Tainted or Transcendent: The Political Recruitment of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony


Tainted or Transcendent: The Political Recruitment of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

Emma Schubart
Published by the PIT Journal: 


Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the most enduring and revered musical works of all time, and it has been appropriated by a multitude of political movements over the years. This article goes into the deep history of the piece, examining whether or not its use to support so many contrasting ideologies has left it tainted. Starting off by looking at Beethoven’s own political climate in the 1800s, the article proceeds to examine the different groups that have coopted the Ninth, from the Third Reich and the Soviet Regime all the way to Holocaust victims and peaceful modern day composers. Ultimately, the article asserts that the complicated history of the Ninth has not tainted it, and instead has made it a timeless testament to human persistence and accomplishment.


Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony stands as perhaps the preeminent musical composition of Western civilization. Debuted in 1824, the Ninth has become one of the most performed pieces of music in history. The fact that Beethoven overcame profound deafness to complete the work has added to the Ninth’s mythic status. The work is remarkable in another way: for nearly two centuries, it has had a magnetic appeal to diverse political ideologies, forces, and moments. Over the past century, the piece has been recruited by such forces as the Third Reich, musicians at a concentration camp memorial concert, Stalinists, leaders of the European Union, human rights activists, and democratic protestors. In these varied contexts the Ninth functions as a musical backdrop to communicate cultural prestige, to highlight political ideology, to underscore national identity, and/or to convey political strength. Some have argued that the Ninth has been tainted by its association with the dark political forces that have appropriated it. However, its adoption by all sorts of regimes and leaders looking for a new world order—for better or for worse, for noble or for sinister purposes—deeply connects the piece to all of humanity and allows the masterpiece to transcend its more regrettable associations. Albeit complicated by history, the Ninth survives as a cultural masterpiece, a human achievement that rises above any of its appropriations. This research has three objectives: it will examine what makes the Ninth Symphony so eminently appealing to such a variety of ideologies, it will analyze several of those disparate political ideologies and events for which the Ninth was deployed, and it will evaluate whether or not the Ninth has been diminished by its entanglement with politics.

There are a number of reasons why the Ninth has been so widely appropriated. Beethoven’s personal political contradictions, the political ramifications of the text of the fourth choral movement, and the reception of the piece in 1824 all help explain why such different political ideologies have embraced this piece. Over the course of Beethoven’s life, Europe was undergoing dramatic political change. The collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, the upheaval of the French Revolution, the rise and fall of Napoleon, the breakaway of the American colonies from Britain, and the birth of the Industrial Revolution all unfolded in his lifetime. According to Stephen Johnson, BBC writer and broadcaster, “No composer was more acutely responsive to these immense changes in attitudes and social structures than Beethoven.” Johnson cites a letter written by Beethoven in 1800 to his friend Franz Wegler as an example of Beethoven’s liberal leanings: “when the prosperity of our fatherland has improved, then my art must be directed towards the benefit of the poor. O happy moment, and how lucky I consider myself that I can contribute to this aim, that I myself can bring it to pass!” Beethoven clearly saw himself as part of a movement to improve the human condition, but practically he required the favoritism of the aristocracy for his livelihood. When a rumor surfaced that Beethoven was the illegitimate son of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia, Beethoven never made a single attempt to correct the gossip.  Still, he was notoriously erratic in his interactions with the gentry, at once both desiring their company and disparaging them when the mood suited him. “To one of his most enthusiastic early patrons, Prince Karl Lichnowsky, Beethoven wrote: ‘Prince, what you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am of myself. There are and will be thousands of princes. There is only one Beethoven’” (Johnson). What’s more, Beethoven was an early admirer of Napoleon, only to be disillusioned when Napoleon crowned himself emperor. Beethoven lamented to a friend, “’Now he will… place himself above everyone and become a tyrant’” (idib.). The inconsistency of Beethoven’s political sentiments makes it all the more understandable that the Ninth Symphony has been subject to diverse political interpretations in the nearly two centuries since its debut.

