beethoven’s 9th (“Choral”) symphony, for the final concert of this year’s Totnes Festival.
Despite the name, it is primarily an orchestral work, with the singers joining only for the final 15 minutes or so. But what a glorious finale! Schiller’s poem may be overblown and absurd, but when set to Beethoven’s glorious and radically groundbreaking music, it is truly inspirational. The Ode to Joy: a final triumph in the symphony’s epic struggle. Whether Beethoven’s personal struggle with the tragedy of his deafness, or Enlightenment Europe’s struggle against the old tyranny.
Yes, I’m enthused about this. More so than I expected: having sung in a number of Beethoven works, I know that his music tends to be thoroughly singer-unfriendly, and a constant effort to bring to life. The choral symphony (in common with the much-longer Missa Solemnis) also inflicts a murderously high tessitura on the voices: we basses get the second-worst deal there, after the poor sopranos. For myself, I guess my operatic experience helps: there are quite a few operas that push the top of the range – though they tend to have a more forgiving musical flow than Beethoven!
It’s a struggle for us. But this music is absolutely worth it! And as the age of liberty closes rapidly behind us, it’s almost a nostalgic flashback to the time when it was opening up ahead of our ancestors!