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On Christmas Day 1989

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On Christmas Day 1989, Leonard Bernstein, famed American composer and conductor led a concert featuring Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 to celebrate the opening of the Berlin Wall. The concert was held at the Philharmonic concert hall in West Berlin. The concert unites an international cast of celebrated musicians and vocalists for a moving performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. This performance of Beethoven’s ninth, the final movement of which is based on Freidrich Schiller’s “ode to joy” with its passionate plea for world brotherhood, and it features American soprano June Anderson among the vocal soloists, and a 100-voice chorus comprised of singers from East and West Germany. The performers in the orchestra were from East and West Germany as well as the New York Philharmonic, Kirov Orchestra, London Symphony, and Orchestre de Paris. The concert was so focused on freedom that Bernstein changed the word Freude to Freiheit, so that the “Ode to Joy” became an “Ode to Freedom”.

The first movement is the “Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso”, which is the opening theme, played pianissimo over string tremolos. It starts pianissimo and gradually crescendos as more instruments enter with the sense of a steamroller effect. This is the driving force that lasts throughout the rest of the movement. The melody is passed around, often heard between the strings, bassoon, flute, and clarinet. Later, in the movement, you hear the original introduction return which renders a sense of cyclic form. The timpani are used to put more emphasis on the accents that the winds and strings are doing behind the melody. Later, at the outset of the recapitulation section, it returns fortissimo in D major, rather than the opening’s D minor. The introduction also employs the use of the mediant to tonic relationship which further distorts the tonic key until it is finally played by the bassoon in the lowest possible register.

The second movement the “Molto vivace”, a scherzo, is also in D minor, states the theme right away with the strings. The melody is then passed along between the strings and woodwinds and eventually builds up to the entire ensemble sharing the melody. Then a conversation of the melody occurs with the strings and woodwinds stating the melody back and forth. After what seems to be a brief fermata, the bassoon, oboe, and eventually, flute state the melody back and forth to each other in a staccato type manner with interjections by the timpani. The back and forth between the three creates an echo effect of the melody. It uses propulsive rhythms and a timpani solo. An accelerando occurs near the end of the movement with a restatement of the original theme from the beginning.

The third movement, “Adagio molto e cantabile”, begins piano with the bassoon followed my other woodwind instruments restating the same thing. The tempo in the third movement begins very largo compared to the two earlier movements but eventually speeds up a bit. The solo clarinet states the melody in a forte manner with the strings playing the accompaniment part. The strings gradually crescendo to regain the melody. Further into the movement, the tempo is no longer at the largo pace it began at and has moved to a somewhat a moderate pace. The lyrical slow movement, in B flat major, is in a loose variation form, with each pair of variations progressively elaborating the rhythm and melody. The first variation, like the theme, is in 4/4 time, the second in 12/8. The variations are separated by passages in 3/4, the first in D major, the second in G major. The final variation is twice interrupted by episodes in which loud fanfares for the full orchestra are answered by double-stopped octaves played by the first violins alone. A prominent horn solo is assigned to the fourth player. Trombones are tacet for the movement.

The last movement, Ode to Joy, begins abruptly at a forte dynamic with the trumpets and woodwinds starting the movement off. After a brief introduction of the upcoming theme by the strings, the beginning statement is redone by the trumpets and woodwinds. There are interjections of the melody from the second movement by the flute and oboe once again referring to the cyclic form used. Different variations of the Ode to Joy melody is being passed around throughout the ensemble but the main theme was not announced until later in the movement. The main Ode to Joy theme is introduced in the strings at pianissimo. The theme crescendos to a mezzo forte while more instruments take part in the theme with woodwinds accompanying them. The voices enter midway through the movement, first with the baritone, soon after joined by the rest of the voices. The end of the movement ends with an accelerando of the Ode to Joy theme.

The finale comprises of 9 parts:
1 – Presto: opened by a brilliant fanfare;
2 – Allegro assai: announced by the basses with the famous theme, interrupted three times by the themes of the first three movements;
3 – Presto: after some orchestral introductory measures, the bass intervenes «O Freunde, nicht diese Töne». Note that the words of the recitative are by Beethoven;
4 – Allegro assai: here is truly the Ode to Joy, started by the bass, «Freude» then «Freude, schöner Götterfunken»; entrance of the choir «deine Zauber…», then dialogue with the vocal quartet;
5 – Alla marcia (allegro assai vivace). «Turkish» music, and tenor solo «Froh…», response of the male choir, long tutti of the orchestra following the choir «Freude, schöner Götterfunken»;
6 – Andante maestoso: slow choir accompanied particularly by trombones, followed by an adagio ma non troppo, ma divoto (with choir);
7 – Allegro energico, sempre ben marcato: brilliant choir with brass;
8 – Allegro ma non tanto: only with soloists the entry of the choir. Poco allegro passage, stringendo il tempo, sempre piu allegro: eight measures which lead to prestissimo;
9 – Prestissimo (fortissimo): brilliant choral conclusion.