Monday 24 July 2023

The Subtitled Sublime

 The Ode to Joy that ends Beethoven's Ninth Symphony has been with me all my musically aware life, ever since I first heard it in primary school music class (those were the days – sound musical education in every state school). The Classics for Pleasure double album of the Ninth was the first LP I ever owned, back in the olden days when affordable albums (still expensive by today's standards) were quite a novelty. It was Carl Schuricht conducting the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra – not that I cared who it was: the music simply overwhelmed me, swept me away, especially the choral finale, that Ode to Joy. I never bothered about the words, which I couldn't make out and were clearly in a language I didn't understand – fine by me. What mattered was that glorious music, the sheer genius of the vast musical world that Beethoven builds from what is on the face of it a pretty banal melody (hence its adoption as the EU's anthem). Last night's televised Prom ended with Beethoven's Ninth, and the BBC had decided to subtitle the choral finale with an English translation of the Ode to Joy (written, as all the world knows, by Schiller). I do wish they hadn't: the words, at least in this translation, were of the most flatulent banality – all about universal love and brotherhood, and God somewhere above the starry canopy – and only detracted from the glory of the music. But if subtitles are going to be used for choral music, why not do so more generally? It might be genuinely useful, as the words are often impossible to make out and brief subtitles might help. However, if they're going to do it, they might at least take care to make them accurate: the subtitles to the Ode to Joy last night referred more than once to a God who 'swells' above the starry canopy. A disturbing image. 

No comments:

Post a Comment