In this work, which combines sculpture and performance, a musician plays part of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on a grand piano while standing in a hole carved into the center of the instrument. He or she leans out over the keyboard to perform the famous fourth movement of the early-nineteenth-century composition, usually referred to as “Ode to Joy,” upside down and backwards. Walking while playing, the musician moves the instrument, which is mounted on wheels, slowly across the floor.
The hole in the piano renders two octaves of the keyboard inoperative, so a structurally incomplete version of the ode is heard, revised for the top and bottom ends of the range. The spatial and tonal gap in the composition fundamentally transforms the dynamic between player and instrument as well as the signature melody, emphasizing the contradictions and ambiguities attached to a piece of music that has been invoked as a symbol of humanist values and national pride in ideologically disparate contexts such as the Chinese Cultural Revolution, white-supremacist Rhodesia, the Third Reich, and, more recently, the European Union, for which it is the official anthem.
“We’re asking the musicians to reinvent their skills, or to use their skills to make new gestures or forms that are not part of their standard vocabulary,” the artists have said. “And this idea of re-skilling doesn’t end with the performer. The public is asked to re-skill its way of viewing.”
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
In Stop, Repair, Prepare: Variations on "Ode to Joy" for a Prepared Piano (2008), Jennifer Allora (American, born 1974) and Guillermo Calzadilla (Cuban, born 1971) combine the mediums of performance art and sculpture. A pianist emerges through a hole carved in a grand piano to play the fourth movement of Ludwig von Beethovens famous Ninth Symphony of 1824 (widely known as "Ode to Joy") while walking around the Atrium. By modifying the instrument, the artists have fundamentally changed the dynamic between pianist and instrument; leaning very far forward, the performer must read the keyboard upside down and backward. Furthermore, the hole renders two octaves of keys inoperative. The result is a structurally incomplete version of the signature melody, played with great efforta contradictory and ambiguous performance of a song that has long been invoked as a symbol of humanist values and national pride.
Gallery label from Performance 9: Allora & Calzadilla, December 8, 2010–January 10, 2011 .