Today, could we find a quiet moment to close our eyes and listen to hope? Alice Sciscioli Pratt, an instructor at the Hochstein School of Music, shares her thoughts on Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony…
Hope never eludes me when I reach the fourth movement of the famous Ninth Symphony by Ludwig van Beethoven. It was his last symphony before he died. Deaf at the time of its composition and first performance and having lived through such a tumultuous time in history, what was in his heart that, at the very end of his life’s work, propelled the vision of hope despite such bleakness?
The most famous section of this movement includes the setting of the poem “Ode to Joy”, by the German poet Friedrich von Schiller. There have been countless other lyrics put to Beethoven’s melody and it found its way into many a hymnal, suggesting that there is something inherent in those notes about the love of our God with or without the original poem. But the most thrilling version is the one from its source. Besides the melody, the orchestral writing is beyond what I can describe in words. One must listen. One must be open to feel. How could this suffering man end his work with such an uplifting and hopeful finale? Was his love of God so big that it overcame his own hardships to leave us with such an amazing work of art? Was God driving his hand as he wrote, hearing the orchestration only in his mind?
Having sung this once under the baton of the great Eugene Ormandy, conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga, NY I recall the spontaneous hugs of the chorus when the lights went out after we took our final applause as performers. I remember wanting to jump for joy, a phrase perhaps I had not truly understood before. I believe God used this incredible genius to leave a message to us, for as long as the earth is to be.
As mentioned above, the lyrics have often been changed. Looking at the English translation of the original German poem, the language sung by the singers in the symphony, two sections seem to speak in words what Beethoven suggests in music:
Joy, thou source of light immortal,
Daughter of Elysium!
Touched with fire, to the portal,
Of thy radiant shrine, we come.
Your sweet magic, frees all others,
Held in custom’s rigid rings,
All men on earth become brothers,
In the haven of your wings.
Endure courageously, you millions!
Endure for the better world!
Over the starry canopy
A good God will reward you!
Alice Sciscioli Pratt directs the Hochstein Little Singers and teaches classes for early childhood. Formally an elementary school music teacher for the Rochester City Schools, she is also now on the faculty of Nazareth College. Alice lives with her husband, Ronald, and has two grown daughters.
Today’s journal page was designed by Kathy Bills. She lives in the Village of Webster, and enjoys contributing to the community by serving on the Planning Board and as a board member of the Webster Community Chest. She is a member of the Immaunuel Evangelical Lutheran Church in the village. She has two sons and four young grandchildren and she loves and appreciates every moment that all brings! She’s currently looking for a job – office work of any type, customer service. Her experience is in advertising sales and office management.
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