The recent Phoenix Symphony Orchestra performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, was an important reminder for everyone present of the value and beauty of contrast. While the entire symphony presents an array of contrasting material, the famous fourth movement is, in and of itself, a celebration of the balance of contrast and transformation. The contrasting expressions—from a feeling of gentleness to peace to strength to jubilation and triumph—lead you through an emotional journey of joy. But there’s also the obvious contrast between a deaf composer and the glorious music he wrote for all of us to hear.

While the contrast of dynamics, rhythmic fluctuation, and emphasis in the expression of joy creates variety, there is a sense of unity that comes from all the elements merging together as a whole expression. You often experience contrast in a work of art by perceiving these elements in relationship with one another.

Different elements work together in a way that creates interest and variety. The contrast can sometimes come from elements used in direct opposition with one another, yet they balance beautifully. In fact, the beauty often comes from the deliberate use of opposites in a way that offsets one another and creates a sense of balance. Throughout his Ninth Symphony, Beethoven effectively balanced the contrasting elements of joy, even though he created the work while enduring the trauma of growing deafness. His efforts enriched the experience for all of us.

The object isn’t to make art,
it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.

~Robert Henri

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