Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ludwig van Beethoven is the man.

Ludwig van Beethoven.

I have been meaning to write a blog post about my obsession with him and his music over the past year or so, but I always type a few sentences, realize it is too daunting of a task, and delete the entry.

That and the fact that everything I know about Beethoven is essentially pulled directly from various wikipedia pages. So, really, you could read that and be done with it.

But for those who don't read extensive wikipedia pages, I suppose I will do you a favor and tell you why Beethoven is one of the coolest motherfuckers in history.

First of all, he began playing piano at a very young age, and due to the recent hype surrounding Mozart, Ludwig's father decided to cash in on his son, advertising him as "the next Mozart". So, LVB was essentially the Beyonce of his time.

Ludwig traveled to Vienna(?) to seek out Mozart and learn from him. While there, he met Mozart and Mozart was impressed, but for one reason or another, Ludwig studied under Haydn instead.

Reading about how all these composers knew of each other in a time where recorded music didn't even exist is completely baffling to me. It also really made me think about how much I look forward to new music being released each Tuesday, and how there must have been some pianists who would anxiously await the new Beethoven Sonata to be published so they could take it home and hear it for the first time while they were playing it themselves.

Anyways, Beethoven has got to be one of the first real "punk rockers". He started out making the highly structured music in the Classical school and then one day was like "you know what, fuck it. I'm putting the Scherzo SECOND". This creativity, and belief that music was more than a display of technical prowess led to the creation of the Romantic school. Beethoven had something he wanted to say in his music, and it would be done his way, or he would yell at you for not understanding.

In fact, during the first movement of his 3rd symphony, there is a moment right before the Recapitulation where a lone french horn resumes the theme before the rest of the symphony joins in. It's a technique that we have heard in countless other pieces, but it was so new at the time that his assistant made a comment like "that idiot french horn came in too early". Beethoven, sure that someone would say something eventually, exploded. Calling the assistant "Swine! Cattle!"

Beethoven knew he was a fucking genius, and he knew that no one else could keep up. His famous 5th symphony has been described as "Fate knocking at the door", which is cool as shit. But those close to him report that he was actually walking through a park and heard a bird tweet a similar pattern. He heard this sweet bird and transformed the song into one of the most harrowing 8 notes in music history.

As he grew older, his hearing began to fade, his health began to decline, and his attitude toward others was erratic. Neighbors would report that he would sit at the piano for hours banging the same note over and over again with his head inside the piano, trying desperately to cling to his music and his livelihood.

By the time he composed the 9th symphony, he was nearly totally deaf. Stubborn as he was, he demanded that he conduct the opening performance of this symphony. The producer hired a second conductor to conduct alongside Beethoven to ensure the orchestra stay in time. At the end of the fourth movement, Beethoven was still waving furiously on the stand when the second conductor grabbed Ludwig and turned him to face the crowd in a standing ovation.

I've written a lot and I could go on about why I love this guy so much, but this is the moment that paints the ultimate picture of Beethoven in my mind. Passionate, furious, genius, and adored by those who hear his music.

When he died, a procession led his coffin down the streets of Bonn, Germany, the streets lined with the weeping populace. At his funeral, an orchestra played the second movement from his 3rd symphony. The most baller thing I've ever heard is composing your own funeral march.

Ludwig van Beethoven is the man.

Other fun facts:

He dedicated his 3rd symphony to Napoleon, a man who he idolized. When he heard that Napoleon had declared himself Emperor, Beethoven went into a rage, stating "So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!". He then stormed over to the title page of his symphony and ripped it in half. It was then retitled: "Heroic Symphony, Composed to celebrate the memory of a great man".

His name, van Beethoven, is preceded by the fairly common "van" in Dutch, where his parents were from. However, in Germany, "vonn" was a prefix used to indicate nobility. He was able to take advantage of others assuming he was of higher blood than he really was and open doors that would not have been available to him as a non-noble.

It is said that upon the invention of the CD, it was designed to hold 74 minutes of music so that it could contain the entirety of Beethoven's 9th on one CD without breaks.