Beethoven’s use of a text for his final movement, “Ode to Joy,” further enhances the appeal of the Ninth for appropriation. Beethoven set the last movement of his Symphony to the words of Friedrich Schiller’s poem “An die Freude,” which is why the Ninth is sometimes referred to as the Choral Symphony. In fact, Beethoven was the first major composer to include a choral movement in a symphony. According to the 1803 revision of “An die Freunde” by Schiller, which Beethoven used, the poem proclaims “Alle Menschen werden Brüder”—All men will become brothers. The notion of brotherhood is attractive to diverse ideologies. Of course brotherhood connotes different things in different contexts, and one man’s brotherhood is another man’s slavery. In this way, the particulars of the Ninth’s text of “Ode to Joy” has made it uniquely susceptible to appropriation.

The third reason the Ninth has been so adoptable lies in the fact that it has been recognized as such a monumental achievement since its 1824 debut. Because of its fame, countless ideologies have wanted to claim the Ninth as their own. At its premier, the audience was thunderstruck by the piece. It represented a departure as a piece of music—it was the first major symphony to incorporate a choir, it employed an orchestra larger than any of the period, and it had a playing time that surpassed any other symphonic piece to date. The piece was also a triumph of the composer. Beethoven was profoundly deaf by this time, and his appearance on stage at the debut of the Ninth was his first in twelve years. At the end of the Ninth’s debut performance, Beethoven (who was conducting) didn’t realize the piece had ended. One of the soloists, Caroline Unger, had to turn him around so he could receive the thunderous applause. Aware of his deafness, the audience threw their hats and scarves in the air so that Beethoven could appreciate the audience’s emotional reaction to the piece. Arguably, no other piece before or since has represented such a remarkable human feat.

From this examination of why the Ninth has been so widely appropriated, we can proceed to an examination of who appropriated it. The range of political groups which associated themselves with the piece is especially striking in Germany, where the Ninth has been recruited by the left and the right. Beethoven’s work has been ingrained in German culture as a symbol of patriotic pride. For this reason, Beethoven’s music has a long history of being linked to nationalism in German politics. This was especially true throughout World War I, during which time Beethoven’s music was so ubiquitous in the war effort that one critic thought that if the music was absent from a concert, the audience might think that the war had ended (Dennis 79). Another example of the infiltration of Beethoven’s music in German war culture was penned by music publisher Hugo Bock in 1918. In the German Military Music Newspaper, Deutsche Militär-Musiker-Zeitung, Bock wrote the following lines:

        The “Ninth” with its tones of violence

        Has often raised our hearts.

        The young and the old, the weak and the powerful,

        Have always listened, enthralled.

        Now we must consider the highest pleasure

        Which the most German tone-master created for us

        In terms of the Fatherland.

        Let your thoughts become absorbed

        With the powerful symphony of battle

        Now being waged by Hindenburg and Ludendorff. (qtd. in Dennis 84)

Such a high-profile proclamation of the compatibility of the Ninth with the war effort reflects the rooting of Beethoven in the German psyche as a symbol of the Fatherland’s militarism. Even so, in December 1918, two months after the armistice, the Ninth was performed to celebrate “Peace and Freedom” (Dennis 84). The Symphony incredibly managed to juxtapose militaristic nationalism and peaceful egalitarianism in the ears of its listeners within the very same year.

After World War I and during the Weimar era (which was the German government from 1919-1933), Beethoven’s Ninth continued to be claimed by German political ideologies on both ends of the spectrum. In fact, Völkischer Beobachter, the newspaper of the National Socialist German Workers’ Party printed the following about Beethoven:

"When was the memory of an artist ever celebrated in such a way? Every political party, every  confession counted him as one of their own; all of them fought tooth and nail to demonstrate that he belonged exclusively to their circle (qtd. in Dennis 86)."

