Revolutionary from its first performance on MAY 7, 1824, at the prestigious THEATER AM KÄRNTNERTOR in Vienna, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125 remains the greatest work in the classical repertoire. That incredible evening, an audience numbering 1,000 was uplifted by the musical confluence of orchestra, choir, and quartet—all, that is, but one man: the composer himself. Ludwig van Beethoven was unable to hear a single note of the choral symphony that had taken him more than three decades to compose.
BY HIS MID-TWENTIES, BEETHOVEN was considered the most important composer since Haydn and his extraordinary symphonies, concertos, string quartets, and piano sonatas would lay the foundation of the Romantic Period in music. Yet, when he was 30, at the height of his productivity, he confided to a friend, “For the last three years, my hearing has grown steadily weaker. I can give you some idea of this peculiar deafness when I must tell you that in the theatre, I have to get very close to the orchestra to understand the performers, and from a distance I do not hear the high notes of the instruments and the singers’ voices.” His housekeepers observed how he would sit at the piano composing with a pencil in his mouth, touching the other end to the soundboard to feel the vibration of notes he could now only now hear in his mind. The ear trumpet designed for him by his friend, German inventor, Johann Maelzel, progressively failed as his deafness became more acute. The “conversation books” he wrote to communicate with people had become laborious and as a result, Beethoven became increasingly reclusive. Long-plagued by acute gastrointestinal problems, his troubles worsened in 1815 when his beloved brother, Karl, died of consumption, and a virulent court custody battle ensued when Beethoven attempted to legally wrest his nephew from the boy’s wanton mother.
It was during this, the most difficult period in his life, that Beethoven composed his ninth symphony’s climactic finale, “Ode to Joy,” which symbolizes hope, unity, and fellowship. The bitter irony was not lost on him.
LOUIS ANTOINE DUPORT WAS THE NUREYEV of his day. Renowned for his soaring leaps, ‘flying’ across stage suspended by wires, and his unearthly ability to pirouette 50 times on one leg, he became the tyrannical manager of Vienna’s imperial Theater am Kärntnertor after he retired from ballet.
“Handle him very gently and courteously or he will make things hellacious,” Beethoven was warned, but with less than seven days before the premiere of his great choral symphony, the maestro had yet to receive his contract from Duport. In the meantime, amateurs had been hired from the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde to supplement the professional choir, the largest choir Vienna had ever seen. And since the choir was to remain on stage behind the orchestra, risers had to be built—and Duport had yet to even approve the scaffolding! The quartet soloists complained the notes were too high, tailors and seamstresses were overextended, preparations to accommodate the anticipated full house of 1,000 had to be followed like a battle plan. To top it off, the invitations Beethoven hand-delivered himself to Vienna’s nobility were waved aside when the entire court, on a whim, suddenly decided to leave town for the summer, two days before the performance.
Then something miraculous happened. Duport was on hand to hear the first of only two rehearsals that could be scheduled. He was transfixed, transformed, and in that moment, everything changed. Quite suddenly, all the troubles disappeared. Historians say that without Louis Duport’s behind-the-scenes assistance, the premiere on May 7, 1824, of Beethoven’s last completed symphony might never have been entered into the annals of history.
It had been 12 years since Beethoven had appeared onstage. The great composer, Ludwig van Beethoven walked purposefully onstage, shook the hand of concertmaster, first violinist Ignaz Schuppanzigh, stepped onto the podium, and took his place alongside conductor Michael Umlauf. and solemnly faced the 82-member orchestra and 80-voice choir. Making the sign of the cross, Umlauf raised his baton. And on the downbeat, the first performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D Minor, Op. 125, began.
Even by the end of the first movement, the audience realized it was hearing something astounding. The response at times was rapturous; then people applauded and shouted so loudly, the police were summoned—but they, too, could not contain their emotions. And when it was over, the applause was thundering. Men threw their hats in the air, women their fur stoles. Conductor Umlauf motioned the orchestra to stand, the quartet to step forward, that all might take a bow; no eye was dry. Still, Beethoven remained where he had stood throughout the performance, on the podium, facing the orchestra, unaware of the thunderous applause and shouts of ecstasy coming from the audience behind him. Realizing this, the young contralto Carolina Unger approached the maestro and gently turned him around. And Ludwig van Beethoven saw what he could not hear—and wept.
“WRITE SOMETHING…” KAREN’S WORDS ECHOED, and I returned to the task at hand. I was very familiar with Beethoven and his story, the Ninth, and as a church organist of many years, had played the hymn countless times. Still, it was unfathomable why Beethoven came to mind when it did. Then I played the symphony, from beginning to end, and wham! It hit me! The “Ode to Joy” is a call to all to come together as one people, in joy—and yes, in unity and fellowship! All the things that we who create and drive and sustain and shape ELYSIAN do together as a team of professionals. . .but more important, as a family of professionals working for the common good.
“Nonsense,” I said to myself. “No one will get it.”
But I couldn’t shake off the thought that each and every one of the ELYSIAN team has a role, a purpose, and gives their talents and support to create something wonderful, and to get to where they are was not an easy row to hoe. Just like Beethoven, who understood that anything was possible, anything could be created, and any triumph could be realized—as long as there was joy.
Then, like a flicker of a lit match, something inside called to me to seek the words of the Schiller poem. I read the poem before, but only in German, so I sought the English translation:
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium. . .
I could read no further. Tears welled in my eyes. Elysium means “the fields of Elysian.”
This was not a coincidence. I was led by Fate.
WHEN PEOPLE COME TOGETHER in joy and love, we are rewarded with an abundance of blessings and goodwill. The same can be said for the talented people who work at ELYSIAN. That’s when I realized that the OZZIE Award was indeed the efforts of many to achieve one purpose:
ELYSIAN aims to fashion the world in which we want to live through the pages of our magazine—with joy, with passion—and in gratitude as we celebrate the beautiful world around us.
English “Ode to Joy” Translation
O friends, no more of these sounds!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
More songs full of joy!
Joy, bright spark of divinity,
Daughter of Elysium,
Fire-inspired we tread
Within thy sanctuary.
Thy magic power re-unites
All that custom has divided,
All men become brothers,
Under the sway of thy gentle wings.
Whoever has created
An abiding friendship,
Or has won
A true and loving wife,
All who can call at least one soul theirs,
Join our song of praise;
But those who cannot must creep tearfully
Away from our circle.
All creatures drink of joy
At natures breast.
Just and unjust
Alike taste of her gift;
She gave us kisses and the fruit of the vine,
A tried friend to the end.
Even the worm can feel contentment,
And the cherub stands before God!
Gladly, like the heavenly bodies
Which He sent on their courses
Through the splendor of the firmament;
Thus, brothers, you should run your race,
Like a hero going to victory!
You millions, I embrace you.
This kiss is for all the world!
Brothers, above the starry canopy
There must dwell a loving father.
Do you fall in worship, you millions?
World, do you know your creator?
Seek Him in the heavens;
Above the stars must he dwell.
—by the German poet FRIEDRICH SCHILLER, 1785