From 20-27 July the conductor Daniel Barenboim and his youthful West-Eastern Divan Orchestra took up residency at London's Albert Hall to perform all of Beethoven's nine symphonies. It was a resounding success. The week, part of the BBC Proms season, marked the climax of Barenboim's ambitious Beethoven For All three year world tour. Each performance was recorded and filmed, and I watched the whole cycle on TV. Like many others I found it completely engrossing.
Barenboim has always had a missionary zeal about Beethoven. He's the composer who speaks to him the most. He knows the entire oeuvre inside out. As a concert pianist his interpretations of Beethoven's piano music are legendary. As a conductor of Beethoven he's strict but sensitive, meticulous, a perfectionist. His aim was to bring out the extraordinary and exciting contrasts we all know and love in Beethoven: the order and disorder, the resolution and irresolution, the hope and despair, the light and the shade, the intellect and the emotion, the simplicity and the complexity, the varying moods and tempi and unexpected key changes, the dark night of the soul followed by optimistic triumph at the end of the day. Listening to Beethoven is like riding a roller coaster you don't want to and can't get off.
|Ludwig van Beethoven|
For me there is no other composer quite like him. Despite the massive problems in his life — probable syphilis and worsening deafness — he remained an idealist and an optimist. Each of his symphonies was revolutionary in some way, from the initial bold diminished chord (a B flat introduced to the chord of C like a piece of grit in an oyster) in the first symphony (the first time this had been done) to the inclusion of a choir and solo singers in the ninth (also the first time this had been done). It's as if the symphonic form was not large enough to contain Beethoven's vision, so he constantly had to stretch its boundaries. And the boundaries of his magnificent Choral Symphony became the edges of the universe, the very stars themselves as Beethoven gave musical form to Schiller's Ode To Joy, with its call for world peace, universal brotherhood and the unity of mankind (You millions, I embrace you. / This kiss is for all the world! / Brothers, above the starry canopy / There must dwell a loving father).
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