Apparently political groups on the right and the left in Germany sought to align Beethoven and his music to their own agendas. On the left, the newspaper Die Menschheit proclaimed the Ninth to be a “prelude and harbinger of a time yet to come, of a great future for humanity” (qtd. in Dennis 96). Vorwärts reported that at the Ninth’s premier performance in Vienna, the royal box was empty, implying the monarchy’s discomfort with the “radical” ideals espoused by the Ninth. The same newspaper went so far as to claim that Beethoven detested the monarchy (ibid., 96). Thus, leftists saw the Ninth as the embodiment of the sacred class struggle (ibid.). On the right, also during the Weimar period, the Ninth was painted as an expression of nationalist, counter-revolutionary sentiment. The journal Der Tag asserted that Beethoven was an “aristocrat of the purest stamp” (qtd. in Dennis 116). Rightists also contended that Beethoven’s work exemplified the heroism and victory that is inherent in the German spirit. Der Tag dubbed the Ninth “the ultimate song of victory” (qtd. in Dennis 121).  Evidently, during the Weimar period, Beethoven’s Ninth was conveniently defined and redefined through its co-optation by political groups on the right and the left.  

With the dawn of the Third Reich, after the Weimar Republic was dissolved in 1933, the utilization of the Ninth took on a more sinister significance in Germany. Members of the Third Reich sought to legitimize their racist ideology by aligning Beethoven to it. However, Nazis encountered a significant roadblock with Beethoven, one that almost prevented them from using Beethoven’s music at all: his appearance failed to fit the Aryan ideal. Beethoven was hardly an example of the Aryan standard celebrated by the Nazis. He was short, of darker complexion, and had a drunkard for a father. To combat this problematic ancestry, racist officials of the Weimar era contended that Beethoven was indeed of mixed race, but he could have had blue eyes (he did not). However, Nazis were not going to accept that Beethoven was racially mixed because to the cultural politicians of the Nazi era, “Beethoven’s legend was simply too valuable to repudiate” (Dennis, 133-34). In other words, in order to align Beethoven to their racist ideology, Nazis had to establish Beethoven as racially pure. Nazi propagandists went so far as to claim that Beethoven’s skin “received a good tanning” in order to nullify any claims that Beethoven was actually naturally dark (qtd. in Dennis 134). In an effort to convince those who were still uncomfortable about Beethoven’s heritage, Richard Eichenauer wrote Musik und Rasse (Music and Race), which would become the Nazis’ primary text for their racial “science.” Eichenauer contended that:

"Beethoven’s non-Nordic inheritance worked, in the highest sense, not as a limitation, but as a steady impetus for raising himself to become Nordic. So he is to us, in spite of his undoubtedly impure Nordic nature, one of the most stirring developers of the inner soul—a Nordic fighter and hero (qtd. in Dennis 136)."

Incredibly, Eichenauer claims that even though Beethoven technically wasn’t Nordic, he managed to become Nordic by virtue of his stirring music. Two years later, in 1934, in order to make Beethoven’s race officially acceptable, Volk und Rasse (The Journal of the Reich Committee for the Volk’s Health Service and the German Society for Racial Hygiene) declared him and his music inherently Nordic and heroic. The Nazis were doing backflips to purify Beethoven for their racist ideology.

