Sachs : The Ninth - Beethoven and the World in 1824

I recently finished Harvey Sachs' The Ninth : Beethoven and the World in 1824 and here is what you will find inside. The book is divided into 4 big sections.

      The first section describes Beethoven's life and Vienna leading up to, during and immediately following the premiere of the 9th Symphony. The second section covers the "World in 1824" premise of the title, connecting the thematic (cultural themes, not musical) elements of Beethoven's work as well as personal characteristics to other leading creative minds of the day (e.g. Lord Byron, Hilde, Pushkin, Delacroix, Stendhal). The third section houses Sachs' look at the 9th Symphony itself, providing a section by section breakdown of the symphony (in mostly laymen's terminology so its accessable to non-musicians) as well as Beethoven's views on composition and what his likely intentions were with his music. Finally, the fourth section addresses Beethoven's significant influence on both subsequent composers and the general public (though missing Brahms...?).

      The books is brimming with quotes from Beethoven, about Beethoven, and about society at the time, all with the purpose of helping center the audience in the mindset of that year. The vast amount of historical context surrounding the years Beethoven constructed was very much appreciated.

      If you plan to read this book, keep a few things in mind. Sachs mentions himself heavily at certain points of the book (most significantly during the prelude, analysis section and postlude) and for me this was rather disruptive to the reading experience. It drags you out of the "1824 Vienna" setting he works very hard to help you visualize and I believe the book would have been better off without the extensive personalized sections. Also, while his analysis of the symphony is easy to read and helps one (read : non-musicians) see the "narrative" Sachs finds in the work, I would have appreciated spending more time here. He only spends 27 pages on this section (our of a total 200, in a book focusing on the 9th Symphony) and much of that space contains quotes and anecdotes. This section was very underwhelming and a big let down.  I will also be posting a followup to this post once I have read Lewis Lockwood's review from Ninteenth-Century Music Review.

 

Interesting facts/perspective presented in the book:

-Symphony 9 with always have more impact on a modern audience over one in Beethoven's time due to the fact orchestras today have a higher standard of playing and that there are generations of emotion that have been placed on the work since its premiere

-The night of the premiere was a musical success but a financial disaster. Beethoven barely made enough money to pay for a few months of rent

-Beethoven's contempt for the state of humanity always at conflict with his hopes for humanity's potential

-No surprise Berlioz's creative output exploded in adventure after his first intense study of the score for Beethoven's 9th

One had the tragic impression that he was incapable of following the [sound of the] music. Although he appeared to be reading along, he would continue to turn pages when the movement in question had already come to an end.

-Helene Grebner, a soprano from the choir telling conductor Felix Weingartner about Beethoven during rehearsals for the 9th Symphony. Beethoven spent rehearsals sitting in the middle of the choir since the sound was loudest there...he had the best chance of hearing something.