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

by William E. Badgley,
The Documentary Center

“Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony,” a feature documentary film by film maker Kerry Candaele, fulfills with great poetry one of the greatest functions documentary film has the ability to achieve; the ability to find a common thread in the universe and to coherently communicate that thread to others.
This film is able to do this not only because of the obvious film making talent behind the piece, but due to the fact that Beethoven himself had achieved so completely the greatest task that an artist of any kind can achieve; to find and express a common humanity so perfectly that none can deny it.
From Billy Bragg, to the Berlin Wall, to Tiananmen Square, Chilean revolt, and to natural disaster in Japan and beyond, “Following the Ninth” combines tales of political unrest, revolt, and revolution with tales of personal triumph and unbridled joy to show us that Beethoven is still succeeding in showing us our universal humanity 180 years after he finished his final work.
Beethoven’s final symphony, known as the “Ode to Joy”, which has proven through the years to be the soundtrack of both personal and political revolt, was written in 1824 when Beethoven was near the end of his career and functionally deaf. According to many his final symphony is his masterpiece, the most often performed symphony in history, and it has often been said the symphony is the finest piece of music of all time.
So maybe it isn’t so odd that the effect of this symphony, even well over a century since it was first performed, is still so profound on so many levels. When examining the expression of the true essence of the human spirit, I think it worth mentioning that Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is also the first major work of it’s kind to include the human voice, which is why it is sometimes referred to simply as, “The Choral”.
And while it may be a bit presumptuous to say what makes this work so great, I think it appropriate to venture a guess that its greatness may be due to the fact that it was penned in what may have easily been a time of profound personal journey for the composer.
To be deaf, to be separated from the thing that may have been the very source of Beethoven’s connection to others, it seems no great surprise that in that silence he heard the human voice, and by hearing the sound of the human spirit so completely he was able to show us a voice that we all can hear.
“Following the Ninth” is a great, and I dare say important film, for all ages. The film showing takes place at The Pickford Film Center on Feb. 12 at 6:30 p.m. and Feb. 15 at 1:30 p.m.