beethoven 9

Beethoven’s Symphony No.9 in D Minor is widely considered to be the greatest piece of music ever written. Musicologists will tell you that’s because it broke so many rules and introduced so many new ideas and techniques, or that it closed one era of classical music and opened another. What was to be Beethoven’s last symphony was made almost entirely of firsts.

But that doesn’t explain why this one piece of music has moved people – so deeply – for nearly 200 years. Because of all the ideas that Beethoven wove into The Ninth, there’s only one that really matters, The One Idea that makes it all work.

The experts rave over The Ninth because it was the first choral symphony by a major composer and the first to integrate poetry into its structure. (Brilliant!) And not only was it bigger, longer and more artistically demanding than anything anyone had ever attempted before but it broke so many rules of classical music. (Only Beethoven would dare to put the Scherzo before the Adagio. Genius!) And for the real music buffs, perhaps the most exciting innovation is the astonishing fourth movement, a symphony within a symphony, with four distinct movements of its own.

Yes, Beethoven gave the experts plenty of ideas to get excited over.

To the rest of us he gave just one. Joy.

Of all of the ideas in The Ninth, Joy is the one that explains and shapes the whole thing. It is the theme. It is the reason. It is the feeling Beethoven wanted to express, it is the experience he wanted to share with all the world. It is the single objective of the entire symphony.

That kind of clarity of purpose is the difference between a great work and a mass of ideas, the difference between a great meal and a pile of ingredients. No matter how exciting and fresh the ideas, they are meaningless without The One Thought To Rule Them All; the single organising principle we call a ‘concept’.

Joy was Beethoven’s concept, the basis of every decision he made for The Ninth. Every note, every passage, every pause, every change in key and tempo. That’s why this is such a powerful work of art: every single element is focused on a single, pure outcome.

Sure, swapping the Adagio with the Scherzo is a cute idea. But without a concept it’s just a technical trick, a gimmick to thrill the boffins. Even the most brilliant ideas need ‘The One’ to give them a clear and exciting purpose, which is why finding The One marks the moment where brainstorming ends and design begins.

Here’s how.

When you think about it, most ideas are about a particular thing and how it might be expressed in a new and interesting way, and a designer needs a big pile of those ideas because they’re like the pieces in a puzzle. But somewhere in that pile is an idea that doesn’t seem to be about any one thing, because in a weird way it’s sort of about everything.

It’s the kind of thought that feels more like a theme, a direction, a purpose, an emotion. It doesn’t feel like just another part of the puzzle… it’s more like the picture on the front of the box that tells you what the puzzle is supposed to look like when it’s finished.

And if, when you bring that thought into contact with other ideas, they start to make more sense, if they naturally gather and unify around that single thought… chances are you have found the organising principle for knowing what works and what doesn’t, what’s in and what’s out.

You have found The One.

And when that happens, you find the Joy.

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Written by Jason Clarke

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Celebrated author, adventurer, gold medal Olympian and popular TV chef; Jason is none of these things. He is, however, one of the most sought-after creative minds in the country. As founder of Minds at Work, he’s helped people ‘think again’ since the end of the last century, working with clients across Australia in virtually every industry and government sector on issues ranging from creativity and trouble shooting to culture change and leadership.