These words in
E.M. Forster's novel Howards End described Beethoven's 5th Symphony:
". . . the most sublime noise that ever penetrated the ear of
man." That could be said of all his symphonies and other works.
We've just had a good chance to assess. Throughout June we've been
served a banquet of Beethoven: all nine symphonies and the five piano
concertos, the first complete cycle of these magnificent works played by
an Australian orchestra since 1944. In a series of concerts at the
Sydney Opera House to celebrate its 25th anniversary, we have heard the
world premiere of a new edition of Beethoven's symphonies by Jonathan
Del Mar, performed superbly by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, conducted
by Edo de Waart with German pianist, Christian Zacharias, the soloist in
the five concertos.
Festival, broadcast by the ABC, has been a huge success. If thunderous
applause — another sublime noise — is any indication, it has been an
extraordinary experience for audiences at the concerts and for listeners
at home. It would be true to say everybody's talking about the event and
will go on talking about the music, the performances by the orchestra
and soloists and, of course, Beethoven, for a long time.
Much has been
said about Beethoven for over 200 years. Back in 1787 when he and Mozart
first met, four years before Mozart's death, Mozart, who really knew his
man — or boy (for Beethoven, being about 16 or 17 then was half
Mozart's age) — was much impressed with the young man. After their
meeting he predicted in words now well known: "Keep your eyes on
him; he'll make the world talk of him some day."
In 1823 Franz
Liszt, likewise, was a young prodigy of 14 when he visited Beethoven
four years before his death. Beethoven, like Mozart was sceptical of the
young performer at first but was soon won over by his brilliant playing.
Years later in 1852 Liszt wrote of his debt to Beethoven in a letter to
Wilhelm von Lenz:
musicians of the work of Beethoven parallels the pillars of smoke and
fire which led the Israelites through the desert, a pillar of smoke to
lead us by day, and a pillar of fire to light the night, so that we
march ahead both day and night. His darkness and his light equally trace
for us the road we must follow; both the one and the other are a
perpetual commandment, an infallible revelation.
Poet Edna St.
Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950) wrote a moving sonnet "On Hearing a
Symphony of Beethoven". I love these lines:
moment is the best the world can give:
tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.
Ralph Ellison in Harper's Magazine, March 1967, wrote:
"Anyone who listens to a Beethoven quartet or symphony and can't
hear soul is in trouble. Maybe they can hear the sound of blackness, but
they're deaf to the soul."
Even Walt Disney,
having adapted Beethoven's 6th Symphony, the Pastoral, for his
animated film, Fantasia (1940), is said to have commented:
"Gee! This'll make Beethoven." (Marshall McLuhan, Culture
is Our Business, 1970)
course, was already made through his own genius.
will surely continue to enhance his genius. It has been such a joy for
performers and listeners, what better way to end now with lines from
Schiller's Ode to Joy (1785) which Beethoven set for Chorus and
Orchestra to end brilliantly his 9th Symphony, the Choral.
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium.
Fire-inspired we tread
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
. . .
You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving Father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your Creator?
Seek him in the heavens!
Above the stars must He dwell.