Leonard Bernstein's 'Ode to Freedom'

Audio not yet available
Email a Friend

In commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, WQXR presents a unique musical reminder of that extraordinary time.

On Christmas Day, 1989, just six weeks after the Berlin Wall came down, an ailing Leonard Bernstein led a celebratory performance of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 at the Schauspielhaus, near the site of the demolished wall in East Berlin. The orchestra consisted of musicians from both East and West Germany, plus the four occupying powers who had waged war against Germany in World War II: Great Britain, France, Russia and the United States. The four soloists that day were June Anderson from the U.S., Sarah Walker from the U.K., Klaus Konig from East Germany, and Jan-Hendrik Rootering from West Germany.

When these musicians gathered in Berlin, residents everywhere were chipping and chiseling away at the hated wall. Leonard Bernstein carved out a chunk himself and sent it back to his family in New York. As Humphrey Burton notes in his biography of the conductor, “The entire world was watching Berlin’s euphoria and Bernstein was at the heart of the celebrations: because of his past endeavors it seemed quite natural for an American Jew to be in charge of Germany’s reunification celebration.”

Adding to the symbolism of the event was a change in the music itself: In the final movement, the word "Freiheit" (Freedom) was substituted for the word "Freude," making it an ode to freedom rather than an ode to joy. Although traditionalists resented the tampering with a revered German classic, the gesture was well received around the world.

This concert was recorded and subsequently released by Deutsche Grammophon. Sunday afternoon, WQXR presents the final movement of the symphony.

Recording Details:
Ode to Freedom Beethoven: Symphony No.9 in D minor Op.125, Leonard Bernstein, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks, Staatskapelle Dresden, Kirov Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Orchestre de Paris, June Anderson, Sarah Walker, Klaus Konig, Jan-Hendrik Rootering. Live recording in Schauspielhaus Berlin, 25-12-1989.