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The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824by Harvey Sachs
Synopses & Reviews
“All men become brothers . . .
Be embraced, ye millions!”
The Ninth Symphony, a symbol of freedom and joy, was Beethoven’s mightiest attempt to help humanity find its way from darkness to light, from chaos to peace. Yet the work was born in a repressive era, with terrified Bourbons, Hapsburgs, and Romanovs using every means at their disposal to squelch populist rumblings in the wake of the French Revolution and Napoleon’s wars. Ironically, the premiere of this hymn to universal brotherhood took place in Vienna, the capital of a nation that Metternich was turning into the first modern police state.
The Ninth’s unveiling, on May 7, 1824, was the most significant artistic event of the year, and the work remains one of the most precedent-shattering and influential compositions in the history of music—a reference point and inspiration that resonates even today. But in The Ninth, eminent music historian Harvey Sachs demonstrates that Beethoven was not alone in his discontent with the state of the world. Lord Byron died in 1824 during an attempt to free Greece from the domination of the Ottoman empire; Delacroix painted a masterpiece in support of that same cause; Pushkin, suffering at the hands of an autocratic czar, began to draft his anti-authoritarian play Boris Godunov; and Stendhal and Heine wrote works that mocked conventional ways of thinking.
The Ninth Symphony was so unorthodox that it amazed and confused listeners at its premiere—described by Sachs in vibrant detail—yet it became a standard for subsequent generations of creative artists, and its composer came to embody the Romantic cult of genius. In this unconventional, provocative new book, Beethoven’s masterwork becomes a prism through which we may view the politics, aesthetics, and overall climate of the era.
Part biography, part history, part memoir, The Ninth brilliantly explores the intricacies of Beethoven’s last symphony—how it brought forth the power of the individual while celebrating the collective spirit of humanity.
"Beethoven wasn't always a cultural icon. At least one critic attending the 1824 premiere of his Symphony No. 9 in D Minor likened what he heard to a 'hideously writhing wounded dragon.' Just why the composer and his works endure is the question behind this absorbing book by music historian Sachs (Toscanini). Through detailed musical analysis and condensed readings of cultural politics and 19th-century history, Sachs ponders 'what role so-called high culture played, plays, and ought to play in civilization.' Using the year 1824 and the premiere of the Ninth as ground zero, Sachs reviews the literary, artistic, and social movements of the time, noting how Beethoven's innovative symphony (the first with a vocal score) and its themes of equality and redemption no doubt challenged the resurgent conservatism among Europe's monarchies. Sachs places Beethoven alongside Pushkin, Byron, and other prominent romantics, whose talents he finds linked to a common quest for freedoms — political, artistic, and 'above all of the mind and spirit.' After first presenting the Ninth as a Viennese social event and then as emblematic of Beethoven's artistic process, Sachs shines with a close reading of the Ninth's musical score, interpreting its techniques and emotive narrative. Readers will want a recording nearby. In the book's last chapter, Sachs deals with the impact and legacy of Beethoven's masterwork and explains what makes his music universal." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Ideal for both music lovers and history enthusiasts, this engaging and multidimensional book looks at the premiere of Beethoven's seminal Ninth Symphony as a key event in the world's cultural past.
About the Author
Harvey Sachs is a writer and music historian and the author or co-author of eight previous books, of which there have been more than fifty editions in fifteen languages. He has written for The New Yorker and many other publications, has been a Guggenheim Fellow and a Fellow of the New York Public Library’s Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers, and is currently on the faculty of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He lives in New York City.
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Arts and Entertainment » Music » Genres and Styles » Classical