“All men become brothers...Be embraced, ye millions!”
The Ninth Symphony, a symbol of freedom and joy, was Beethoven’s mightiest attempt to help humanity find its way from darkness to light, from chaos to peace. Yet the work was born in a repressive era, with terrified Bourbons, Hapsburgs, and Romanovs using every means at their disposal to squelch populist rumblings in the wake of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s wars. Ironically, the premiere of this hymn to universal brotherhood took place in Vienna, the capital of a nation that Metternich was turning into the first modern police state.
The Ninth’s unveiling, on May 7, 1824, was the most significant artistic event of the year, and the work remains one of the most precedent-shattering and influential compositions in the history of music—a reference point and inspiration that resonates even today. But in The Ninth, eminent music historian Harvey Sachs demonstrates that Beethoven was not alone in his discontent with the state of the world. Lord Byron died in 1824 during an attempt to free Greece from the domination of the Ottoman empire; Delacroix painted a masterpiece in support of that same cause; Pushkin, suffering at the hands of an autocratic czar, began to draft his anti-authoritarian play Boris Godunov; and Stendhal and Heine wrote works that mocked conventional ways of thinking.
The Ninth Symphony was so unorthodox that it amazed and confused listeners at its premiere—described by Sachs in vibrant detail—yet it became a standard for subsequent generations of creative artists, and its composer came to embody the Romantic cult of genius.
In this unconventional, provocative new book, Beethoven’s masterwork becomes a prism through which we may view the politics, aesthetics, and overall climate of the era. Part biography, part history, part memoir, The Ninth brilliantly explores the intricacies of Beethoven’s last symphony—how it brought forth the power of the individual while celebrating the collective spirit of humanity.
©2010 Harvey Sachs (P)2010 Random House
"This book is a great read for expert musicians and for people who can’t read a note of music. It is a very personal, loving view of Beethoven and his last symphony, but it also presents a fascinating historic panorama." (Plácido Domingo)
"Harvey Sachs brings to the fabled Ninth Symphony the broadest range yet of cultural and artistic testimony about Beethoven and about art." (Scott Burnham, Professor of Music History, Princeton University and author of Beethoven Hero)
The Ninth is a gem of an audiobook, up in there in the top 10 I have listened to in many years (and books) on Audible. Beautifully written and beautifully narrated. The book is composed of 4 different essays on the subject, across which you get tastes of biography, political & military history, cultural history (musical, literary, visual arts), you see where Beethoven & the Ninth came from, and how his work and this work were viewed by contemporaries and by those who came after, especially by such later musical luminaries as Mendelsohn, Wagner and so forth.
One of the essays, the shortest one, is an analysis (which does not require a degree in musicology to understand) on the Ninth itself. I found it useful to be able to toggle between a CD copy of the music and the MP3 book to follow the line of argument here. That was not too burdensome. Without doing that, it would have been difficult to understand Sachs' explanations.
I highly recommend this book.
I expect the reader of a book about Beethoven to have a good idea of how to pronounce German correctly. That is not too much to ask from an audiobook. If you agree, then you do not want to buy this one. The reader's German was so incredibly bad I almost gave up listening. Be warned: save yourself some major irritation and read this one for yourself.
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