Spotlight Columns

Beethoven’s ‘Ninth Symphony’ continues to resonate, 188 years later

By From page B2 | March 14, 2012

The world of 1824 was an uncertain place.

The Napoleonic Wars that tore the European continent apart had ended nine years earlier at the Congress of Vienna. The crowned heads of Europe were focused on maintaining their hold on power, while a rebel thread of independence yearned to break free.

It was the age of the Monroe Doctrine, where those rebel Yanks told the European powers, essentially, to “stay out of our business.” The Congress of South America had declared independence from Spain, Mexico and any other nation and had established a republican form of government. Simón Bolivar had become president of Peru months earlier.

Radical ideas — freedom of conscience and the freedom to control one’s own life — were heady and dangerous.

Enter into this world a deaf German composer and pianist who desired to be a successful freelancer, free to express his own thoughts: Ludwig van Beethoven. In that year, 1824, he released the work that would shake the musical world to its foundations: the Ninth Symphony, also called “The Ode to Joy.”

According to author Harvey Sachs, author of “The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824,” Beethoven had to “pay lip service to the rulers on whose patronage he depended and for whom expressions about universal brotherhood were only too reminiscent of the ideals bandied about by the French Revolution.” He had to “toe the line” while simultaneously utilizing his freedom of expression.

The level of brilliance of the Ninth Symphony cannot be underestimated. It broke ground on many levels, and not just musically.

It was the first choral symphony. Listeners heard it speak to them of grandeur, divinity, secular humanity … and universal brotherhood. Therein is part of its genius.

One of the greatest aspects of Beethoven’s Ninth is its universal appeal. The monarchs loved it. The proletariat loved it. The churches of Europe loved it. Later, the Nazis loved it. The communists loved it. Every generation since 1824 has listened to the Ninth, found something there, and embraced it.

The Ninth is “an extremely intense, moving piece of music, not only because of the musical aspects but on a spiritual level,” said Michael Neumann, music director and conductor of the Folsom Symphony. “Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is out in the stratosphere spiritually. Nothing was ever the same musically after Beethoven wrote his Ninth Symphony.”

Aficionados of Beethoven have the opportunity to experience this seminal work on the weekend of March 24-25, when the Folsom Symphony and the Sacramento Master Singers will perform “Glorious Beethoven: His Magnificent Ninth Symphony” at Three Stages in Folsom.

“In my opinion, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is the greatest musical composition Western civilization has ever produced,” Neumann said.

Performances are March 24 at 7:30 p.m. and March 25 at 3 p.m. For tickets or more information, call (916) 608-6888 or visit

Like a force of nature, the Ninth’s power to reach the human heart continues to reverberate throughout the decades.

“Everyone should (experience) Beethoven’s Ninth at least once in their lifetime,” said Folsom Symphony President Bruce Woodbury. “This work is so spectacular we are offering it twice. The experience of the orchestral music with the Master Singers will make for an unforgettable evening.”

Submit your arts or entertainment event for consideration in Susan’s column by emailing her at [email protected].

Susan Laird


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