Once the Nazis felt they had established Beethoven as one of their own, they immediately and aggressively recruited his music for their political agenda. In his paper entitled, “Beethoven in National Socialist Political Culture,” Dennis explains that, “Their purpose was to persuade the German public to revere Ludwig van Beethoven not only as a great composer, but as a man who had held views comparable to those of Nazi leaders. In fact, people were expected to believe that he had attempted to express [Nazi views] in his music” (1). Nazi leaders went to great lengths to establish Beethoven as a would-be Nazi. In fact, Eugen Hadamovsky, Third Reich broadcast chief, seemed to consider this connection between Beethoven and Nazism to be completely legitimate when he declared in 1934, “We will continually achieve success if we stride forward in the high points of our spiritual heritage…if we stride forward from Beethoven to Hitler” (qtd. in Dennis 142). Clearly, the Third Reich had no more misgivings about Beethoven. In 1935, the newspaper Völkischer Beobachter asserted, “today the German Volk again stands united—Schiller’s and Beethoven’s high ideal of humanity is starting to be fulfilled. The band of joy is again wrapping itself around the nation” (qtd. in Dennis 151). The Nazis certainly saw their version of universal brotherhood in the Ninth Symphony.

The Symphony was also used in Nazi motion picture propaganda. Released in 1936, the film Schlußakkord portrays a German woman who has succumbed to the debauchery of jazz and drink in New York City. The Ninth Symphony awakens her from her delirium and inspires her to return to Germany. That same year the Ninth was performed at the Berlin Olympics. Even then, organizers considered the piece not a symbol of international unity, but as the organizers themselves put it, a symbol of the supremacy of the Nazi’s ideal race (Dennis, 162). In 1937, Joseph Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda of the Third Reich, demanded that the piece be performed by the Berlin Philharmonic. According to Goebbels’ newspaper Der Angriff, the Ninth was a perfect representation of Hitler’s “triumph and joyous victory” (qtd in Dennis 162). Goebbels had the Ninth performed and broadcasted again in 1942 to honor Hitler’s birthday and to celebrate Hitler’s official control of the Wehrmacht (German armed forces) on the Eastern front. Goebbles said of the Ninth before the performance:

           "When, at the end of our celebration, the voices and instruments strike the tremendous closing chord of the Ninth Symphony, when the exhilarating chorale sounds joy and carries a feeling for the greatness of these times into each and every German cabin, when [Beethoven’s] hymn resounds over all distant countries where German regiments stand guard, then we want everyone…to be equally aware of the seriousness of the hour and to experience the tremendous happiness of being able to witness and take part in this, the greatest historical epoch of our Volk (qtd. in Dennis 168)."

In other words, Goebbels saw the Nazi regime as poised for triumph and he believed the Ninth would arouse Germans to be both inspired and grateful for the historical moment in which they found themselves.

While the Ninth Symphony was supposed to be rallying Nazis, incongruously it was also being sung by children in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Daniel K. was one of those child singers. He was 10 years old at the time, and he describes how the Jewish children’s choir in the camp sang the “Ode to Joy” just “a few hundred meters from the annihilation machinery—the crematoriums and the gas chambers—and facing the railway ramp where the selection [of prisoners into those who would immediately be gassed and those saved as workers] took place” (2). The former child prisoner reflects about this glaring, painful irony—singing of joy and freedom in a hell of mass murder and torture—as “an expression of extreme sarcasm” (5). He explains that Beethoven’s music, set to Schiller’s words and chosen by the Jewish choir director inmate, was in fact survival mechanism for the prisoners. He posits that “perhaps the only possible way for the grown-ups to confront the radical evil facing them was with another radical distortion of values, using sarcastic scorn…. The only possibility of spiritual survival was not by believing, but by disbelieving” (5). The “Ode to Joy” of the Ninth Symphony, then, was a song of survival and of denial by people who were living through unimaginable evil. To use the words of K., this piece was a testament to the fact that even “[i]n the most incredible situations, human value can survive” (5). In this context, the Ninth existed as an instrument of hope in one of the most hopeless settings on the face of the earth.

