Every so often I see something so incredible and exciting and magnificent, I practically trip over my feet running to write about it. Touch Press’s app for the iPhone and iPad, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is one of those things.
The app, which looks at Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from many different angles is essentially everything you could ever hope for in an app examining, arguably, the most important work of music of all time. It is well thought out, digs deep enough into theory and history, and presents the information in a multitude of ways.
It’s not surprising that Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is great, considering it comes from Touch Press, who are exceptional in presenting materials in both educational and entertaining ways. They are the company behind such apps as the incredible adaptation of Theodore Gray’s The Elements app, The Sonnets by Shakespeare (featuring Stephen Fry, David Tennant, Sir Patrick Stewart and others), DaVinci’s Anatomy, and many others. You could fill an iPad with their content alone.
But, oh friends, let us sing of Beethoven! It is difficult to think of music that is more inspiring, glorious, and tear-inducing than the Ninth, which is considered by many to be the greatest piece of music ever written. While most people know it was Beethoven’s last major work and he was completely deaf when composing it, or that it includes Friedrich Schiller’s poem Ode to Joy; the extent of their knowledge about the symphony likely ends there. Perhaps they know about the symphony’s role in movies like Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange and Alex’s affectation for “a little of the Ludwig van”, or Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Beethoven in Immortal Beloved, or its inclusion in the action movie, Die Hard. Some might even speak of Multimedia Beethoven from Microsoft Home. Nevermind, even those well-versed beyond pop culture in Opus 125 will find something new to appreciate in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
The app, a partnership with Deutsche Grammophon, is rich with information, featuring a biography of the maestro, along with information putting the symphony in historical context, and suggestions for how to truly listen to the masterwork. Digging a little deeper, the app has gathered two hours of insights from some of classical music’s greats, from the incomparable conductor Leonard Bernstein to the Berlin Philharmonic’s Walter Kussner, all reflecting on their interpretation of the Ninth.
But the heart of the app is, of course, the music. Four great recordings are used: Ferenc Fricsay and the Berliner Philharmoniker, recorded in 1958; Herbert von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker, recorded in 1962; Leonard Bernstein, Wiener Philharmoniker from 1979; and John Eliot Gardiner, Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, recorded in 1992. The variations in each are delightful and it’s fun to pick out the nuances and changes that make up your favorite.
As you listen, with a tap of a finger, you can switch between a synchronized score that can be viewed either as the whole orchestra or the emphasized instruments at the current time of the piece. Jump between movements, follow a copy of Beethoven’s 1825 manuscript, or switch to a passage-by-passage detailed analysis by David Owen Norris, who also wrote much of the rest of the story found in the app.
If you just want to relax and take in the masterpiece, the “BeatMap” presents the orchestra with individual dots that grow and shrink as they play their parts. in the corner, video of Bernstein’s 1979 performance (yes, the entire symphony!) can be viewed picture-in-picture or brought full screen, while unobtrusive footnotes scroll below, detailing the key changes and other information about the music. It’s difficult to imagine how the app could be improved, it is a companion worthy of the masterpiece it chronicles.
Beethoven’s 9th Symphony from Touch Press is $13.99 for iPad, $7.99 for iPhone, but both versions offer free, trial downloads, which offer a taste of what the app has to offer. In a word, it is magnificent. Freude!
Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this app.