Sunday, April 23, 2017


Ode to Joy
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
Vincent P. de Luise, M.D. 

This essay was written as Program Notes for the April 22, 2017 performance of Beethoven's ninth symphony, the Symphony in d minor, Op 125, "Choral, by the Waterbury Symphony Orchestra, the Connecticut Choral Society, the New Jersey Choral Society Camerata and the Naugatuck Valley Community College Choir, under the direction of Maestro Leif Bjaland.

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
by Ferdinand Georg Waldmuller (1823)

Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth symphony, the “Choral,” is one of the greatest artistic achievements of western civilization. It is a celebration of hope and joy, a transcendent masterpiece crafted by a composer who could not hear his magisterial creation. It is an extraordinary, monumental, complex, and powerful work that continues to challenge musicians, soloists, choruses, and listeners, as it celebrates the most wondrous shared dreams of humanity, of community, of happiness, of freedom, together “beneath the starry realm.”

Beethoven first began to notice hearing loss in 1796, at the age of 26; he would live with progressive deafness for thirty more years. In 1802, he wrote an anguished letter to his brothers, Carl and Johann, the manifesto known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, a letter that he never sent, telling them of the despair he felt at this painfully ironic turn of events, that he of all people was going deaf ! deaf !, and explaining in heart-wrenching detail what this would mean for him. How was he going to perform as a pianist? to conduct? How was he going to practice his Art? Resolute and defiant, he would do so, bringing to bear his indefatigable work ethic and indomitable spirit against that implacable enemy, deafness.

What is the relationship between illness and creativity? Beethoven’s genius birthed Romanticism. He blew wide open the door that Mozart had earlier knocked on. The year was 1805; the composition was his third symphony, “Eroica” (“Heroic”). Yet, it was Beethoven’s deafness after 1819 that led him into a new and private sound world, a tonal universe totally in his mind. Within that solitary and lonely space, Beethoven composed an extraordinary corpus of music that took Romanticism into another realm. Would posterity have had this majestic ninth symphony, the sublime Missa Solemnis, the ineffable late string quartets and piano sonatas, in the melodic and harmonic form we know them, had Beethoven had normal hearing? Beethoven's spirituality also played a role in these final, greatest and most remarkable compositions. Genius is often the result of an artist overcoming a life challenge, vanquishing their demons. Beethoven fought illness throughout his life, and triumphed. As you listen, watch and are uplifted this evening, think about Beethoven’s mind, his spirit, his courage, his Art. 

The genesis of the ninth symphony began early in Beethoven's life. In 1790, he began setting to music a 1786 poem and drinking song by Friedrich Schiller, an die Freude (" to Joy"). His 1795 Lied (german art song), Gegenliebe ("Returned Love"), already contained the motif that he would later employ as the Ode to Joy theme. In 1808, Beethoven wrote a groundbreaking composition for piano, orchestra and chorus, the Choral Fantasia, whose theme is also reminiscent of the Ode to Joy. Beethoven himself acknowledged the kinship of the two works; he described the ninth symphony's last movement as a "setting of the words of Schiller's immortal Lied, an die Freude, in the same way as my pianoforte fantasia with chorus, but on a far grander scale." The Ode to Joy motif can be found earlier, in Mozart's Misericordias Domini of 1775; however, it is highly unlikely that Beethoven ever heard the work or saw the autograph. Rather, it is a form of "convergent musical evolution" which led Mozart and Beethoven independently to conceive the melody, which speaks to its simplicity and universality.

The Philharmonic Society of London had commissioned the ninth symphony in 1817. Beethoven worked on it intermittently for years, while battling constant intestinal maladies, completing the score in 1824, only after he had finished composing the massive Diabelli Variations (dedicated to his "Immortal Beloved, likely Antonie Brentano), and the Missa Solemnis

Upset at how he perceived the Viennese had treated him (Beethoven was always famously upset at something), he had wanted to premiere the work in Berlin or London, but a group of thirty influential friends and musical colleagues petitioned him, “the one man of all men who we all recognize as the foremost of living men,” to have it performed first in Vienna.  Immensely flattered, he relented. So it was that on May 7, 1824, in the Theater am Karntnertor, the ninth symphony was premiered, along with the overture, “The Consecration of the House”, and a section from the Missa Solemnis. It was Beethoven’s first on-stage appearance in twelve years.  The hall was packed with an enthusiastic and expectant crowd; however, the composer's aristocratic patrons were mostly absent; those few who were still alive having stopped financially supporting him by then. Though Michael Umlauf conducted, Beethoven was invited to be present on stage to give the tempos for each movement.  

The violinist Joseph Böhm recalled that "Beethoven stood before the podium and gesticulated furiously before each movement. At times he rose, at other times he shrank to the ground, moving as if he wanted to play all the instruments himself, and sing for the whole chorus. The musicians minded his rhythm alone while playing.” Wild applause followed both the scherzo and after the final majestic choral finale. Beethoven remained facing the orchestra, leafing through the score and beating time, unaware of the impact and unable to hear the ovation. The alto Caroline Unger had to tap him on the shoulder and help turn him around to face the ecstatic, rapturous audience.

