Having just posted it on my other blog ‘Relevant Complexity‘, something about it felt to me like it deserved its place here too. Perhaps because the “Ode” brought joy to my day and lit up my week.

Beethoven’s 9th: Ode to Europe


As I find my bearings in the ‘classical repertoire‘, there can be few finer guides than Canada’s National Art Centre’s Marjolaine Fournier and Jean-Jacques van Vlasselaer’s “Explore the symphony” podcasts.


I stumbled upon this fabulous couple searching for the background to Prokofiev’s ‘Alexander Nevsky’; and in the process fell a little in love with Canada.

A country that has the imagination and culture to support, bring together and promote the French Canadian double bassist Fournier and the richly accented scholarship of van Vlasselaer, is a very fine country indeed.

And their podcast on Beethoven’s 9th Symphony reminds me what a fine continent Europe is too…

The 9th is Beethoven’s masterwork, and its “Ode to joy” is instantly familiar. But I was fascinated by van Vlasselaer’s story of who Beethoven was; and where he fits at the crossroads of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution, bridging the Classical and Romantic periods. Beethoven with the “Ode” celebrates liberté, egalité and fraternité, at the dawn of artists as Artists – no longer paid retainers of aristocracy.

But what matters most is the music. As van Vlasselaer points out, a ‘masterwork’ is a masterwork, because for any age and any generation it is a source of wonder. We may all recognise, Beethoven’s 9th, but everyone should stop, marvel and listen to it again from time to time.

‘Ode to joy’ is also the anthem of the European Union – and was itself a direct product of the complex, interconnected peoples, borders, histories, ideals and culture which are ‘Europe’.

For all the challenges it faces in the 21st Century – and the bloody, brooding history it endured in the 20th – ‘Ode to joy’ reminds us of what Europe is; and can be, at its very best.

Beethoven – Symphony No 9, ‘Choral’ (LSO, Haitink)


Train Strains


Bejesus it’s hard work not to be bothered by folk on public transport. Keeping sane on a packed train is a formidable test of the mind. As a friend pointed out, its all just sensory data. But we are hardwired to react.

My virtual friend Rohan – on his Buddhify meditation App – describes travel as pulling your attention all over the place. And my consciousness is being jolted and jostled as we begin to rattle along.

The respectable older lady next to me is assailing me with her ageing Burger King and fries. What’s she doing eating that? Then there’s a sweaty backpacker attempting to impress his girlfriend with mild boorishness. Ah the naiveté of young love. And of my own choosing – in a desperate attempt to block them out – Saint Saëns Symphony no 3 in my headphones.

Saint Saëns has it by a nose. But the fries are fighting hard up my nostrils. The carriage strip lighting is pretty penetrating too. It’s a good test of whether I can rest.

But the right classical music, at the right time is a lifesaver, I increasingly discover with the passing of the years. If in doubt, screen it out with a decent bit of orchestral – now there’s something I’d never have thought I’d say 20 years ago. Music maestro please.