The recruitment of the Ninth Symphony and its message also extended beyond the sphere of Germany. In the 1930s, when Joseph Stalin heard the Ninth Symphony at a Soviet Congress, he declared: “This is the right music for the masses. It can’t be performed enough, and it ought to be heard in the smallest of our villages” (qtd. in Lebrecht 89). As a result, orchestras toured the entire Soviet Union just to perform the Ninth. Incredibly, the ensuing Beethoven frenzy in Soviet Russia even surpassed the nationalistic Beethoven fervor that took hold of Germany during World War I (ibid.).  In fact, Pravda, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union proclaimed, “Poor Beethoven. For a hundred years, he has been homeless. Now he has at last found his true dwelling place, the only country where he is really understood and loved: the Soviet Union” (qtd. in Lebrecht 89). Apparently, Stalinists believed that the Ninth celebrated everything that the Soviet Union stood for. Stalin is considered one of the most evil figures of the twentieth century, responsible for an estimated twenty million deaths of his own countrymen. Even so, the glaring ideological difference between Stalin’s policies and the ideals proclaimed in the Ninth didn’t seem to faze or even occur to Stalin.

Later in the twentieth century, the power of the Ninth was enlisted yet again to bolster political ideology. This time, however, it was used by democratically-minded protestors. In 1989, the Ninth was used by students at Tiananmen Square as a symbol of freedom and as a tool for solidarity. Kerry Candaele, director of the documentary Following the Ninth, which chronicles the impact of Beethoven’s Ninth around the world, interviewed Feng Congde, a student leader at the Tiananmen Square demonstrations. Feng was placed on the Chinese government’s 21 Most Wanted List following the protests. As Candaele put it, “The Ninth became part of Feng’s crime against the state” (Candaele 53). At the demonstrations, Feng set up makeshift loudspeakers to try to drown out the Communist propaganda with the music of the Ninth Symphony. He describes the scene in his interview with Candaele, “I put on the cassette of Beethoven’s Ninth to cover the voice of the government system. So there was a real battle for voice. Hundreds of thousands of students shouting, as we broadcast the music on the square louder than the government system. I just had a feeling of winning. Of triumph” (qtd. in Candaele 54). This celebration of human perseverance in the face of adversity which had inspired concertgoers to throw their hats and scarves in the air on the night of the Ninth’s debut in 1824—when its deaf composer couldn’t even hear the applause—inspired Chinese dissidents more than a century and a half later. Feng and the thousands of students who rallied with him heard in the Ninth an expression of protest and promise. Feng explains, “We used the Ninth to create an ambience of solidarity and hope, for ourselves and for the people of China” (qtd. in Candaele 52). The activists associated the Ninth with their search for a new, more democratic world order. Feng adds that at the demonstrations they heard, “hope, [and] solidarity for a new and better future. And it…transformed us. We feel finally we regained our dignity as human beings…We just felt free. So on the square, we feel [sic] a collective feeling of joy. We were free at last” (ibid., 55). The students employed the Ninth as a rallying cry for liberation from their oppressive government. As such, the Ninth lifted the Chinese students with a sense of higher purpose and joy.

The very same year, the message of the Ninth was invoked yet again as an anthem of possibility for humanity. On both December 23 and on Christmas Day Leonard Bernstein conducted the Ninth Symphony to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall. The musicians hailed from East and West Germany and from the countries of the four Allied powers. For the performance, Bernstein substituted the word Freude (joy) for Freiheit (freedom) in the “Ode to Joy.” As Buch observes, the revised wording was meant to reflect “the West’s triumph over totalitarianism…”  (260). This performance of the Ninth is notable because it was an instance in which the Ninth was being used for its musical magnitude and its extra-musical significance. As Buch put it, this performance of the Ninth:

"was performed to ‘sound’ in the political arena without abandoning its status as a great piece of concert music, as though to lay stress on the historic link between aesthetic and political freedom, in keeping with the purpose and logic quite unlike that of an anthem, in which the work of art is constricted to the demands of a genre marked by its political functionality (261)."

This celebratory performance for the reunification of Germany therefore emphasized the connection between the musical and political worlds, without subordinating the former to the latter. Indeed, this performance of the Ninth seemed to stress the transcendence of music and the comparative instability of politics. This invocation of the Ninth, played by an international contingent of musicians, spoke to the hope for a new world order on a global scale—one that went beyond East-West German politics, and perhaps beyond politics entirely.

