Beethoven's Ninth

Gala Benefit Evening

Chicago Symphony Orchestra
James Conlon
, Conductor
Chicago Symphony Chorus
Erin Wall, Soprano
Kelley O’Connor, Mezzo-soprano
Anthony Dean Griffey, Tenor
Morris Robinson, Bass
Jessye Norman, Narrator

Saturday, July 18, 2009
3:30 PM
Donor Gates Open
4:00 PM
Public Gates Open
7:00 PM
Concert Starts
Reserved $100/$65
Lawn $10


Copland:      Fanfare for the Common Man
                   Lincoln Portrait
Beethoven:   Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 (“Choral”)

Program Notes

Fanfare for the Common Man

Belgian conductor Eugene Goossens decided to honor the courage and sacrifice of Americans engaged in the war effort during the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra’s 1942-43 concert season. Invitations went out to several American composers to contribute patriotic fanfares. Each composer was free to honor any civic or military group in the title, along the lines of “Fanfare for Sailors.” A composer himself, Goossens specified the instrumentation (often restricted to certain sections of the orchestra) and limited the duration to a few minutes.

Aaron Copland enthusiastically accepted the commission in August. Goossens intended to open the season in October with this fanfare, but the score was not completed until November, well into the concert calendar. Preparations for the debut of the ballet Rodeo had played a part in the delay, as did his typically slow work pace. Copland fashioned a “traditional fanfare, direct and powerful, yet with a contemporary sound.” The brass-and-percussion ensemble conveys its modernity in an intentionally strident bitonal (two different keys juxtaposed) language and somewhat irregular rhythms.

Deciding upon an appropriate title also proved a greater challenge than Copland anticipated. After abandoning several preliminary ideas, he settled upon the all-embracing Fanfare for the Common Man. Goossens responded favorably: “Its title is as original as its music, and I think it is so telling that it deserves a special occasion for its performance.” The occasion common to all men—tax time! In 1946, Copland reused the Fanfare as the finale of his Third Symphony, the quintessential 20th-century American symphony.

Lincoln Portrait

Russian-born conductor André Kostelanetz became an American citizen in 1928, six years after moving to the United States. Kostelanetz expressed deep devotion to his new country in many different ways. During World War II, he presented many light classical and popular concerts as conductor, arranger and musical advisor for CBS Radio, guest pops conductor with many orchestras and conductor of armed forces bands in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Another demonstration of his patriotism came with a series of commissions in 1941.

Kostelanetz commissioned Aaron Copland, Jerome Kern and Virgil Thomson to create musical portraits of great Americans for the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and for guest conducting appearances with his wife, coloratura soprano Lily Pons, during the spring and summer concert seasons in 1942. The Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra introduced three of the commissioned works—Copland’s Lincoln Portrait, Kern’s Mark Twain: A Portrait for Orchestra and Thomson’s Mayor LaGuardia Waltzes and Canons for Dorothy Thompson—at a single concert on May 14, 1942.

Copland originally considered a musical portrait of Walt Whitman before redirecting his interests toward Abraham Lincoln. “I had no great love for musical portraiture,” the composer stated, “and I was skeptical about expressing patriotism in music—it is difficult to achieve without becoming maudlin or bombastic, or both.” Assembling a text from Lincoln’s own speeches and writing helped him steer clear of the perceived hazards. Composition moved swiftly once Copland decided upon a subject. Sketches were finished in February 1942, and the fully orchestrated score was completed in early May.

Lincoln Portrait subdivides into three major sections, according to Copland’s analysis. The opening strives to capture “the mysterious sense of fatality that surrounds Lincoln’s personality . . . [and] his gentleness and simplicity of spirit.” This section incorporates two popular tunes: Stephen Foster’s Camptown Races and the ballad Springfield Mountain. Copland continues with faster music, decorated by jingling sleigh bells and based in part on Camptown Races, depicting the “colorful times in which Lincoln lived.” In the final segment, newly written narrative passages bind together the Lincoln quotes. Copland recommended that the Speaker read “simply and directly, without a trace of exaggerated sentiment.”

Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125

Few works of art elevate, inspire and mystify with the same indescribable power that Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 possesses. The music dramas of Richard Wagner and the symphonies of Gustav Mahler, to name a few, owe their very existence to this work. Gustav Klimt’s wonderfully sensual, art nouveau Beethoven Frieze embodies a personal reflection on the Ninth Symphony. Musical analyses of this complex score (such as Heinrich Schenker’s tome) have filled volumes. The depth of meaning in Beethoven’s inspired setting of Friedrich von Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” has not been exhausted. It probably never will be.

