For the past week or two (okay; maybe three), I’ve been watching and re-watching a 2009 Seventh Arts film of the diary title’s name. It’s simply thrilled and enchanted me beyond measure, and I thought you might enjoy some of the music and stories of Beethoven’s life and historical events that underpinned some of his magnificent body of work, as well. One of the trailers first, to pique your interest. Almost all of the videos are quite short, save for the second. I hope you enjoy them even half as much as I (a quarter,, even.) ;-)
Now of course the speakers were chosen for their adulation of Beethoven, but one fun fact i that two of his pieces were put on the gold record aboard Voyager…to spin his music for any ‘listeners’ out in the universe.
A Lesson learned in the hardest way: heroes and clay feet
If there is one part of the film on youtube that shows Beethoven as a humanitarian in search of the elevation of the condition for all, as well as showing his furor at feeling ultimately deceived, but eventually adapting to it by rebranding his symphony. I liked: “If someone mentioned Napoleon, Beethoven would say, ‘Well, he may be the ruler of the world…but mine is the Empire of the mind’.” He was known for melding the life of the mind, and the life of the heart.
That causes me to remember that when he was born in Bonn circa 1770, he was baptized Ludwig Van Beethoven, as was his Belgian father’s surname. Being a skilled musician after early tutoring by his father, he was brought to the attention of Mozart and Haydn, both of whom he studied with over the first two decades of his life. When he caught the attention and patronage of the aristocracy, he was rebranded Ludwig Von Beethoven.
This is Helene Grimaud, quite the piano virtuoso and tender humanitarian herself, playing his Piano Concerto No.5 ‘Emperor’ as she adds color to his life story.
In his younger years, his living depended on selling his compositions, but he also saw himself as growing into a piano virtuoso. Being a bit (ahem) of a competitive little sod, , he seemed to enjoy composing piano scores that few had the ability to actually play, save for himself. (A Merry Prankster?)
But oh, woeful Beethoven! It was seemingly written in his stars that he only fell in love with his femalearistocrats, especially his piano students, and was never allowed to marry them, not being an aristocrat. There was no such thing as upward mobility: bloodlines ruled. He wrote many wonderful sonatas for his loves, and penned them heartfelt letters chronicling the misery caused by their rejections of him, although ‘Für Elise’ Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor was only published forty years after his death.
“Für Elise” Bagatelle No. 25 in A minor was only published forty years after his death.
Ah, well, now: Heiligenstadt. Around 1796, at the age of 26, Ludwig’s hearing began to further deteriorate. He began to withdraw from society increasingly, unable to respond to the witticisms and chatter of social gatherings. For him, his deafness and poor health also indicated that he might never find the wife he so avidly sought, thus never father the children he also craved.
In 1802 he moved to Heiligenstadt outside the walls of Vienna, as his doctor had recommended, partly for the baths, and partly to come to terms with his deafness. He wrote to his friends of his desire for death, but discovered in the end that his passionate love for his art…precluded taking his own life. Revived, refreshed, and with a renewed purpose, he kept defiantly reinventing the limits of music; he could still imagine the notes (words) for what he wanted to say. As his deafness grew, some called his pieces ‘crazy’.
Janine Jansen: Beethoven Kreutzer Sonata – Opus 47
During this period, he turned to compositions for string quartet, again, having to remember sounds, notes, and phrasings. They are applauded by musicologists as some of the best pieces ever written.
Just after his last public performance as a pianist, he composed the symphony most familiar to the world: ‘knock at the door, knock at the door’ (da da da dum)…his 5th Symphony. It broke a lot of musical conventions, as so many of his compositions did. One piece held a rest for…four full whole notes…before it began again. Un.heard.of. The man experimented with building tension by use of asymmetrical pace and patterns, mirroring his own tumultuous life perhaps. Some musicologists credit the allegro breaking wide open in the first movement as one of the best moment in music ever.
Almost totally deaf at the end of his life, and feeling death stalking him, he wanted to write a second Mass, perhaps imagining that it might make him almost immortal. Now Beethoven wasn’t even a Catholic, but he did love God, and had written to a friend saying that he and his recently adopted adult nephew prayed together twice a day. From 1819 to 1823 (about the time he also wrote his 9th symphony) he spent writing Missa Solemnis, and once again, he made up his own unconventional rules. Yes, there were the traditional five movements, ‘But then, after an orchestral preludio, a solo violin enters in its highest range—representing the Holy Spirit descending to earth—and begins the Missa’s most transcendentally beautiful music, in a remarkably long extension of the text.’
The version from the film isn’t available, but this is a cello/violin ‘spirit’, and the painting is lovely. Or else I have the wrong portion, which is entirely possible.
By the time he died in March of 1827, he’d written 138 works with an opus number, and 200 more which were never assigned one; even one single opera, Fidelio. As his deafness worsened he performed less and less, and his last public appearance was in 1814, thirteen years before his death.
And for pure-D riotus fun:
…a flashmob plays Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ in Sabdell, Spain in 2012, which song is (by the by) the anthem of the EU. ;-) I can’t thank each and every one of them enough. Oh, do watch the children in the audience; they make your eyes brim over in tears. Their lives may have been changed in glorious ways forevermore. Don’t you want to just hug the stuffin’ out of ’em?