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Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 debuts

May 4, 2020 in History

By Editors

On May 4, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony debuts at Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor. Having lost his hearing years earlier, the celebrated composer nonetheless “conducts” the first performance of his Ninth Symphony, now widely considered to be one of the greatest pieces of music ever written.

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Having established himself as one of the greatest composers of the era in the early 1800s, Beethoven had almost completely lost his hearing by 1814 but continued to compose. The Ninth Symphony required the largest orchestra ever employed by Beethoven, and was unusual at the time for its use of voices in addition to instruments. Beethoven hand-picked two young singers, 18-year-old Henriette Sontag and 20-year-old Caroline Unger, for the soprano and alto parts. He stood on stage and appeared to conduct the orchestra when the Ninth debuted, although due to his deafness the players were instructed to ignore the composer and instead follow Michael Umlauf, the actual conductor. Beethoven was several bars off from the actual music by the time the piece concluded. As he could not hear the applause, Unger had to turn him to face the audience as they hailed him with five standing ovations, raising their hats and handkerchiefs in the air.

Critics consider the Ninth one of Beethoven’s crowning achievements. The choral section, adapted from the Friedrich Schiller poem “Ode to Joy,” has transcended the world of classical music and become one of the most often-played and easily recognizable pieces of music of all time. The “Ode to Joy” has been interpreted in almost every way imaginable, and has been employed as an official or unofficial anthem by an enormous range of entities, including the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Nazi Party, the East-West German Olympic Team and the European Union.

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How Nixon’s Presidency Became Increasingly Erratic After Kent State

May 4, 2020 in History

By Christopher Klein

The Kent State shootings triggered wider student protests—and prompted a surprise presidential visit with students gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.

Richard Nixon couldn’t sleep. Four days after the Kent State shootings, the president sat in the sitting room off the Lincoln Bedroom listening to a Rachmaninoff concerto on his record player.

With dawn still two hours away, Nixon gazed into the darkness where protestors were already gathering around the Washington Monument. The massive demonstration against the Vietnam War and the bloodshed at Kent State planned for later in the day had turned the White House into a fortress. Two rings of city buses parked bumper to bumper encircled the mansion, and the 82nd Airborne was stationed in the adjacent Executive Office Building.

Already on high alert, a Secret Service agent was startled when he noticed a shadowy figure in jacket and tie wandering outside the White House at 4:35 a.m. “Searchlight is on the lawn!” he radioed, using Nixon’s codename.

The agent grew even more alarmed when the president asked for his limousine and departed the White House in order to talk to the antiwar protestors. What followed was one of the most bizarre episodes in presidential history, one emblematic of an increasingly erratic president leading a country on edge.

READ MORE: Kent State Shootings: A Timeline of the Tragedy

The Days After Kent State

After Nixon awoke from a nap on May 4, 1970, Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman told the president the stunning news that the Ohio National Guard had opened fire on an antiwar demonstration at Kent State University, leaving four students dead and nine injured. Nixon’s April 30 announcement of the American invasion of Cambodia to target suspected North Vietnamese havens had roiled college campuses across the country.

The anger grew even further the following day when the president was caught on tape on a visit to the Pentagon calling the protestors “bums blowing up campuses.”

Haldeman wrote in his journal that Nixon was “very disturbed” by the Kent State shootings, but he noted that the president was mainly preoccupied by the incident’s political ramifications. Nixon had long sought to crush the antiwar movement on college campuses, which he believed was the work of “outside agitators,” and Haldeman reported the president was “hoping rioters had provoked the shooting.”

READ MORE: How Nixon’s Invasion of Cambodia Triggered a Check on Presidential …read more