The symphony begins in tonal limbo, as if the orchestra is tuning to an amorphous and wandering A major chord, sound emerging from silence. Gradually, it modulates to the tonic of d minor, and then in the recapitulation, morphs into a powerful D major.  The second movement is a sprightly scherzo and trio, one of many brilliant Beethovenian innovations (scherzos historically were slotted as third movements).  The ensuing Adagio becomes the third movement - spacious, leisurely, and dramatically placed to maximize the effect of the finale. The musicologist Charles Rosen comments that the last movement is a symphony in itself: “its first movement" introduces a theme with variations, appearing first in the cellos and basses, then echoed by vocal soloists and chorus; the “second movement” is a scherzo in military style with Turkish influences (echoing Mozart’s Entführung aus dem Serail); the “third movement” is a lyrical reverie; and the “fourth movement” is a fugue on the themes of the previous movements.”  Beethoven being Beethoven, he changed some of Schiller’s lyrics to reflect his own views on freedom and brotherhood.  The memorable Ode to Joy theme is universal in its immediacy and melodic beauty:

Beethoven’s ninth set the bar for all future composers: Schumann, Wagner, Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler paid homage to it. While the Nobel Prize author Romain Rolland wrote that the Ode to Joy is a paean to the brotherhood of all peoples, the theme was also misappropriated by the Nazis and the Rhodesian supremacist government, and during the Cultural Revolution in China, it was used as an example of class struggle. Despite this, it lives on today as the anthem of the European Union, and in concert halls, and on radio stations, LPs and CDs throughout the world, The autograph of the score, in the Berlin State Library, was the first musical composition in the United Nations Memory of the World Heritage list.   

Beethoven, the humanist; Beethoven, the victor over constant struggle; Beethoven, the exceptionalist; Beethoven, the universal composer;  
Beethoven, for eternity.                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Ars longa!  © 2017 Vincent P. de Luise MD

Saturday, April 15, 2017


Vincent P. de Luise M.D.

Mozart in 1770, with the Order of the Golden Spur
Anonymous oil copy of the lost 1770 original

In Mozart's Misericordias Domini, KV 222, at the 1:05 mark, you can hear the "Ode to Joy" melody, i.e., Beethoven's "Ode to Joy." It appears several times in Mozart's composition.

How can this be?

Mozart wrote the Misericordias in 1775, over 40 years before Beethoven started composing his ninth symphony, the Choral (Beethoven began his ninth symphony in 1817 and took seven years to finish it, in 1824).

Did Beethoven copy Mozart?

Beethoven in 1819
by Joseph Karl Stieler

It is highly unlikely. There is no evidence that Beethoven ever heard the Misericordias, or ever saw the autograph.

A similar example is with Beethoven's "Eroica" symphony theme. Mozart had penned a similar melody thirty seven years early in the overture to his opera, "Bastien und Bastienne" KV 50, in 1768. Bastien was performed only once in Mozart's lifetime, and not published until well into the 1800s. Again, it is highly unlikely for Beethoven to have seen the manuscript or to have heard a performance.

These serendipitous motivic events are what I have termed, "Convergent Musical Evolution." These melodies are simple and direct, diatonic, with no chromatics and with small intervals between notes; two geniuses independently conjuring and crafting eternal and universal melodies.


Ars longa !


@ 2017 Vincent P. de Luise M.D.

Thursday, April 13, 2017


by Vincent de Luise M.D.

Beethoven and Eros

Ludwig van Beethoven 
    by W.J. Mahler (1815)    

Antonie Brentano
        by Joseph Karl Stieler (1808

On July 7, 1812, Beethoven penned an intimate, ten-page, emotionally wrenching and soul-bearing letter to his "Immortal Beloved," his unsterbliche Geliebte. He never mailed that letter, just as he never mailed the letter known as the Heiligenstadt Testament, announcing to his brothers Karl and Johann of his impending deafness.
The last page of Beethoven's
Letter to his Immortal Beloved

Who was the Immortal Beloved? Who was Beethoven's unsterbliche Geliebte?

Maynard Solomon had convinced most of us in 1977 that it was Antonie Brentano (1780-1869), for whom Beethoven wrote "An die ferne Geliebte" and the monumental "Diabelli Variations" (Beethoven had planned to dedicate the piano sonatas Op 111 and 112 to her as well, except for an error at the publishers). Brentano was a prominent arts collector and philanthropist.

New research has refuted the Brentano hypothesis. Could Josephine van Brunsvik have been Beethoven's true love?  Josephine's sister Therese wrote, "Beethoven! It is like a dream, that he was the friend, the confidant of our house - a beautiful mind ! Why did not my sister Josephine, as widow Deym, take Beethoven as her husband? Josephine's soul mate! They were born for each other!"

Josephine van Buskirk

Still others maintain that it was the beautiful and talented pianist, Countess Anne Marie Erdody,  to whom Beethoven dedicated the "Ghost" piano trio, Op 70 no. 1, and the piano sonata Op 102.
Countess Anna Marie Erdody

Or perhaps it was Giulietta Guicciardi, to whom Beethoven dedicated the "Moonlight" Sonata?
Giulietta Guicciardi

For most of his life, Beethoven was in love with a woman, from his childhood sweetheart, Eleonore "Lorchen" von Breuning, to the very end with Brentano, the van Brunsviks and the others. As far as is known, none of these amorous situations was consummated.. 

Maybe Beethoven was ultimately in love with Euterpe herself, the Muse of Music, as these other women were all virtually unattainable, by rank, choice, or circumstance (i.e., "she was "happily married" so it cannot be her" ).

Maybe that's why Beethoven never mailed that letter on July 7, 1812.

"Ever Thine

Ever Mine

Ever Ours"

@2017 Vincent P. de Luise MD