It is 8:30 on Friday night, and the one hundred and five men and women, dressed completely in black and white, have gone to work turning the black notes on white pages into a symphony.
They are the members of the Philharmonic Orchestra and their work is to play beautifully.
from: The Philharmonic Gets Dressed
written by Karla Kuskin
illustrated by Marc Simont
Harper & Row, 1982
accessed on YoutTube 12/21/2020
My grandson texted me the other day to let me know his pre-recorded band concert will be shown on his school’s YouTube channel this evening. It won’t even come close to a “being there experience,” but we’ll save a bunch of travel time and well, I can’t think of another up-side to being apart. I miss him and his brothers and their parents like crazy. My granddaughters and their parents, too.
Lots of performers have moved on-line. On-line platforms beefed themselves up and lots of us users learned a little more about how to navigate our high-tech, virus-filled world.
But that’s not what this is about.
I was a piano student when I was young. Although I sometimes enjoyed practicing, and I practiced a lot, I did not improve much, even after many years.
One of my early piano books was called The Three Bs: Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. In it were simplified versions of important piano works by those very famous composers. Playing something I could hear on the radio or find in a record shop inspired me and gave me undeserved confidence.
But that’s not what this is about, either. It’s about the music, and in particular one musician and composer.
I tuned my Pandora app to "Beethoven’s Favorites" for some inspiration.
Born in Bonn, Germany in December, 1770, Ludwig van Beethoven began performing at the age of 8. By age 11, he had to quit school, and by 18 he had become his family’s sole support due to his father’s alcoholism.
Beethoven spent most of his adult life in Vienna, Austria.
In Vienna, he fell in love with a young countess, Giulietta Guicciardi, but he was not allowed to marry her. Beethoven, for all his talent, was still considered a commoner. He dedicated his well-known Piano Sonata No. 14, “Moonlight,” to her.
Beethoven never even published a song that has become even more famous. Ludwig Nohl, a German musicologist, found a piece of music in the back of a dresser drawer, so the story goes. “Für Elise” was scrawled across the top in Beethoven’s distinctive handwriting. Nohl found the music and published it in 1867, 40 years after Beethoven's death. Some theories claim to identify Elise, but no one really knows who she was.
Ludwig van Beethoven, claimed by many to be the greatest composer who ever lived, may have studied for a short time with Mozart and was tutored by Haydn. He composed throughout the French Revolution and wrote some of his best and most famous peices right after, between 1803 and 1811.
More than possibly any other composer before or since, Beethoven used his music to express emotions. He stretched the limit of contemporary musical norms and became a bridge between Classical music whose form and structure were well-established (Bach, Handel, Scarlatti) and Romantic music’s more dramatic, emotional, and individualistic flair (Chopin, Debussy, Tchaikovsky).
Including his nine symphonies, Beethoven’s body of work is comprised of 722 individual works. He composed his first piece when he was only twelve years old and completed his last the year before he died. He composed in every genre: symphonies; concerti; sonatas; overtures; quartets for various instruments including piano, woodwinds, and strings; chamber music; solo piano music; fugues; rondos; bagatelles; vocal music; choral works with orchestra; and dozens of songs, folksongs, and dances.
He composed when he could hear. He composed while his hearing was slipping away. He composed when he was deaf. His “mind’s ear” was still finely tuned.
On May 4, 1824, Beethoven debuted his Ninth Symphony at the Theater am Kärntnertor in Vienna. Completely deaf, Beethoven could not know the audience’s reaction. They were cheering. One of the singers turned him around to see their applause. “[T]hey hailed him with five standing ovations, raising their hats and handkerchiefs in the air.” https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/beethoven-ninth-symphony-debuts-vienna Beethoven shed tears of joy. He never conducted again.
A chorus sings the words of Friedrich Schiller's poem "Ode to Joy” in the choral finale of the Ninth Symphony. It is said to be the most famous piece of music in history.
Beethoven’s actual birth date is controversial. He was baptized on December 17, so the middle of December gets me close enough. About where we are now.
So just now, as we celebrate Beethoven’s 250th birthday, we put the Winter Solstice in our rearview mirrors and look forward to more hours (okay minutes) of daylight. We eagerly wait our turn for the Corona virus vaccine. We look forward to a new political climate. My own Ode to Joy.
-—stay curious! (and keep a song in your heart)