Monday, 31 July 2000

The Ode to Joy and Churchillian wit

Listening to:

Beethoven, symphony #9 “Choral”, in D minor, op. 125. The world’s most famous symphony? Beethoven’s fifth, with its famous “da-da-da dah” opening, would probably be the only contender. The last movement of this symphony earns it the “Choral” nickname. As far as I’m aware, this was the first time a choir and solo singers were used in a symphony. Unless the first performance had the singers file on seconds before their (musical) entrance, I guess the audience won’t have been too surprised.

In any case, it’s just beautiful music; the Ode to joy tune is simple enough to whistle yourself, but Beethoven uses all the tricks (orchestration, digressions, distortions) to make sure that there’s something to keep the attention as the piece progresses. Just now, there’s been a big climax, followed by light, spiky, slightly militaristic flute and piccolo playing. Then in comes one of the male voices (the tenor, I think), and suddenly things accelerate. So much so that now the voices have dropped out and the strings are going nineteen to the dozen. I can’t do it justice in words, and I’m not sure anyone can.

Still reading:

Mary Mitford’s Our village. Being a big collection of bits and pieces originally published for a magazine, it’s a bit difficult to read this in solid sessions. Yesterday morning, I alternated with a recent issue of the New York Review of Books, including this interesting review of a book about the Langhorne sisters of Virginia. One of these sisters married Waldorf Astor and became Nancy Astor, one of Britain’s earlier woman parliamentarians, and the woman who said to Winston Churchill, “If I was your wife, I’d put poison in your coffee.” His retort was “And if I was your husband, I’d drink it.”