Saturday, December 8, 2007

Beethoven, Day Two / Cloud Atlas

Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday:
Beethoven's Second Symphony

Like Beethoven's First, the Second is reasonably standard classicism -- but again, it's got some edge to it that you're not going to find in Mozart and Haydn. The Second is probably Beethoven's least listened to symphony, so they are only going to get more familiar -- and memorable -- from here.

This brings up an interesting thing about Beethoven, though. All the other famous composers wrote their share of hits, but plenty of competant-but-unremarkable stuff as well -- album-filler, basically -- to keep themselves in chamberpots, waistcoats, and pianoforte strings. Beethoven pretty much just wrote hits. Just a tiny fraction of Bach's vast output receives regular attention today, and even Mozart only wrote about 10 really interesting symphonies among his 41. Almost everything Beethoven ever wrote, by contrast, is still in the classical music equivalent of heavy rotation. Kind of amazing, if you think about it.

So although the Second is the least listened-to Beethoven symphony, it's not exactly OBSCURE either. It shouldn't be. It's good. Beethoven continued to push the envelope with the length of the Second, the size of its orchestra, the "violence" of his sounds (much remarked in his day), and the contrasts between the loud and quiet bits. Pay attention to the third movement in particular. In historically accurate readings it's all fine and good, but some less finicky conductors will really let it rock out. Hopefully you'll get one of those.

Book News

As certain readers occasionally see fit to remind me, I am working on an extremely rigorous self-assigned reading list. Except only in theory.

What is really happening is that I've been stalled about halfway through the first book on the list for, oh, months. Which is why it was particularly painful last night when Mrs.5000, with a triumphant expression on her face, put down her book and announced that Molly Bloom had finally got to sleep. Yep. Mrs.5000 finished Ulysses. And congratulations to her.

Why, you might ask, is Mrs.5000 quietly ploughing her way through grueling literature when I, after all the noisy fanfare, am not? Well for one thing, I'm sure that regular readers will have figured out that Mrs.5000 is basically the brains of the outfit. My role in our partnership is largely to lift heavy things and to handle the long-distance driving. (Not that we are slaves to gender roles. I also do the mending.) But other things have got in the way too. This blog, for instance. A big family reunion. The advent of quilting season. The college football season. The competing "Great Movies" project. The Christmas Season. And of course the pernicious time-suck that is "Scrabulous."

One other thing, though, is that when I launched the reading list project I had eight or nine books already on reserve at the library, and they didn't stop coming just because I was trying to get a purchase in Dostievsky. And a library book, you know, has to be read on deadline. So, to a certain extent I've spent the last four months clearing the decks.

The last of this series of Books From the Time Before arrived two weeks ago, and I am close to finished with it. Now, I know that it is irresponsibly risky to recommend a book before you've finished it -- what if it has a crap ending? -- but I have to say, I've been loving David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas. And I think that you -- that's right, dear reader, you -- would like it too. It's a modern novel, told in a unique voice through chapters that vary their form in an intricate pattern, the parts cohering through a system that is not apparent until you have seen the whole. OK, until you have seen much of the whole. Basically, it's Ulysses. Except it's a great read.

I can't tell you more than that. Also, you shouldn't read anything about it, not even the blurb on the back. Just grab it next time you're at the library, and read it raw. It's really good.

See you tomorrow for the Eroica!


d said...

i have this same thing to where i've been trying to read the 'classics' that, for some reason or another, were missing from my formal education.

guess what my roadblock is?

'the brothers karamazov'.

after two weeks of it staring menacingly at me from my nightstand, i put it away and moved on to a compliation of flannery o'connor's short stories.

i'm much happier.

Becky said...

eh, i messed up on symphony no. 2 day, as it's already monday morning here and i'm just now getting to it. the second movement is just beautiful, one of my faves.

this is also one of the symphonies that frequently gets tied to issues in beethoven's mental state. this is an issue that is of great interest to me: how much of an artist's biography can we read in their creative output?

Michael5000 said...

@d: Well, we're stuck at the same roadblock. Makes me feel better.

It's a funny thing; when I read a classic novel, I almost always love it. Outside of Ulysses, I've never had one defeat me before. But this is different -- I don't find the BK hard to read, or difficult to understand, just impossibly long-winded. I feel like I'm reading the events in real time. Hopefully, the second 500 pages will pick up a little.

@becky: Oh, I agree! In the O.P. I talked about the third movement, but when I listened today I realized that it's the second I really like. All sorts of good stuff in there.

My other thought on listening today was that the Second might feel a little more conservative than the First to me. Yesterday, the First sounded unmistakably BEETHOVEN, BABY! ...but today, I could have believe that the Second was late Haydn. Could be the historically accurate recording I've got, which is relatively restrained.

d said...

i can't get all the names/nicknames straight in my head, so i'm having a hard time figuring out who's doing what.

plus, and don't tell anyone i said this, so far, it's kinda boring. i'm only on page 122 though, so i'm assuming it picks up.

i'll go back to it someday.

Michael5000 said...

@d: I won't tell if you don't.

gl. said...

your "cloud atlas" book reminded me of a book i'm fond of: "the cloudspotter's guide: the science, history & culture of clouds." it's sort of the "365 starry nights" or clouds. kindly, knowledgeable voice.