Sunday, September 25, 2011

So Much Freude!

We had our first concert on Friday night singing Beethoven's 9th with the Yale Philharmonia. Needless to say, it was an unbelievable start to the 151st season! Stephanie Tubiolo ('14), stage manager, writes about this joyous occasion.

I am almost certain Woolsey Hall was filled past legal capacity last night. Nearly 3000 seats were not enough to accommodate the hundreds in standing room, and still others were turned away by police officers, my parents among them (although they did manage to sneak back in).  Our massive audience, a mixture of Philharmonia, Camerata, YGC, and Beethoven fans,  only added to the inevitable excitement and energy of our first concert.  From the moment the men sang their first note to Shinik’s last downbeat, I don’t think I have ever been so proud to be part of an ensemble.
The YGC is feeling quite young these days for an organization entering its 151st year.  We welcomed almost 30 new members into our ranks less than three weeks ago and are truly a new choir.  
You may perceive a subtle increase in masculinity due to our 22-member bass section (!), which includes our new undergraduate and graduate assistant conductors; however, the ladies will counterbalance this manliness with their beautiful new dresses.  You will notice a prominent increase in waist visibility and a prominent decrease in scalloped necklines, not that we ever complained…

It seemed a daunting task to tackle Beethoven as our first work, but as we began navigating his vocal acrobatics together it became clear that there could be no better way to open this season - this era - of YGC than with his Symphony No. 9 in d minor.

-"Wait, that has a chorus?"-

Indeed it does!  The very famous Finale is set to a poem by German poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller entitled "An Die Freude" - To Joy.  The Ninth premiered in Vienna in 1824 with one of Beethoven's only other major choral works, the Missa Solemnis in D major.

It is curious that our dear Ludwig chose to write a choral movement into his last major work, as there was no significant precedent for blending the choral and symphonic worlds.  Beethoven is considered the composer primarily responsible for bringing music from the "beautiful" of the Classical period to the "sublime" of the Romantic era.  His instrumental music was praised for its ability to express the inexpressible - to access an emotional inwardness and intimacy (Innigkeit) inaccessible by any other art forms, especially those involving text.  Under his reign, instrumental music was elevated above vocal music and prized as the chosen genre of the educated upper class, for it somehow conveyed what words could not.  Beethoven opens his soul to us in this manner so that, in peering into his emotional depths, we may reflect subjectively on our own inner selves.  (I'm not biased, I swear.)
So why add text to unsurpassable sublimity?  Romanticism is largely an anti-Enlightenment concept; it exalts that which cannot be explained by rational thought and that which goes beyond reason.  Romantic works express a longing for pre-Enlightenment purity and uncorrupted human-ness, and this is what Beethoven and Schiller give us in the D Major choral finale of the Ninth - unadulterated human joy.  The chorus is not merely a vehicle for text expression but a symbol for humanity, proclaiming the purest of emotions in the purest of ways - by unified singing.

Tenor Peter Thompson '12.5 emphasized the importance of conveying this joy in a moving pre-concert pep talk.  He shared an excerpt from Beethoven's Heiligenstadt Testament, the letter he wrote to his brothers before he withdrew from society in 1802 with the knowledge he would go completely deaf:

O Providence - grant me at least but one day of pure joy - it is so long since real joy echoed in my  heart - O when - O when, O Divine One - shall I find it again in the temple of nature and of men...

Beethoven asserts that music - "his art" - was the only thing that kept him from taking his own life once he lost his hearing.  He states his determination to "bring forth all that [he] felt was within [him]" and accomplishes this tenfold in the Ninth Symphony.  

Peter closed his talk by sharing with us his decision to switch his major from Religious Studies to Music.  To him, the two areas are very related; he feels that singing together is one of the most sacred and transcendent acts in which we can partake.

Minutes after we gave every ounce of freude into our performance and the audience jumped to its feet, Jeff commented further on Beethoven's words:

That Beethoven found joy to be elusive in his personal life illuminates so much of the Finale - the  sound of a great artist trying through the strength of his own will to bring into being an emotion he fears he may never experience again.  I wish he could have heard you tonight.

It is an incredible testament to the power and profundity of Beethoven's devotion to music that he was able to access such joy in a time of such utter despair, and it was the greatest privilege to be able to sing his work with each other and for each other.  I cannot imagine anything more gleeful.