In Praise of a Joyful Ode

Can music make your heart soar?  Can it bring you to tears or to a point that you think you may burst from experiencing the beauty of it?   

I recently accompanied my son to hear The Nashville Symphony perform Beethoven’s Ninth.  Words can barely describe all that I heard and felt that evening.  It was a remarkable experience.

To attend such an event with my firstborn was a treat in itself.  A mother/son date of sorts.  We got dressed up and went to a nice dinner before the concert at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center.  The sights and sounds of the evening were exhilarating. 

We share an appreciation of music, this boy and I.  When he was very young, he could identify the different musical instruments by their sounds.   On his fourth Christmas, he received a toy saxophone.  He eventually learned how to play a real one and the guitar as well. 

 John Adams’ On the Transmigration of Souls was performed in the first half of the program.  It was in recognition of the anniversary of 9/11.  The performance of Beethoven’s Ninth followed the intermission.  The anticipation was thick in the air.  The choir assembled in the loft above the orchestra.  I estimated at least 150 voices but we wouldn’t hear them until the final movement.

Nashville Symphony

The music was sublime.  As I sat in the symphony hall with the music washing over and around me all I could do was praise God.  That may seem strange to some but it is what I felt.  How marvelous, God!  How wonderful that you put it into man’s mind to create such beauty.  That you would give him the idea to bend metal tubing just so in order to get the heralding sound of the trumpet, the mellow richness of the French horn or the deepest blasts of the tuba.  That you would give him the idea to carve wooden boxes of various sizes and attach strings of sheep gut or metal which could be plucked or drawn across with a bow made of horse hair.  What beautiful sounds they make.  The melodious sing-song of the violin, the rich background of the cello and the rhythm of the bass.  Who would have thought to add reeds to various shaped tubes of wood and brass to create the twang of the oboe, the smooth sounds of the clarinet or the honk of the saxophone and bassoon?  Such variety.  So many different sounds all stirred together to make a remarkable piece of music.

Then my thoughts turned to the marvel that is the human ear.  That we are able to hear and differentiate between all of the various instruments playing all of the different notes at different tempos and rhythms.  Amazing.  What a gift the Lord has given to us. 

The fourth movement began, Presto – Allegro assai – Allegro assai vivace.   It is the movement that so many are familiar with . . . joyful, joyful.  This movement added the beauty of the human voice to the mix of brass, woodwinds, strings and percussion.

The hymn Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee by Henry J. Van Dyke is one of my favorite hymns.  It uses the familiar melody from Beethoven’s 9th.  (Click this link to hear the hymn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3fkvyYNsjPc).

In the fourth movement of the symphony, Beethoven adapted the text from the poem Ode to Joy by Friedrich Schiller.  The words are different from the familiar hymn we sing yet the theme was similar.  Oh, and it was sung completely in German.  The English translation was projected on a screen above the stage but it was almost unnecessary as you could sense the message of the chorus.

 (click this link to listen to the fourth movement of  Beethoven’s 9th https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QDViACDYxnQ)

Here are the words to two of the choruses that I particularly liked:

Be embraced, ye millions!

This kiss to the whole world!

Brothers, beyond the starry sky

surely a loving Father dwells

Do you fall prostrate, ye millions?

Do you sense the Creator, World?

Seek Him beyond the starry sky!

Beyond the stars He must dwell.

At the conclusion of the movement and symphony, the entire audience leapt to their feet in uproarious  applause.  I imagined that the reaction was similar to the first performance of Beethoven’s 9th on May 17, 1824 in Vienna, Austria.  Our program notes said that when Beethoven conducted the symphony that evening, he was completely deaf and did not realize when the program actually ended.  One of the singers had to get him to turn around to face the audience, who were applauding wildly. 

All I could think was “If there is music this amazing on earth, what will it be like in Heaven”?

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