BILL MOYERS: Listening to Jill Stein and Margaret Flowers, I come away with admiration for their ability to remain joyful in their defiance, as if imbued with a spirit that comes from some indefinable place of hope and resilience. Which is why I’m even more eager to recommend to you a small gem of a movie that’s just been released. It’s about perhaps the greatest piece of music ever written, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, in which the composer took Friedrich Schiller’s poem “Ode to Joy,” and transformed what essentially was a drinking song into what has been called a universal human anthem.

Resolute in the face of his own deafness and failing health, Beethoven was able to express something immortal and sublime, so revealing of our deepest feelings, that we know it is saying for us what we cannot say on our own.

Consider how it travels from culture to culture. The Japanese now play the Ninth over and again during their New Year celebrations. Ironically, they first heard of the 9th from German prisoners during World War One. But it grew in popularity, especially following World War Two, when a devastated and defeated people set out to build a new society on the ruins of the old. And in the months after the earthquake and tidal wave that struck Japan three years ago, killing more than 15,000 and unleashing the silent terror of radiation from the Fukushima nuclear power plant that Margaret Flowers and Jill Stein just discussed, the triumphant “Ode to Joy” helped the healing of a nation literally broken apart.

The music’s produced that effect on people ever since 1824, when it was first performed in Vienna. This new film, “Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony,” produced and directed by Kerry Candaele and a book he has written with Greg Mitchell tell the story of its political and social impact in one country after another. Here’s a preview:

GEORGE MATTHEW in Following the Ninth: The whole thing is a kind of creation story, or an evolution story. The first thing, is not a thing. It’s a nothing. What on earth is that? And then when it starts to move, the spirit of god hovering over the waters, what you get is:

And then you have this cataclysmic event. It’s pure violence. That is primordial violence. That is the big bang.

This piece enters your bloodstream and then changes who you are. The entire blueprint of everything, all the way from subatomic particles to galactic clusters, it’s all here.

FENGE CONGDE in Following the Ninth: We demanded the government to hold a direct dialog with us students. To push political reform. The government refused. And finally, 3000 students went down to the Tiananmen Square, hunger striking. I set up the first broadcast station. I put in the cassette of Beethoven’s Ninth to cover the voice of the government system.

There was real transformation. It gave us a sense of hope, solidarity, all people become brothers. We just feel that we were free at last. We regain our dignity as human beings. For me that was a movement for hope. And the tanks and machine guns killed that hope.

BENJAMIN ZANDER in Following the Ninth: If given a chance to meet one person in history, for me it would be Beethoven. The question I would ask him, if I only had one question, would be the Ninth Symphony.

The Ninth Symphony seems to express most completely what human beings are struggling for. It is a battle cry for humanity, a hymn of possibility.

ISABEL LIPTHAY in Following the Ninth: In 1973 begins a very dark time. Pinochet took the power and made one of the worst military coups. This dream from socialism from equality was gone.

RENATO VIDAL in Following the Ninth: Music was banished. Happiness was banished. I was in a room, with a window, an iron grid. And one day I heard the music, only the music.

ISABEL LIPTHAY in Following the Ninth: The Ninth was like a shield for us, against the fear, the pain, against the darkness.

RENATA VIDAL in Following the Ninth: When you are in the deepest darkest hole, that music was hope.

BILLY BRAGG in Following the Ninth: The thing about punk that was really important was the DIY aspect of it. You can do this yourself. Technically, I not even sure I’m a musician. I’m a guitar player. But there is no reason why that should stop me from writing the lyrics of the Ode to Joy from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

You don’t have to wait until the London Symphony Orchestra gives you permission or asks you. The fact that I’ve written the two verses is all the validation I need. There they are. And if I can make those verses singable by the kids, then great, I’ll d do that as well - ok, man of destiny, here we go-

Music is something that is mood enhancing and mind bending. You can change or enhance that melancholy feeling or that joyous feeling. And Beethoven obviously felt that deeply.

You can imagine if he heard his favorite song in the supermarket, it would stop him dead and mess up his day.

TAIJIRO IIOMORI in Following the Ninth: I think Japanese people need, just need this Beethoven’s message.

BILL MOYERS: There you have it, Beethoven’s final symphony moves, inspires and mystifies. The composer and writer Jan Swafford once probed the mystery of it for Slate magazine, helping me for one, to see how Beethoven forged elements from military and funeral marches , and that “dissonant shriek” that Richard Wagner saw as a “terror fanfare,” how he took all of that and created “a great ceremonial work that doesn’t just preach freedom and the unity of peoples but attempts however strangely to foster them.” Composed by a tortured man who during the bloody Napoleonic Wars wrote: “what a destructive, disorderly life I see and hear around me, nothing but drums, cannons and human misery in every form.”

