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Beethoven’s Ninth: The Peril of a Bad Recording

I had a most wonderful experience last night. I heard a brief sound clip from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and decided it was a good time to listen to it. I pulled out my usual recording, which will not be labeled here. This is a recording I’ve since before even going to college. It was, erm, a bargain bin purchase, because I wanted to listen to Beethoven and didn’t know any better. Nearly every time I have ever listened to Beethoven’s Ninth, it’s been from this recording. I did see a live performance back in my freshman year, and it was pretty amazing.

Tonight, though, I started listening to my usual recording, and I made a fortuitous decision. I thought to look for other recordings, and I stumbled upon this one. It’s the recording from a performance following the fall of the Berlin wall, using both east and west performers, and being conducted by Leonard Bernstein.

Almost immediately I noticed changes. There were whole parts of the music I had never heard before. To be honest, I’m not sure if this was just because it was a different recording, or if my usual recording is really that bad, but my mind was blown. Especially when you consider the context of this event, it is an incredibly moving performance, and I spent the majority of the evening doing nothing but listening to this.

I think there is pretty broad agreement that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is one of the greatest pieces of music of all time. Written after Beethoven had gone completely deaf, I cannot even imagine what it took to get it down on paper. In my ear, it is pure bliss. Every movement is perfect, every chord, every melody sublime.

If you have never taken the time to really listen to Beethoven’s Ninth, I really encourage you to do it. It’s a little more than an hour long, but you won’t notice the time. Get some good headphones, lay back in bed, and just listen. You won’t regret it.

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