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Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony

Distributed by Collective Eye Films, 1315 SE 20th Ave. #3, Portland OR 97214; 971-236-2056
Produced by Kerry Candaele, et al.
Directed by Kerry Candaele
DVD , color, 78 min.
High School - General Adult
Music, Human Rights

Reviewed by Bonnie Jo Dopp, Librarian Emerita, University of Maryland

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 3/27/2018

Internationally recognized as an expression of joy, the choral ending to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony has also been the soundtrack for mass outpourings of hope, solidarity, brotherhood, and freedom worldwide. This energetic film explores what the “Ode to Joy” and indeed the entire symphony has recently meant to women protesting torture in Santiago during Chile’s Pinochet dictatorship, students demonstrating for rights in Beijing’s Tianamen Square, Germans celebrating the fall of the Berlin Wall, and Japanese people expressing sympathy and hope after the catastrophic 2011 earthquake and tsunami. In addition, we learn how the 9th Symphony has become a Japanese tradition of New Year’s hope every December when amateur choruses perform it with local symphonies nationwide.

Using archival film depicting sometimes brutal scenes of human and natural destruction along with testimony from people who were there (especially Chilean poet and musician Isabel Lipthay; Lene Ford, brought up in East Berlin and witness to the end of the division of her city; and Feng Congde, a Chinese student leader who installed loud speakers at Tianamen Square to broadcast the “Ode to Joy”) gives the film documentary verisimilitude. Commentary from conductors on the entire 9th Symphony as well as lengthy segments of each movement demonstrate how powerfully contemporary this early 19th-century work can be, speaking as it does to universal human experience. Even Billy Bragg (who pronounces the composer’s name BEH-oven) offers his English translation of the poem and gets his audience singing.