The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: In manuscript, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony sparks new respect and joy.

November 9, 2013

By Jacob Stockinger

It is easy to take even the greatest of music and the most original of compositions for granted if you hear it often and it becomes popular enough. (Hear the flash mob performance at the bottom, which has almost 3 million hits on YouTube.)

So how do you get a new and renewed respect for Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? How do you rediscover the joy in the famous “Ode to Joy” choral ending? (Below in a popular YouTube video.)

By going to a museum – in this case, the Pierpont Morgan Library and Museum in New York City — where the original manuscript in a copyist’s form is on display and then realizing the genius and originality that went into the iconic work. (Below is an especially important section in the last movement. It is courtesy of the Royal Philharmonic Society, which is celebrating its bicentennial, and the British Museum.)

beethoven's ninth ms Royal Philharmonic Society and British Museum

Edward Rothstein, one of the most insightful and original culture critics writing for The New York Times or for any publication, recently published just such an account.

It is a long piece with a terrific side bar. But it is well worth reading. And be sure to enlarge the photos so you can see what the performance manuscript – NOT the notebook sketches – looked like. Here is a link:

And here is a link to the sidebar in which Rothstein punningly links Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony to heavy mettle (heavy medal):

And here is a link to the museum’s site, including background information about the exhibition:

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