BBC Proms 2016 / 13: Beethoven 9

A post-Brexit performance of Beethoven 9: one long break-up song or a positive reaffirmation of the universal human spirit?

On paper Prom 13 was going to be tricky.

Beethoven’s 9th symphony is a series of musical ideas that triggers important memories of European travels I’ve made over the years. It’s been there during teenage visits to Berlin, a lightning visit to Luxembourg, and trips to Switzerland. It’s supported me on excursions to Latvia, Lithuania, Spain, France, and Portugal.  Beethoven 9 has accompanied everywhere in Europe. And on the day of the UK referendum, it was the soundtrack of my early morning flight from Glasgow to London.

I thought at the time how odd it would be to listen to the symphony in the event of the UK voting to leave. That which had been an unofficial anthem of the European Union might subsequently turn out to be nothing more than a break-up song, a soundtrack to a long and rather messy divorce. One I’d get to hear every single year.

The first year is always the toughest, right? That’s what they say.

As it turned out, tonight’s Beethoven 9 was reaffirming.

The heartbreaking beauty of the third movement – a long final goodbye – had the unexpected effect of bringing me as an individual, closer to Europe.

It’s not a break-up song at all, at least not right now. Instead, it’s a musical statement of a greater sense of humanity. A personal pledge to fellow citizens not just in Europe but beyond. Come the final movement, the Ode to Joy still sounded celebratory. It transported me somewhere joyous. And while some might regard that as ridiculous, I’m happy to admit I’m relieved. I didn’t want Beethoven 9 ruined by the UK referendum. And it hasn’t been.

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