In this video from “The Pervert’s Guide to Ideology,” Slavoj Zizek talks about the ideology behind Beethoven’s 9th Symphony.
The final movement of the 9th features the poem “Ode to Joy .” Zizek notes “the universal adaptability of this well known melody” which “can be used by political movements which are totally opposed to each other.”
Beethoven’s 9th/Ode to Joy was used in Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and in China. When almost all Western music was banned in China, the 9th symphony was allowed. Now, it’s the unofficial anthem of the European Union, according to Zizek.
This is how every ideology has to work. It’s never just meaning. It always has to also work as an empty container, open to all possible meanings. You know that gut feeling we that we feel when we experience something pathetic and we say ‘oh my god I’m so moved, there is something so deep.’ But you never know what this depth is, it’s a void. Now of course there is a catch here. The catch is that of course this neutrality of a frame is never as neutral as it appears.
But the 9th in its entirety disrupts this ideological narrative.
Beethoven is not a cheap celebrator of the brotherhood of humanity and so on, we are one big happy family enjoying freedom, dignity and so on. The first part which is falsely celebrated today…is clearly identified with Beethoven as ideology and then the second part tells the true story of that which disturbs the official ideology and of the failure of the official ideology to constrain it, to tame it. This is why Beethoven was doing something which may appear difficult to do. He was already, in the purely musical work, practicing [a] critique of ideology.