As the Cape Symphony concludes its season-long tribute to Ludwig van Beethoven’s 250th birthday, the orchestra celebrates the genius who set the standard for perfection with Beethoven’s 9th: Ode to Joy on May 14 & 15, 2022.
Table of Contents
All works by Ludwig van Beethoven
- Adagio sostenuto (slow and sustained)
- Allegretto (moderately fast)
- Presto agitato (very quick and with excitement)
GROSSE FUGE (GREAT FUGUE)
SYMPHONY NO. 9
- Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso (not overly fast, with majesty)
- Molto vivace (very lively)
- Adagio molto e cantabile (very slow and singing)
- Finale (“Ode to Joy”)
To begin the Beethoven-centric event, the Cape Symphony’s principal string players perform “Grosse Fuge,” one of the most visionary works for string quartet ever written. The principal string players are Jae Cosmos Lee, Concertmaster; Heather Goodchild Wade, Principal Violin 2; Elias Goldstein, Principal Viola; and Jacques Lee Wood, Principal Cello.
“Grosse Fuge” was composed in 1825, and while listeners and critics of the day found it confusing, today it’s considered to be one of Beethoven’s masterpieces. At the time, Beethoven wrote, "In my student days I wrote dozens of [fugues]...but [imagination] also wishes to exert its privileges ... and a new and really poetic element must be introduced into the traditional form.” Originally meant to be the finale of a string quartet, the audiences did not “get it,” as we would say today, and his publisher convinced Beethoven to publish “Grosse Fuge” as a standalone piece.
One analyst, among many who have studied “Grosse Fuge,” commented, “Its very form defies categorization.” It has been described as “apocalptyic,” “visionary,” and “a titanic struggle.” Igor Stravinsky said, “The Great Fugue...now seems to me the most perfect miracle in music."
Performing the “Grosse Fuge” is an extremely technical challenge, filled with difficult passages and rhythmic conflict, and it’s also highly emotional. Look for an extraordinary performance by our principal strings.
Pianist Mikael Darmanie, known for his work with Warp Trio, performs the shimmering “Moonlight Sonata,” perhaps Beethoven’s most popular composition for the piano. What makes “Moonlight Sonata” so special?
The formal name of the piece is “Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor,” written in 1801, when Ludwig van Beethoven was in his early thirties. It also came with the subtitle, Sonata quasi una fantasia, translated from the Italian as “sonata in the manner of a fantasy.” Thirty years after publication, and five years after Beethoven’s death, a German music critic named Ludwig Rellstab compared the first movement of “Piano Sonata No. 14” to moonlight shining on Lake Lucerne (a lake in Switzerland). “Moonlight Sonata” quickly became the well-known name and was used in published copies of the work in both German (“Mondscheinsonate") and English.
We don’t know why Beethoven wrote that subtitle about “the manner of a fantasy,” but it is a fact that the sonata deviates from the norms of composing at the time. Traditionally, the movements of a sonata were arranged in a fast-slow-fast tempo pattern. In contrast, the three movements in the “Moonlight Sonata” are slow, moderately fast, and very quick/excited. The first movement is solemn, the second movement was described by composer Franz Liszt as “a flower between two chasms,” and the final movement has been described as “stormy,” “unbridled,” and “ferocious.” Typical for Beethoven, the “Moonlight Sonata” is filled with emotion and rebellious in its form.
Beethoven dedicated the “Moonlight Sonata” to Countess Giulietta Guicciardi of Austria, a young woman who was his piano student for a short time. She may be the “enchanting girl” he referenced in an 1801 letter to a friend, although he had no hope of marrying her as she was upper-class. Giulietta married a count in 1803.
According to ClassicFM, a 2020 survey in the UK showed that “Moonlight Sonata” was the most popular piece of music to fall asleep to (although the site notes that it is most likely the first movement that the survey respondents meant, which has been referred to as “dreamy”). Our performance will not put you to sleep though, we promise!
