Leonard Bernstein Conducts Beethoven’s 9th in a Classic 1979 Performance

Even if you don’t know clas­si­cal music, you know Lud­wig van Beethoven’s Sym­pho­ny No. 9. Fin­ished in 1824, Beethoven’s final com­plete sym­pho­ny, and the first from any major com­pos­er to use voic­es, has risen to and remained at the top of the West­ern orches­tral canon as one of the most fre­quent­ly per­formed sym­phonies in exis­tence. The Japan­ese have even gone so far as to make it a New Year’s tra­di­tion. I remem­ber, when first learn­ing the Japan­ese lan­guage, watch­ing an edu­ca­tion­al video about an ama­teur neigh­bor­hood cho­rus con­vert­ing the orig­i­nal Ger­man into more read­able Japan­ese pho­net­ic script, so as to bet­ter sing it for their cel­e­bra­tion. A charm­ing sto­ry, to be sure, but at the top of the post, you’ll find Beethoven’s 9th ren­dered with the exact oppo­site of ama­teurism by the Wiener Phil­har­moniker, with Leonard Bern­stein con­duct­ing. (Part one, Part Two, Part Three, Part Four.) Then again, at the root of “ama­teur” lies the term “to love,” and who would dare accuse Bern­stein, how­ev­er con­sum­mate­ly pro­fes­sion­al a man of music, of not lov­ing this sym­pho­ny?

“I’ve just fin­ished film­ing and record­ing the great 9th Sym­pho­ny,” Bern­stein says in the clip just above, describ­ing how the expe­ri­ence got him think­ing about his­tor­i­cal dates. “My asso­ci­a­tions led me back to the year of my own birth, 1918, the year of the great armistice which brought the First World War to an end. Now, I had the key. The pass­word was peace, armistice, broth­er­hood — ‘ain’t gonna study war no more.’  Peace, broth­er­hood, we are all chil­dren of one father, let us embrace one anoth­er, all the mil­lions of us, friend­ship, love, joy: these, of course, are the key words and phras­es from [Friedrich] Schiller’s [“Ode to Joy”] to which Beethoven attached that glo­ri­ous music, rang­ing from the mys­te­ri­ous to the radi­ant to the devout to the ecsta­t­ic.” You can also watch the per­for­mance that put Bern­stein’s mind on this track as one of the many includ­ed in Beethoven 9, Deutsche Gram­mophon’s first iPad/iPhone/iPod app. For free, you get two min­utes of the sym­pho­ny with all fea­tures enabled. “The full expe­ri­ence,” their site adds, ” is then unlocked through In-App Pur­chase.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonard Bern­stein Demys­ti­fies the Rock Rev­o­lu­tion for Curi­ous (if Square) Grown-Ups in 1967

Leonard Bernstein’s Mas­ter­ful Lec­tures on Music (11+ Hours of Video Record­ed in 1973)

Bern­stein Breaks Down Beethoven

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on lit­er­a­ture, film, cities, Asia, and aes­thet­ics. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­lesA Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall.

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