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Ode To Joy

Life in the Army actually involved quite a lot of doing nothing. I laugh when in "Two Years Before the Mast" Dana looks down his nose at what he calls "sojering" - which is to say "soldiering" which is standing around doing nothing. But work in the Army is feast or famine, and one is either completely overloaded, or bored to tears. As a result, loafing and talking about any damn thing were something of an art form, and despite a tendency to dwell on the five F's (food, fucking, farting, fighting and feces), I witnessed or participated in some crazy talks about anything imaginable.

Even so, one of those conversations was more improbable than the others, at least in my memory. This was actually in the PA National Guard, and out at Ft. Indiantown Gap, our scout platoon had been separated for the day with the armor element running around on M-113's, a precursor to the Bradley. Us proper scouts has been on foot all day, and when the platoon reunited for the evening, we had basically nothing to do after we did our AAR (After Action Report). So I'm sitting on a big rock, squatting with an MRE open, and one of my cronies in the platoon, who's name was, I kid you not, Sgt. McCool, an ex-ranger who looked like a gym teacher, but was actually studying for a phd in biology, if I recall, but anyway, McCool calls down from the 113 he's sitting on, "Hey, Krieger, if you could travel back in time to see any performance, what would it be?"

"Performance? Like...not seeing the crucifixion or Napoleon at Austerlitz or something like that - but a performance?"

"Yeah. That other stuff is boring, everyone says that. I'm talking culture, not history."

So I said I'd pick the very first performance of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, 4th Movement, "Ode to Joy" . Think about it. It's May 7th, 1824, Vienna. The world has never heard the human voice elevated to the same weight and importance as the rest of the orchestra. The world has never heard Romantic music before, it has been dominated by the more austere classical movements which have come before. But this...this piece - it's like nothing anyone's heard before. It's power and emotion are so raw, that Beethoven himself - stone deaf - insisted on conducting. The theater director secretly conducted from behind him so that the orchestra, which had only rehearsed twice, could keep time with Beethoven's movements but take direction from someone who could actually hear them. Beethoven is so entranced that he thrashes from standing a-tiptoe to crouching maniacally, appearing to want to play the entire orchestra himself. When the final crescendo is reached, the audience is stunned. Absolutely stunned. They don't know what to make of what they've just heard...and Beethoven, unaware that the piece is over, is still conducting his heart out! Finally the audience breaks out into wild, whole-hearted applause, standing on their seats, raising hats and kerchiefs, and going absolutely berserk. The contralto singer in the choir finally takes Beethoven by the hand and turns him around so that he can see he's being applauded. Five ovations are given to Beethoven, which is two more than are given even to the Emperor of Austria himself, and unprecedented in musical history. Obviously Western civilization changed that day, but personally, I think maybe human hearts did, too. This was music for the spirit, not music for the ear - and maybe it's never been equalled since.

Yeah, that's what I'd like to see. And when I finish explaining why, McCool and I start singing what we know of it and getting really excited, waving sticks like conductor's batons. We're out in the middle of the woods, exhausted, dirty and completely removed from civilization, but still that piece, and that night have the power to reach through time and stir us near to tears.

That's where I'd go, if I could go back anywhere in time. How about you?

Comments

( 12 comments — Leave a comment )
nixieq
Oct. 14th, 2008 11:08 pm (UTC)
you know, i think that's probably the best choice ever. fantastic.
pyr8queen
Oct. 14th, 2008 11:38 pm (UTC)
I can't argue with the amazing brilliance of aghrivaine's prose, as usual he pretty much expresses it better than I ever could. But beyond that performance of "Ode to Joy", I would like to be present at two separate events: The unveiling of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel, where he put a face to God, flying in the face of tradition. And, the first time ancient Greek players put down their masks and played as real people, using their own faces. I think that the recognition of the non-stylized representation of gods plays prominently, because maybe it is when human beings at different points started regarding themselves as gods.
nephandi
Oct. 14th, 2008 11:42 pm (UTC)
July 16, 1945, the Trinity test... at a safe distance, of course.
robmcdiarmid
Oct. 15th, 2008 12:25 am (UTC)
Hamlet.

I've seen it a lot of times. I've seen it done by Olivier. I've seen a couple different versions with Branaugh (Hated both. Can't stand the guy unless he's doing one of the comedies where his self-importance becomes funny.) I've seen it done by Gibson. And a few others I don't remember offhand.

I've read it multiple times. I've taught it to teenagers. I've done a presentation on the disarms in the swordfight at the end which I've repeated about 3 times (with foam sword props, of course).

And even though I know the piece quite well, I would love to see it in person. I'd love to see how it was presented the first time. I'd love to see what the audience laughed at and what they cheered and what they booed. I'd love to hear the words come trippingly off the tongues of those who were actually used to speaking that way.

And I'd love to see that swordfight and see if that one academic dude who's written 2 different papers on it is correct about how they staged it. Cause I think he probably is.
arya
Oct. 15th, 2008 01:07 am (UTC)
Assuming the question is (as McCool asked it) purely from a cultural perspective, then I absolutely second your assessment.

If it's open ended for any purpose and any reason (as it sounds when you ask it), then I'd go back to Oct 14, 1066, with a bunch of big fuckin' guns, with which I would decimate Duke William's forces, and the Normans never conquer England.

Just to see how much it'd fuck with global history overall, almost a millennium later.

Speaking of which - happy Battle of Hastings day!
aghrivaine
Oct. 15th, 2008 01:09 am (UTC)
hmm. I think the "when/where would you go with a bunch of guns?" question is worthy of separate consideration.
arya
Oct. 15th, 2008 01:18 am (UTC)
Eh, probably.

OK, so if I were to go back in time for any reason at all (not just for cultural purposes) WITHOUT a bunch of guns, I'd probably go back a week with the winning lottery numbers. Aside from the uber pragmatic reasons to go back in time, though, I'd go back to the Heian era. Just to live there.
joemorf
Oct. 15th, 2008 11:43 am (UTC)
That reminds me of the cartoon with the hapless soldiers on Guard duty outside Hitler's door wondering why they're constantly dealing with time-travelling would be assassins...

~j
blanchemains
Oct. 15th, 2008 04:00 am (UTC)
The critics of Beethoven's day panned the Ninth Symphony, they thought it was cheap, overly simplistic and compared it to "Yankee Doodle". The piece wasn't appreciated to any degree until some time after Beethoven's death. That said, it's one of my favorite pieces as well.

Me? I would have liked to have seen Lillian Leitzel, May Wirth and Alfredo Codona perform under the big top.
aghrivaine
Oct. 15th, 2008 04:03 am (UTC)
The piece wasn't appreciated to any degree until some time after Beethoven's death.

But that night it was.
lonerhino
Oct. 15th, 2008 08:11 pm (UTC)
I would have liked to have been present when Bell uttered that famous line, "Watson come here. I need you".

We all know that these words were the first spoken over the phone.

What is never recognized was that this was the first booty call.
cacofunny
Oct. 15th, 2008 10:01 pm (UTC)
My pick is to witness Heron of Alexandria's totally mechanical play. Imagine witnessing a story told not by people but by ropes, pulleys and painted cutouts orchestrated with precise timing at a period in history when auto-anything was unfathomable. It was ten minutes long and had a contraption built in which dropped metal balls on a hidden drum to emulate thunder. Thunder, in the middle of the day!

Just to see the reactions of those in attendance would've been priceless!
( 12 comments — Leave a comment )