Even before moving to Vienna permanently in 1793, Beethoven announced his desire to compose music for the “Ode to Joy.” The idea of including this text in a symphony, though, struck with jarring force 30 years later. Anton Schindler, Beethoven’s secretary and biographer, remembered the magical moment. “One day, when I entered his room, he called out to me, ‘I have it! I have it,’ holding out his sketchbook, where I read these words, ‘Let us sing the immortal Schiller’s song, Freude’.” At that moment, the master solved the aesthetic impasse presented by the final movement. Borrowing a notion (and actual melodic phrases) from his Choral Fantasy, Op. 80, for piano, orchestra and chorus, Beethoven made the unprecedented decision to incorporate chorus and vocal soloists into his symphony. However, Schiller’s drinking song text required patient selection and rewriting to extol universal peace and brotherhood.

Although the Symphony No. 9 originated as a work for the Philharmonic Society of London, its premiere took place May 7, 1824, in Vienna on a monumental program with the Overture to Consecration of the House, Op. 124, and three movements from the Missa solemnis, Op. 123. Totally deaf, the composer stood beside conductor Ignaz Umlauf, beating time and turning pages. Beethoven negotiated with several publishers for rights to the Symphony No. 9, which he finally offered to the Mainz firm, B. Schott and Sons. The printed score, complete with metronome markings and lavish title page, was dedicated to Friedrich Wilhelm III of Prussia.

Structurally, the Symphony No. 9 remains within accepted boundaries of early-Romantic instrumental practice: sonata-form first movement, scherzo-trio-scherzo, slow variations and fast sonata-rondo. However, Beethoven saturates his movements with a bounteous stream of melodic motives, rhythmic energy, daring harmonic progressions and developmental expansion that stretch standard forms to the point of destruction and irrelevance. His colossal expression dominates every aspect of the music and in the final movement demands both a larger performing medium (solo and choral forces in addition to the typical orchestral “families”) and an enduring text.

In the Allegro, ma non troppo, un poco maestoso, the robust triadic first theme slowly emerges from a sparse, hushed opening. A quiet composite of lyrical motives, serving as a second theme, does not completely still the turbulence boiling beneath the surface. Beethoven manipulates thematic fragments in an extensive development. The recapitulation begins in major then reverts to minor in preparation for a massive coda.

The second movement combines scherzo and sonata ideals. A fleet, triple-meter sonata form, with repeated exposition, functions as a scherzo. Turning to cut time, Beethoven introduces a quieter trio before resuming the scherzo music. The Adagio molto e cantabile consists of interlocking sets of variations, such as Beethoven might have learned from Haydn.

A chaotic dissonance inaugurates the finale. Basses and cellos anticipate the solo bass voice recitative, while the orchestra reminisces on themes from earlier movements. Complete statements of the “Ode to Joy” melody appear in the low strings then full ensemble, but without text it remains a beautiful, yet empty tune. Chaos strikes with greater force in a tone cluster containing every member of the D-minor scale. The bass solo rejects all music heard to this point, implores the gathered company (“O Friends, not these sounds! Instead, let us make sweeter and more joyous music!”), then begins the famous “Ode,” which the chorus and other soloists join. This melody, varied in each repetition, alternates like a refrain between new vocal themes. Beethoven concludes his exhilarating hymn with a quicksilver orchestral coda.

The interpretive adaptability of Schiller’s text has thrust this symphony into the service of politics and nationalism. One popular notion, that the poet intended an ode to “Freiheit” (freedom) but changed it to “Freude” (joy), circulated widely during the 19th century. As a result, Beethoven’s setting achieved almost universal significance during this age of Revolution and political upheaval. Interestingly, this viewpoint turned against the composer’s own culture during World War I. The Frenchman Camille Mauclair was one of many who believed that “the ‘Ode to Joy’ is the unique hymn of the Allies, the credo of all our just hopes, and it would be necessary to forbid criminal Germany ever to play a single bar of it.” Two decades later, the Nazis enlisted the Ninth Symphony for their own propaganda purposes. One of the great cultural showcases, the 1938 Düsseldorf Reichsmusiktage, featured Beethoven’s music. Adolph Hitler requested a performance of this symphony for his 1942 birthday celebrations.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, a once-torn German nation celebrated its reunification to these strains. Leonard Bernstein assembled an orchestra and chorus for two special Christmas-time concerts on both sides of the Brandenburg Gate. These 220 musicians from the East and West performed December 23 in West Berlin’s Philharmonie concert hall and then on Christmas morning in East Berlin’s Schauspielhaus theater. Caught in the spirit of the event, Bernstein substituted the word “Freiheit” for “Freude.” More recently, Seiji Ozawa conducted an unusual performance as part of the opening ceremonies of the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics. Five choruses in different countries were linked by satellite for a truly global rendition of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.”

—Program notes © Todd E. Sullivan 2009

Park Details

Saturday, July 18, 4:45 p.m. — Bennett • Gordon Hall
  Preview Concert
Artists from Ravinia’s Steans Institute