So those of you who despair of the collapse of civilization, those of us who report it, and all of you trying to repair it can take heart from what emerged out of hard and bitter times – take heart from how Beethoven “erected," in Jan Swafford's words," a movement of epic scope on a humble little tune that anybody can sing.” Mysterious, yes. As mysterious as hope in a broken world.

Following the Ninth

This week Bill previews the new film Following the Ninth: In the Footsteps of Beethoven’s Final Symphony, a documentary exploring the worldwide cultural and political influence of Beethoven’s masterpiece and its majestic “Ode to Joy.”

The film follows the Ninth Symphony to cultures around the world, telling the story of its impact in countries at critical inflection points in history including Germany, China and Chile.

The 2012 book Journeys With Beethoven, written with The Nation’s Greg Mitchell, was inspired by the film, Following the Ninth, produced and directed by Kerry Candaele.

Producer: Danielle Varga. Editor: Sikay Tang.

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  • Bill Bonner

    A little misleading – the film focuses on the final section of Beethoven’s 9th only – the so-called Ode to Joy. What I see as a serious omission and disappointment is the lack of a performance of the entire symphony. This gives the impression to the uninitiated that this narrow, albeit exuberant culmination, is the whole thing.

  • gustavmahler

    Kinda typical for Americans, no? Don’t have time for the whole thing so give me the Cliff note version. Therefore one would miss the quoting of the previous mvts. and not really get it.
    On the other hand, it is good to make people aware of this music in any way they can.

  • Bill Bonner

    Sure, I agree with that – Valentina Lisitsa does this wonderfully, but doesn’t skip over the ‘tough or boring parts’ :-) – just surprised that the entire symphony isn’t included on the DVD

  • karel renard

    Thanks Bill…sent this to my 89 year old political mom who was become very depressed… I hope Beethoven’s ninth and your words can cheer her up. k

  • jMichael Christophre

    While Ii was at the University of Minnesota, Ii was fortunate to be able to sing Beethoven’s 9th in the University Symphony Chorus (500+ voices) twice. Truly a magical experience to be a part of something so grand!

  • Anonymous

    Thanks so much for focusing on Following The Ninth. The full film does indeed cover the four movements of the Ninth, for the journey must move through fear, melancholy, and other emotions before the joyous finale. I am honored by the inclusion in the program. Kerry Candaele, Director, Following The Ninth

  • Albee

    Very enjoyable segment. Unfortunately, the DVD is not available at this time.

  • al

    Very inspiring, but I have not been able to find the film available anywhere. How can we see it, and why are you promoting something that is not available.

  • jluphl

    If you visit the website, it appears that they are looking for funders & donations to pay for viewings.

  • Anonymous

    The film is not out on DVD yet. It’s only in a theatrical run. We’re really just getting started, and will have a new website up in a day or two with all the cities where the film is playing. We’ll be adding more dates in the coming weeks. But we’re a small outfit and don’t have a big media budget to launch the film in a hundred cities at once. Thanks for being patient. Kerry Candaele

  • Anonymous

    Hello. The website you are looking at has been up for years (yes, the film took a while to finish as we are not linked to any big distributor and had to raise money in small amounts), but we are not looking for funders. The donate tab has been there for a long time. We’re redoing the website in the next couple days. Best, kerry candaele, director.

  • Anonymous

    Dear Albee,
    When doing theatrical runs, the theaters do not want a DVD sold until after the run is done. They would prefer that people see the film in the theater, where the popcorn is very expensive. Best, kerry candaele, director

  • Tom Youngjohn


  • Kristine Robinson

    I would love to share this with my family next week, how do I obtain a copy or find it online to stream?

  • Anonymous

    When films are in a theatrical run, the theaters do not want dvds and on line downloading available. They would like people to come in and buy their popcorn rather than stay home and make their own while watching on TV. But DVDs will be available after the theatrical run. Thanks much, Kerry Candaele, Director FTN

  • Anonymous

    Dear Kristine,
    The film isn’t out on DVD or on line yet. Theaters like to have the first shot at getting people into the theater without competing with online venues. My facebook page has a list of where the film is showing. Best, Kerry Candaele, Director, FTN

  • Jeff Robbins

    Can you please send me, otr direct me to, that list of theatres showing the Beethoven’s 9th film? I live in the Washington DC region.

    Thanks very much.