Dancing with Beethoven
People are wondering why the articles about music these days. It's because I've had enough of the stupidity emanating from the left. These are opinions; I'm not presenting anything as absolute fact.
It must have been a sad childhood for Beethoven, 1770–1827. His father was both a musician and a mean drunk. Young Beethoven regularly had his ears boxed. I would list this as a contributing factor to his later deafness; the pain must have been awful, the damage sinful.
Now, if you grew up knowing the word "dinner" and later lost your hearing, you would still recognize that word, that sound and its meaning in your head. When a mostly deaf Beethoven scored a triad of C, E, and G, he knew that sound. Better yet, he knew the many possibilities it could be expanded to.
Oh, he was crazy — disagreeable temperament wed to an ugly smallpox-scarred face. He wanted to be loved, but he was too demanding of others and just wasn't loveable. He wrote attractive short pieces as woo for girls he taught, but none of them ever obtained. The best concert pianist and piano teacher I know always refers to the most famous of these pieces as "For Elizabeth"; it is a formality born of respect.
Upon first hearing Für Elise at the age of three, my daughter began to weep. "He's so sad" she said.
The career was stormy, and Beethoven was at one time as political as most crazy people are.
Eroica, published in 1806, had a working title of "Bonaparte." Beethoven initially viewed Napoleon as a heroic revolutionary leader. When Napoleon declared himself emperor, the composer angrily scratched the title.
Years later, in 1824, Beethoven premiered the Ninth Symphony in Vienna. An almost totally deaf Beethoven stood next to the conductor keeping time. His deafness prevented him from hearing and acknowledging the great applause that followed until someone turned him toward the audience. I hope he smiled broadly, because he was very near the end.
He grew rumpled, disheveled, and hermitic. I read once that he consumed mostly macaroni and cheese; I imagine he was too busy composing to break from an efficient habit that satisfied his physical needs while providing extra space for the more interesting decisions his talent afforded. His friends remembered to steal into his room at night and change his clothes now and then so the stink was lessened. Children made fun of him as he walked to pastures where he sat against a tree and wrote music.
No other composer of his day had such a keen awareness of the symphony as pictorial setting. The Fifth is still one of the most eye-catching musical works I have ever witnessed; that famous theme bounces audibly and visually from left to right and back again. It dances all around the stage.
I wonder if he generously spent all of his joy on us, the listeners, thereby leaving only a small portion in his personal account. If so, it was a lavish inheritance.
Michael James has been a professional guitarist and public school music educator for over forty years.