BBC History Magazine

Bernstein calls for freedom

Schauspiel­haus, East Berlin, German Democratic Republic


25 DECEMBER 1989

The Ninth Symphony has been used time and again as a call for human brotherhoo­d in times of revolution and conflict. But in 1989, the words were rewritten to celebrate the fall of the Berlin Wall.

When the colossal structure started to come down on 9 November, it was largely unexpected. The German city was reunited for the first time in decades, and the end of the Cold War looked imminent.

The conductor of the West German Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Justus Frantz, came up with an idea to put together an impromptu orchestra made up of musicians and singers from both sides of the Cold War divide. He approached the famed US conductor Leonard Bernstein (pictured below) to conduct a performanc­e of the Ninth Symphony to celebrate the fact that Germans were again “brothers”.

Bernstein was in London to conduct a performanc­e of his operetta Candide, and asked several of the lead singers to perform the solos in the final movement. They were joined by members of the Kirov Theatre, the Dresden Staatskape­lle, the New York Philharmon­ic and the Orchestre de Paris. The group were no amateurs, but they had had little time to rehearse between the inception of the idea in mid-November and the performanc­e on Christmas Day. Reviewers noted as much, just as they had at the piece’s debut in Vienna.

But Bernstein didn’t merely want to conduct the celebratio­n of reunificat­ion – he wanted to commemorat­e it. He therefore decided to change the words of the chorus, with Freude (‘joy’) becoming Freiheit (‘freedom’).

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom