Cover image for Beethoven's Ninth : a political history
Beethoven's Ninth : a political history
Buch, Esteban, 1963-
Personal Author:
Uniform Title:
Neuvième de Beethoven. English
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2003]

Physical Description:
327 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Translation of: La neuvième de Beethoven.
Introduction : The states of joy -- The birth of modern political music. God save the King and the Handel cult ; La Marseillaise and the "Supreme Being" ; The Ode to joy and the Emperor's anthem ; Beethoven and the Concert of Europe ; The Ninth symphony -- Political reception of the Ode to joy. The romantic cult ; The 1845 ceremony at Bonn ; The Ninth in the era of nationalist movements ; The 1927 centenary ; Beethoven as Führer ; From year zero to the European anthem ; From apartheid's anthem to the dismantling of the Berlin Wall -- Conclusion : Criticism and future of a dream.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
ML410.B42 B8213 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Who hasn't been stirred by the strains of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony? That's a good question, claims Esteban Buch. German nationalists and French republicans, communists and Catholics have all, in the course of history, embraced the piece. It was performed under the direction of Leonard Bernstein at a concert to mark the fall of the Berlin Wall, yet it also serves as a ghastly and ironic leitmotif in Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange . Hitler celebrated his birthdays with it, and the government of Rhodesia made it their anthem. And played in German concentration camps by the imprisoned, it also figured prominently at Mitterand's 1981 investiture.

In his remarkable history of one of the most popular symphonic works of the modern period, Buch traces such complex and contradictory uses--and abuses--of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony since its premier in 1824. Buch shows that Beethoven consciously drew on the tradition of European political music, with its mix of sacred and profane, military and religious themes, when he composed his symphony. But while Beethoven obviously had his own political aspirations for the piece--he wanted it to make a statement about ideal power--he could not have had any idea of the antithetical political uses, nationalist and universalist, to which the Ninth Symphony has been put since its creation. Buch shows us how the symphony has been "deployed" throughout nearly two centuries, and in the course of this exploration offers what was described by one French reviewer as "a fundamental examination of the moral value of art." Sensitive and fascinating, this account of the tangled political existence of a symphony is a rare book that shows the life of an artwork through time, shifted and realigned with the currents of history.

Author Notes

Esteban Buch is the director of studies at the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris. He is the author of Histoire d'un secret: À propos de la Suite lyrique d'Alban Berg . Richard Miller has translated more than seventy books and articles from the French, including Roland Barthes's The Pleasure of the Text andBrassaï's The Secret of the Thirties .

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

In this translation of his La Neuvieme de Beethoven: Une histoire politique (1999), Buch (director of studies, Ecole des Hautes Etudes, Paris) presents a study of music as a political vehicle, using as his centerpiece the last movement of Beethoven's most popular symphony. Based on a poem by Friedrich Schiller, Ode to Joy, Buch shows, became identified with the universal brotherhood of man as well as a symbol of Western Europe almost immediately after its first performance in 1823. Beginning in the 1730s with the first political anthems, the book covers England's "Rule Britannia" and "God Save the King" and moves on to "La Marseillaise" later in the century. Also included are a number of other songs that became identified with a particular nation or geographical entity, ending with the adoption in 1972 by the Council of Europe of Beethoven's Ode to Joy as the European anthem. In a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion, Buch looks at the music and the texts of dozens of anthems, relates them to the Beethoven/Schiller work, and discusses them in terms of world politics, philosophy, and psychology. Highly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Timothy J. McGee, Hastings, Ont. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

This study's genuine focus is not on Beethoven or his Ninth Symphony, but rather on the ideas generated by the finale's "Ode to Joy" melody, more precisely its text by Schiller. Derived from Buch's meticulously researched doctoral dissertation, the book reveals the "Ode to Joy" from a political viewpoint, detailing abuses since its composition in 1824. The melody was used for political purposes, for example, by Nazis, Rhodesians, and Stanley Kubrick. Given its political history, it has become divorced from the music; music and politics make strange bedfellows. Buch theorizes that the "Ode to Joy" has become a political symbol and an object lesson on the moral value of art. One drawback of the treatment is its massive detail, which is not always necessary, at times is off-putting, and obscures Buch's organized progression. And this reviewer regrets that the author did not consider certain philosophical questions. Since the abuse occurred after the music was composed, is the music itself ideological? If the "Ode" is used in selling soft drinks, is it equally abused as an economic symbol? These matters aside, Buch's study is intriguing and provocative. With its highly original thesis, it makes an impressive and influential contribution to the literature. ^BSumming Up: Essential. All collections, all levels. M. N.-H. Cheng Colgate University

Table of Contents

Introduction: The States of Joyp. 1
Part I. The Birth of Modern Political Music
1 God Save the King and the Handel Cultp. 11
2 La Marseillaise and the "Supreme Being"p. 26
3 The Ode to Joy and the Emperor's Anthemp. 45
4 Beethoven and the Concert of Europep. 66
5 The Ninth Symphonyp. 87
Part II. Political Reception of the Ode to Joy
6 The Romantic Cultp. 111
7 The 1845 Ceremony at Bonnp. 133
8 The Ninth in the Era of Nationalist Movementsp. 156
9 The 1927 Centenaryp. 178
10 Beethoven as Fuhrerp. 201
11 From Year Zero to the European Anthemp. 220
12 From Apartheid's Anthem to the Dismantling of the Berlin Wallp. 243
Conclusion: Criticism and Future of a Dreamp. 263
Acknowledgmentsp. 269
Notesp. 271
Bibliographyp. 305
Indexp. 317