Thu March 1, 2012
"The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824" (Encore presentation.)
[Aired on Wednesday, February 29th.] (Note: This show originally aired last year.) Today we speak with the music historian, writer, and educator Harvey Sachs, whose latest book, just out in paperback from Random House, is "The Ninth: Beethoven and the World in 1824." It's a fascinating, in-depth, and wonderfully readable account of the creation and reception of one of the world's immortal pieces of music: Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. And in delivering this account, Sachs also presents a quite vivid profile of Beethoven himself --- and of the city, culture, and historical age in which he thrived. As Publishers Weekly has noted of this book, in a starred review: "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. 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."