In 1971 the Ninth was tapped again when there was an effort to forge a new, pan-European identity. This time, the Ninth was recruited explicitly as an anthem. A standing committee on the Council of Europe declared that the Ninth “was representative of European genius and was capable of uniting the hearts and minds of all Europeans” (qtd. in Clark 796). The Council made the melody of the “Ode to Joy” the official European anthem. However, uncomfortable with the idea of a German anthem for a pan-European identity, the Council elected to have a wordless anthem. As an anthem without words, it is, according to Buch, “an incomplete symbol” (238). Caryl Clark similarly contends in her article, “Forging Identity: Beethoven’s ‘Ode’ as European Anthem,” that the Council, in eliminating the words, inadvertently nullified the power of the Ninth by eliminating the text. She even refers to the anthem as “truly a bastard child of the Enlightenment: a song without words; hope without a text” (801). Clark feels that the voiceless rendering neutered the Ninth, watering it down to such a point as to make it ineffective as a political instrument. What this argument fails to acknowledge is that a pan-European anthem written in one language could not possibly appeal to a pan-European audience.

Throughout her essay, Clark posits that the Ninth has been diminished by its appropriations. The Ninth Symphony certainly has been open to divergent interpretations and applications and it has been battered about by political ideologies which Beethoven—even in his own political confusion—almost certainly would have detested. Clark is not alone in her thinking. Musicologist Richard Taruskin argues in his article “Resisting the Ninth” that the Ninth has not survived the dark political ideologies which have claimed it. He argues, “We have been too badly burned by those who have promised Elysium and given us Gulags and gas chambers” (250). In his mind, the Soviet forced-labor camps and the gas chambers of the Nazi concentration camps reduce the Ninth to another piece of Stalinist and Nazi propaganda. Taruskin laments that the noble intentions of the Ninth have been expunged by the evil political ideologies which perverted them. Along the same lines, musicologist Nicholas Cook argues that the piece has been “interpreted out of existence,” and “swallowed up by ideology” (99). For Taruskin and Cook, the myriad of historical connections of the Ninth—from the Nazi racist myth, to the survival instinct of Jewish concentration camp inmates, to Stalinist ideology, and to Chinese dissident protests—have rendered the Ninth a cliché, or worse, a battered and tainted cultural icon. To be succinct, for some, the patina of the Ninth is dulled by its over-application.

David Benjamin Levy, a professor of musicology, disputes the pessimism of Taruskin and Cook. He argues that the ugly politics which appropriated the Ninth do not taint either its message of universal brotherhood or the Symphony itself. Levy agrees that the Ninth has indeed been pulled in many different political directions, but “[w]hen understood and perceived in the spirit of the ennobling forces which motivated its composer…the Ninth Symphony has proved itself capable of speaking to the highest aspirations of humanity, of wielding power for the good” (17).  Indeed, to consider the complicated revolutionary aspirations that motivated Beethoven is to allow for the complicated usages of the Ninth through history. As Stephen Johnson states, “Alongside an entirely natural desire for personal glory he [Beethoven] held to a genuine, impassioned hope that his music might lead in some way to the bettering of human life and conditions.” Of course, how the “bettering of human life and conditions” is defined is a muddy matter. Nonetheless, the malevolent forces that co-opted the Ninth do not eclipse the Symphony itself, but rather connect it inextricably to the fabric of history. Drawing on Levy’s and Johnson’s conclusions about the transcendence of the Ninth, I dispute the claim put forth by Cook and Taruskin that malevolent ideologies like Nazism and Stalinism have diminished the Symphony. The Ninth calls for a new world order in which all men will become brothers. Nazis and Stalinists did indeed have their own perverted versions of a new world order in mind when they exploited the Ninth, but not the world order to which the Ninth is referring. The Nazis and Stalinists cannot taint a piece of music that they never applied properly in the first place. Beethoven’s idealistic motivation for the masterpiece supersedes any unfortunate applications of the music. The Ninth not only retains its aesthetic power as a titan of music, but also still celebrates the hopefulness of the composer.

