If you are not one who has ever appreciated the sublime beauty of classical music, you can probably skip reading this piece. I often listen to classical music as well as smooth, melodic jazz, among other genres.
I just heard the opening chords of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony from my downstairs music system, and I now look forward to hearing the whole thing, yet again. It is a rich, complex symphony that opens so unlike its cousin, Beethoven’s Fifth. The Fifth Symphony is strongly declarative. Everyone knows its opening. “Da-da-da-dum!” Four strong notes, followed by a slightly altered repeat of the same progression of notes before the theme is re-developed time and again.
By contrast, the Ninth Symphony opens very much like the orchestra is just warming up. Scattered meanderings, seemingly disconnected, until all the instruments suddenly unite in purpose and begin delivering uniform, coordinated, symphonic music. It is music to take us around the world, not so much by folk themes or international flavour, but in richness, contrast, variety of tonal treatment and pace. It seems to go nearly everywhere, ending of course in the heroic ode to joy that often makes me want to weep with recognition of what humans might have been if only we had embraced our ability to love and to create as heartily as we have embraced our ability to hate and destroy. Beethoven’s Ninth is a triumphant piece of music that stirs the soul!
A great disservice has been done to history, to Beethoven and to people’s understanding of deafness by the making of the otherwise reasonable movie, “Beethoven Lives Upstairs.” It is a generally good movie aimed at educating children about the life of Beethoven and how he went deaf even while he was still composing music. The writer and the director knew that at the premiere performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Beethoven, who was probably despondent at being unable to hear the music he had just conducted, was also unable to hear the thunderous applause that followed. He had to be turned around by someone in order to see his audience’s enthusiastic reaction.
Instead of showing that incident straight up, just the way it was, the writer or director decided to add to the drama by showing Beethoven continuing to conduct the orchestra as if the music went on forever! What? I found myself holding the sides of my head when this scene was presented. The movie makers were trying to suggest that Beethoven couldn’t actually read music due to his deafness! That in conducting his symphony, he didn’t know where he was on the page or in the piece! What a tragic misrepresentation of history! What an ignorant understanding of deafness too!
I suppose that movie makers can make movies the way they will. I would be free to make a competing version, I suppose, but really, for crimey sakes! Beethoven knew music much better than those movie makers knew history or how to properly present history. Jeez!
I can only hope that music teachers world-wide who show this movie to their students, add the accurate historical note to the movie so that the students can laugh at the absurdity of the movie’s ending too!