Several years ago, I bought my first classical CD, a recording of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. I'd seen "$9.98" on the label with "Wiener Philharmoniker" and pounced.

I'd expected a repeat of my overwhelming first experience with the symphony (on LP, also recorded by the Wiener Philharmoniker), only with the added clarity of digital recording. But when I got home, I was in for a disappointment. Even a novice such as myself could tell that the recording wasn't the greatest: poor microphone placement made the instruments poorly balanced. The effect ruined some of my favorite parts. My brother said, "What do you expect for $9.98?"

Maybe I know better now. But that recording of the symphony surprised me in more ways than one. I endured through to the fourth movement, to hear the Ode to Joy:

Freude, schöner Götterfunken,
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische dein Heiligtum.
Deine Zauber binden wieder,
was die Mode frech geteilt...

In my mind, there was a sudden skreeeeek!

What's this? "Thy magic reunites those that impudent custom has sundered"? Wasn't that supposed to be streng (stern)?

It turns out that Beethoven wrote frech in his original manuscript of the Symphony. Some have called it an "error", but I can't be sure that Beethoven didn't mean to put it there. Did he mis-remember Friedrich Schiller's poem, or was he arrogantly interpreting Schiller (Beethoven's arrogance can be confidently assumed)? Probably as imponderable as the identity of his "Immortal Beloved".

So anyway, you will hear both streng and frech in performances and recordings of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. As you can probably guess from my experiences, I prefer "streng". But perhaps an especially good recording could make me change my mind.