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Reviewing Beethoven: How Newspapers Greeted the Greatest Piece of Music Ever

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Reviewing Beethoven: How Newspapers Greeted the Greatest Piece of Music Ever

Article excerpt

Many newspapers are getting rid of their own film critics, to save money, and going with syndicated stars. Unfortunately, this makes a certain sense, if you have to cut, because in most cities there are few "local" films to review. No such luck, however, when it comes to live music reviews, from pop to opera, which presumably, and rightly, continue on.

So you can pick up your paper this weekend and read about Kelly Clarkson in a big hall or Joe Jazz Pianist in a little club. But ever wonder how newspapers reviewed the debut of the greatest piece of music (and one of the top achievements in any art form) ever created by man or woman?

Here's a sampling of how the critics greeted the May 7, 1824, premiere of Beethoven's monumental and revolutionary Ninth Symphony in Vienna.

Amazingly, the performance was thrown together in a few days with just two full rehearsals, despite the difficulty of the piece - and the unprecedented addition of a 90-voice choir for the "Ode to Joy" finale, with words by Schiller.

If you want to get a video glimpse of it, check out the DVD of the recent film "Copying Beethoven" starring Ed Harris as the deaf Ludwig Van (as Alex in "A Clockwork Orange" would put it). It's a weak film, my droogies, but the twenty minutes devoted to the premiere is wonderful.

There are glimpses of it also in the earlier, equally disappointing film, "Immortal Beloved," starring Gary Oldman.

Here are excerpts from the reviews, taken from the paperback "Beethoven: The Ninth Symphony," by David Benjamin Levy (Yale). One further note: reviews of the first performances of the Ninth in London a little later were wholly negative. *

from Bauerle's Allgemeine Theater-Zeitung:

"Imagine the highly inspired composer, the musical Shakespeare, to whom all means of his arts readily are available at the slightest wave of his hand, how, in the innermost belief in the holy work of redemption, he sings God's praises and the hope of humanity. …

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