“Take a music bath once or twice a week for a few seasons, and you will find that it is to the soul what the water bath is to the body.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes
At the close of 2014, a year of such over-the-top grimness and dismay that I for one am tempted to despair over belonging to such a race as the human race is proving to be, I find that Oliver Wendell Holmes’s advice is spot on. I can bathe in music and refresh my soul. But not just any music. For me, it’s glorious music, the music of JOY! And who else is the supreme creator of the music of Joy but Ludwig van Beethoven? He, who was master of the sublime in sound, was deaf himself, and most of the the time, black of mood. No matter.
The final movement, the fourth, of his towering 9th Symphony ends with the renowned Ode to Joy. It fully lives up to its name. There’s a long time of waiting and listening to three full movements, however, before spying that mountain peak.
I think of Beethoven’s less well-known Choral Fantasia in C Minor, Op. 80, as the little brother of the Ode to Joy. In less than half an hour it transports us, like a chair lift, right up to the mountain’s peak, from where we can gaze at a world transfigured, bathe in that bath of music, and be reconciled to humanity.
Think I’m exaggerating? Try it. Here’s my Christmas gift to each of you, a very short YouTube, only 3 minutes or so, of just the finale to the Choral Fantasia. This version is by the Berliner Philharmoniker, conducted by Claudio Abbado, with pianist Maurizio Pollini. (If you look quickly, you’ll recognize the soprano soloist as blonde Finnish bombshell Karita Mattila, who two years ago or so sang Salome, a rather different matter, at the Metropolitan Opera.)
There are lots of full-length versions of the Choral Fantasia on YouTube, most are excellent, and when you have need of a spiritual cleansing and a half hour to spare, I highly recommend any of them. You might especially look for the version featuring a youth orchestra of bright and shining young people. But right now if you’re still with me, treat yourself and watch and listen to this passport to Joy:
If you’re allergic to “classical music” — then close your eyes and simply listen. The final moments will lift the hairs on the back of your neck —