Saturday, December 15, 2007

Happy Beethoven's Birthday!!

Sunday -- Beethoven's Birthday!!
Countdown to Beethoven's Birthday
Beethoven's Ninth Symphony
"Few musicians would assert that the Ninth is the greatest of all symphonies, that it is the summit of Beethoven's achievement, perhaps not even that it is his finest symphony or, in any altogether personal way, their own favorite. Yet we treat it as though we did in fact believe all these things." -- Michael Steinberg, The Symphony
The Ninth is a towering achievement of the human musical literature. That being said, you are not necessarily gonna like it. If you are a new classical listener, and have dragged yourself all the way to the finish line of this Beethoven's Birthday celebration, you are going to be treated to a whole new set of sounds at the end of the titanic Ninth.

There's a choir.

Actually, it's not the choir that's gonna get you; it's the soprano soloists. People of "our age group," by which I mean people currently living, have a deeply ingrained bias against the sound of the female classical voice, so you shouldn't necessarily expect to groove on it the first time through.

But no worries, there is a LOT of the Ninth before you ever get to the choir. Most of it is big, crashing, stormy Beethoven at his grandest scale. Current or former fans of German heavy metal, take note: this is where the blast, volume, and frankly the pomposity of your chosen genre was born.

There are all sorts of narratives about what each section of the Ninth "means," and what Beethoven "meant" by opening the final movement with a pastiche of themes from the earlier movements, before trotting the famous "Ode to Joy" theme. All of these narrative serve mostly to dampen one's enjoyment of the music, and I suggest you ignore them. Beethoven's personal convictions about fate, freedom, and the heroic struggle of the individual are all fine and good, but they are very much early 19th Century ideas. Passe. Never mind all that. Just listen.

I hope you have enjoyed this musical odyssey. We now return to our usual programing. Have a safe and sane Beethoven's Birthday!


gl. said...

happy birthday, beethoven!

Anonymous said...

His head bears a striking resemblance to the outline of Surinam (#8).

Chance said...

I have always liked the 9th much more than Beethoven's other work, but then, I'm a dullard when it comes to classical music.

McGuff said...

I think the 9th strikes a chord deeply inside most anyone who's listed to it, regardless of how much they know, care or respect the piece.

In lesser fashion, the same happens coincidentally in millions who don't even know that melodies from the 9th belong to Beethoven.

Thank you for your countdown and enjoyable notes - my wife, one of my kids and even a golf buddy have been part of the nightly playing, and we all are better for it.

Anonymous said...

The 9th was my first experience with classical music sheerly because of Ode to Joy being included in my piano lesson book.

When I heard it all the first time I thought I was in trouble. I remember thinking that I would never be able to accomplish anything so complicated with my entire life and that man did it repeatedly. It was intimidating then.

Happy Beethoven's to you!

and ryc: It is pretty. After the shoveling, I can appreciate it more. Groovy exercise that.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

There will never be another deaf musician. It's like a porn star who loses his willie, and keeps getting starring roles.

Michael5000 said...

@karmasartre: You know, I hadn't noticed that.

@Chance: When I got my copy of the Ninth out today, it occured to me that it was the first CD I bought to play on my first CD player, back in the day. I would certainly never knock it as a choice for Favorite Beethoven.

For the record, CD#2 was They Might Be Giants' "Flood." Two albums in, and I could pretty much geek out with the best of them.

@phineas: Hey, I'm glad you could join me in my little tradition. Thanks for letting you know -- it really makes my Beethoven's Birthday!

@boo: Sometimes I feel slightly wistful that I'll never understand Beethoven as well as I might like to. I'm glad I've never felt like I had to keep up with him.

@Dr. Ken: You know, I hadn't thought of that either. That's... quite an analogy.

Unknown said...

Happy Birthday, LVB. Here's my gift for the day. I enjoy hearing what the rest of you think Beethoven might think about this new documentary on the Ninth.

kerry candaele
venice, ca