The pinnacle of the celebration is Beethoven’s very best: the towering Ninth Symphony. Requiring a brilliant chorus, outstanding soloists, and an enormous (and enormously talented) orchestra, Beethoven’s Ninth is perhaps the greatest triumph of Western classical music.
“One of the reasons the Ninth is so special is that Beethoven was the first major composer to include the human voice in a symphony,” explains Jung-Ho Pak, Artistic Director & Conductor. “The familiar ’Ode to Joy’ section is many things: a protest anthem, a celebration of music, and a call for unity among all humankind, something we all long for these days.”
The words to the fourth movement, known as “Ode to Joy,” were written in 1785 by the German poet Friedrich Schiller, and were used, with some revision, by Beethoven for the final movement of his final and most incredible Ninth Symphony. In a CBS Sunday Morning story from December 2021, Beethoven biographer Jan Swafford told Mo Rocca that it's no coincidence that the triumphal "Ode to Joy" has long been a worldwide anthem of freedom and peace.
"Beethoven wanted to write an anthem for humanity with this little tune that anybody can sing," said Swafford. He certainly succeeded! Just about everyone knows the “Ode to Joy” tune, and Western popular culture is steeped in it. If you were raised in a Christian church, you may have heard it first in the hymn "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" (aka "The Hymn of Joy"), adapted from “Ode to Joy” by Henry van Dyke. Composer Michael Kamen featured the “Ode to Joy” theme in variations throughout his score to the 1988 film Die Hard. Watch this compilation video of "Ode to Joy" moments in the Bruce Willis movie. In Sister Act 2, Whoopi Goldberg and Lauryn Hill perform a souped-up version of "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee.” And GRAMMY-Award winning singer Lizzo recently played a bit of “Ode to Joy” on Saturday Night Live, appearing in a sketch as a flutist looking to fill in with an orchestra that’s rehearsing to perform the Ninth Symphony. The always recognizable tune remains as relevant today as ever!
The most important use of “Ode to Joy,” however, is as a protest anthem and a celebration of peace. Leonard Bernstein famously conducted it in East Berlin after the fall of the Berlin Wall, replacing “Joy” with “Freedom.” Defiantly, Chinese students played it in Tiananmen Square, while the authorities blasted speeches from Party members. The BBC Proms Youth Choir performed the piece alongside the UNESCO World Orchestra for Peace at the Royal Albert Hall in 2018, commemorating the 100-year anniversary of the end of World War One.
Beethoven’s original intent in adapting the Schiller poem, a well-known call for freedom, for his Ninth Symphony was in itself a radical act, and the passionately political composer would no doubt have loved the association of his work with the cause of revolution against tyranny and, ultimately, peace.
According to CBS Sunday Morning, “A determined, defiant Beethoven gave the world a reminder that, even in the darkest of times, there's potential for joy.” As the world again struggles with dark times – war, pandemic, poverty – the joy of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony and the “Ode to Joy” brings us all respite and inspiration.
For the Ninth Symphony, the Cape Symphony will be joined by one of the great choruses of New England, Chorus pro Musica (follow this link for the full list of performers) led by Dr. Jamie Kirsch. The four soloists are Abigail Rethwisch, Soprano (Appearing courtesy of the Metropolitan Opera); Laurel Semerdjian, Alto; Adrian Kramer, Tenor; and Brandon Bell, Bass. Basler performed with the Cape Symphony in 2018’s “Mozart Requiem.” The others are making their Cape Symphony debuts.
Jung-Ho says, “A performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony should be a monumental experience, earth-shattering and inspiring; and trust me, our performances will be!”
If you have your tickets, we look forward to welcoming you to Beethoven’s 9th: Ode to Joy – and if you don’t have tickets yet, we encourage you to join us for this wonderful show!
The Cape Symphony is proud to present Beethoven’s 9th: Ode to Joy on Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 PM and Sunday, May 15 at 3:00 PM at the Barnstable Performing Arts Center, 744 West Main Street, Hyannis. Doors open forty-five minutes before the show. Our health and safety policies will be in place for this event. Please read the details here: Welcoming You Back, Safely.