Beethoven’s 250th

Ludwig van Beethoven was born in December of 1770.

I suppose the only people who might care about the precise date would be those of us who want to throw Ludwig a party.

In my day one was taught that his birthday was December 16th although it’s now understood that his actual date of birth isn’t known. There’s a registration of baptism for December 17th, so some people think it was the day immediately before. But that’s a guess.

A vague beginning? It reminds me of the ambiguities in the opening of his 9th Symphony. Listen….to the beginning at least. If you’re not paying close attention you may not discern the moment when it began: just like Ludwig himself.

It’s very theatrical. He creates a stage, where we can watch something happen, the blank space for an event or the background in a painting with something that will be added into the foreground, something natural & organic. The quiet anticipatory buzz in the orchestra that might suggest something about to happen is like a misty view of a lake or ocean before sunrise. It reminds me of the birthday mystery, that gradual opening. From the foggy mist, the theme will emerge, mythic. I take it as a self-portrait of the man, even of the species. Surely Wagner had it in his head as an influence if not an actual prototype when he wrote the opening to his Ring cycle, another long gradual beginning that reminds one of nature & the origins of life.

The Ludwig who landed into a world without Victrolas or vaccines, a place where people on average didn’t live much past the age of 40, and child mortality rates that would claim one in four children, might be more astonished by our plans for celebrations than for pandemics. In that time composers were neither published nor remembered the way they are now. It was decades after his death that Mendelssohn brought Bach back from near extinction, just as Wagner would help popularize Beethoven.

I recall the reverence of the Beethoven bicentennial in 1970, unlike any other commemoration before or since. The place to worship was in the record store, interpreters like a priesthood. How ironic that these recordings that seemed so perfect would in time be relics of a failed religion: for of course they were vinyl.

As Americans brace for the outcome of their election,…As Canadians bundle up for winter & indoor life safe from the coronavirus…As we look around at what’s missing from our lives (Halloween or hockey, theatres & recreation), while seeking to remember those who have passed away,…? chances are that the commemoration of that life lived so long ago is the furthest thing from anyone’s mind, especially given that concerts & operas are all but impossible right now.

I suspect Ludwig would just shrug.

But I’m going to do my own little Beethoven 250 commemoration, posting here over the next few weeks leading up to the day that might be his 250th birthday, December 16th.

The man and his music interest me.

This entry was posted in Music and musicology, Personal ruminations & essays and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Beethoven’s 250th

  1. Darko V. says:

    A pleasure to read these threads of Beethoven. I look forward to the next installments thru 16 December.

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