Posted by Ron Coleman on December 16, 2008
New York’s NPR affiliate, WNYC, had a powerful item on this morning about the piano concertos of Beethoven, which represent, I learned, a self-standing volume of the canon of classical music all their own. It is part of their Beethoven Festival. It was informative and evocative to say the least (regrettably, if there is a link to an online version of the program, I can’t find it).
What is it about Beethoven — the music, the man, the concept — that resonates so powerfully? The melodrama of the tortured genius fighting Fate itself to create the world’s most brilliant and innovative music, even as he loses the ability to hear it performed, is irresistable. I learned this morning that Beethoven was such a leading-edge pianist himself that the technical demands he made on the still-new technology of the pianoforte instrument, where he did most of his composing, dragged piano makers into a new era of quality and responsiveness. Beethoven used his piano sonatas as studies for his orchestral and chamber works, so he needed the piano to be able to “sing” and represent as complete a range of musical and vocal performance possible.
But the ringing irony of all remains the storyline too good for literature: The brilliant composer who at the end of his career could not hear the real-world realization of one of history’s most gifted muses. Beethoven, they say, did not work in the manner ascribed to Mozart, seemingly acting as God’s musical scribe, taking Divine dictation “effortlessly” (an absurd concept) like a musical Prometheus. Beethoven tore up his soul and tortured his heart — and those many of those around him — to bring his muse to life.
True, a genius hears, in his own world, more sound than even he can bring to life — sometimes all too much. And the world was in Beethoven’s time, and is now, full of true horror on a far more prosaic plane than his. But if we ever let our eyes wander heavenward, the thought of the artistic tragedy of Beethoven is sometimes just too much to contemplate.