There remains a persistent rumour which states that Sony developed the CD to hold 74 minutes of music because that would ensure that you could get a complete version of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony on one recording. The fact that most modern recordings of this symphony are several minutes shorter than this 74 minute recording limit don’t seem to matter; the issue has become a matter of faith, not just because it makes some sort of sense, but also because it pins Sony’s technology alongside the piece of music that many people regard as being the ultimate expression of music as art. That the composer wrote this when he was profoundly deaf makes the achievement more than just remarkable – it makes it nearly miraculous.
Like lots of great ideas, Beethoven’s 9th contains ideas that had come to him many years before but which had never found a home. Specifically, he had made plans to set a poem - written by Friedrich Schiller named An die Freude – to music when he was 22 years old. As it transpired, this piece found its way onto the last symphony Ludwig ever wrote.
Poignantly, at his first concert appearance in 12 years Ludwig sat to one side of the orchestra and beat out the tempos for an orchestra he could not hear whilst Michael Umlauf conducted. That didn‘t stop Beethoven gesticulating wildly throughout, almost mimicking the players as though he wanted to play all the instruments himself. By the time the piece concluded Beethoven was several measures out and had to be stopped by the soprano who turned him to face an audience on their feet and – to assist him through his deafness – threw hats and handkerchiefs in the air so that he could at least see their applause if not hear it.
The fourth movement of the symphony is of course where one hears Ode to Joy. I haven’t tried to play through the entire fourth movement because it’s very difficult to play at all convincingly using anything but an orchestra (even if Wagner transcribed the whole piece for the piano) and instead have started with the familiar motif on strings, through the restatement on brass and over the choral section, ending with the famous cry of Götterfunken (‘spark of the gods’) and then I go no further. It took a month to record this and even then I’m not sure how good or bad a job I made of it.
Instrumentation: Mellotron Mk V Playing
FLAC version here.