Beginning of concert:

Maestro enters, conducts Symphony No. 5, first movement (8”)

At end: applause, bows, screen flies in, HOST enters, greets Maestro who sits.

Slide on screen: fate motto (four notes)

HOST: (to screen) “Thus Fate knocks at the door”. (To audience) That is how he described the first four notes of his Fifth Symphony, arguably the most famous four notes anyone has ever written. They are indelibly etched in our collective psyche because…well, why? What is it about those four notes that make them so foreboding, so unforgettable?

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, I’m (host) and on behalf of Maestro (conductor) and your magnificent (orchestra), welcome to (title of concert series).

Those four fateful notes are the calling card of Ludwig van Beethoven, and it was his fate to be the human test tube in which the classical ideals of the 18th century were mixed with the revolutionary ideals of the 19th century, producing the volatile reaction we know today as neuroticism….I mean, Romanticism.  Sorry, Freudian slip. Well, actually, neuroticism and romanticism often go hand in hand, as we will see this evening with Beethoven: Immortal, Beloved.

A famous philosopher once said: “Everything great in the world comes from neurotics. They alone have founded our religions and composed our masterpieces.” Beethoven the neurotic was possessed by rages, yet capable of radiant warmth and tenderness. He was an imperfect perfectionist who drove people crazy, yet he was so beloved that twenty thousand showed up at his funeral. And if indeed Fate had knocked on his door, Beethoven could not have heard it, for the greatest composer of the 19th century was going deaf when he wrote those four notes.

End of concert, introducing finale of the Ninth Symphony:

It’s easy to say that, in the Ninth, Beethoven really threw away the rule book by introducing human voices to a symphony. But again, why? For over thirty years he had wanted to set to music a poem, Friedrich Schiller’s Ode to Joy, which extolled the concepts of democracy and the universal brotherhood of man. Now these may seem like old news to us today, but Schiller wrote this poem in 1785, only 9 years after the American Declaration of Independence proclaimed that all men are created equal and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These were revolutionary ideas at this time.

For Beethoven, writing music was very hard work. Haydn and Mozart wrote music quickly and easily, but Beethoven struggled mightily with his creations. This Ode to Joy was so important to him that to glorify it would require the greatest music he was capable of. That’s why, after thirty years, there were over two hundred drafts of the just the main theme alone!

The last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth begins with an unusual four-minute introduction. The basses and cellos are making an important speech, but without the words. The speech keeps getting interrupted by flashbacks to the first three movements. Beethoven is reviewing the preceding movements and rejecting them, saying, in effect, “and now for something completely different!” And then you hear it, the sublime melody that took so long to get just right. It’s hushed and distant at first, quietly in the cellos, almost like he’s humming it to himself. This is the beginning of the Ode to Joy.

As you listen to it, keep this thought in the backs of your minds: When Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony he was completely, utterly, stone deaf.

(Orchestra tunes, conductor and soloists enter)

HOST: What was the power of a man who could hear without ears? (Mona Lisa on screen) Render Da Vinci blind, and there is no Mona Lisa.

(Pieta on screen). Take away Michelangelo’s hands, and there’s no Pieta.

(Screeen goes black, flies out)

But make Beethoven deaf — and we get the Ode to Joy.


©Robert Moir