The dark politics which have co-opted the Ninth in the 20th century have utterly failed to taint it and this is substantiated by the optimistic, democratic movements which adopted it. In 2000, the Ninth was performed by the Vienna Philharmonic at the memorial performance at the Mauthausen concentration camp, the largest Nazi extermination camp in Austria. Leon Zelman, a Mauthausen survivor and originator of the 2000 performance explains, “We have an obligation to the future, and to the new Europe. Not forgetting Mauthausen is not enough. The Ninth Symphony is the hymn of the new Europe. Schiller’s Ode to Joy says ‘All people will be brothers.’ This event is a symbolic affirmation for the new century” (Kettle). That the Ninth was embraced for this event proves that its appropriation by the Nazis and Stalinists could not pervert its life-affirming message.

Another example of the resilience of the Ninth is Bernstein’s aforementioned performance to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall. His decision to change the text had its detractors, but the alteration does not dilute the piece because the word change remained true to Beethoven’s intention for the “Ode to Joy.” In the program notes, Bernstein wrote that this performance was:

"a heaven sent moment when we should sing the word ‘Freedom’ wherever the score reads ‘Joy.’ If there ever were a historical moment in which one can neglect the theoretical discussions of academics in the name of human freedom—this is it. And I believe that Beethoven would have given us his blessing. Let freedom live (qtd. in Buch 262)!"

Even with the text alteration, the Ninth retains its vibrancy as a beacon of hope for a new world order. Along the same lines, some people (like Caryl Clark), were up in arms when the “Ode to Joy” became the official European anthem because of the decision to eliminate the lyrics. This entire argument is founded on the concept of musical purism, which has significant limitations in a political context. When a piece of music is used to communicate a political message, it is unreasonable to argue that any change to the music nullifies its significance. Moreover, the Ninth’s transcendence is not tied to its text, or even to its more laudable political connections. It stands firmly as an icon of Western music and as a masterpiece of human accomplishment. Its melodies resound through history and the piece is greater than the next of its fourth movement because of, and in spite of, its historical connections.

The Ninth has indeed been enlisted as a backdrop to many significant historical events since the end of the nineteenth century. Noble as well as ignoble political ideologies have claimed the Ninth as somehow representative of particular ideals and ambitions. Yet, it rises above all its appropriations, even its most disturbing ones, because it stands as a testament to humankind’s capability for sublime artistry and to the inexorable human desire to control destiny. The epically bombastic Symphony is a clarion call. As such, the Ninth will continue to be part of the fabric of human history. As Caryl Clark observes, “[i]n bequeathing to us the finale that he did…Beethoven, unwittingly or not, assured that his Ninth would have no ending—which may very well be the composer’s ultimate revenge” (807). Thus, the recruitment of the Ninth for purposes antithetical to the imaginings of Beethoven is immaterial. The fact that the Symphony has been so entwined with the ups and downs of history has only served to sanctify the piece. The Ninth has been and will continue to be a called upon to symbolize the human desire to imagine and effect new tomorrows. The piece prevails, untarnished, unneutered, without end. It represents that ongoing—perhaps unattainable—search by humanity for a world order that will hopefully, one day, resemble Beethoven’s Elysium of brotherhood.

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About the Author(s)

Emma Schubart is a member of the class of 2021. She is pursuing a Music Performance major (violin) and a Political Science major. Her research interests fuse her two majors—the intersection of music and politics. She is an active member of UNC Symphony Orchestra, UNC Baroque Ensemble, UNC Chamber Players and Musical Empowerment. She is from Long Island, New York.