Sep 2020

V. Von Generation zu Generation: Haydn’s Emperor Quartet and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9

Haydn’s Emperor Quartet and


Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 and


Their Importance for Modern German


and European History:


A Chinese Perspective


Cheng Luo, Beijing, China


As a student of German and International Business at Old Dominion University, I began to listen to the local radio station of classical music soon after my arrival in America in 2010. My appreciation for classical music grew enormously despite a lack of musical training. Here is my perspective on German music after 1945 as an international student born and raised in Beijing, China.

Music has served as a spiritual pillar for mankind regardless of nationality, ethnicity, and gender. However, how many pieces of music from over two-thousand years of world history can qualify as classic? From my perspective, such music must enjoy an ever-lasting worldwide popularity. Some great examples are the masterpieces of various famous composers in the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic eras. Among these all-time classics, two pieces of music stand out particularly because of their profound impact on contemporary Germany, the Emperor String Quartet, Op. 76, No. 3, by Franz Joseph Haydn and Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, by Ludwig van Beethoven.

As the musical source of the German national anthem, Haydn’s “Emperor’s Hymn” Quartet fell victim to the political turbulence in the 20th century. The peaceful flow of the quartet’s second movement disappeared, and the emphasis of the nationalistic lyrics “Deutschland, Deutschland, über alles” branded the originally innocent tune as a symbol of Nazi aggression. Such a negative image remained long after Germany’s defeat in 1945. After German unification in 1990, Hoffmann von Fallersleben’s original lyrics “Einigkeit und Recht und Freiheit” along with Haydn’s familiar tune came to signify the reunification of Germany.

While Haydn’s Emperor Quartet affected Germany, Ode to Joy from Symphony No. 9 by German composer Beethoven symbolized a desire to bring harmony to post-war Europe. The European Anthem omitted the original operatic lyrics of “An die Freude” written by Friedrich Schiller to avoid choosing one particular European language over the others. However, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 was so well-known that the message of the anthem was unmistakably clear despite the lack of lyrics. The cheerful and uplifting tune resonated with every nation in the European Union when the region saw a promise for peace.

All refined music can be provoking, but only classic pieces can forever create such emotional effect. These all-time classics can easily become subjects of political manipulation to serve different agendas, some of which are good while some are evil. Yet, such music always proves its true value over time. Haydn’s Emperor Quartet and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 will continue to witness how the historical pendulum swings between stability and chaos long after we are gone.


Cheng standing in front of the Bundestag during his first visit to Berlin in May, 2014.

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