van Beethoven

Since my book,”see my book” and this blog ultimately seeks the Holy Grail of Authenticity, I like to note people who may have achieved that state. Earlier I wrote a blog on the Three Roosevelts as examples. Today, I turn to Ludwig.

Innate genetics and circumstances combine to determine us. Beethoven was a childhood musical genius. He had an exploitive, harsh and alcoholic father who sought gain from his prodigy. After his mother died, Ludwig eventually achieved a “divorce”, through the courts, of his father and took over the care of his sibling family. And unusual tack to autonomy.

Musically, he stood on the cusp of classical forms as articulated by Vivaldi, Bach, Hayden and Mozart. It was van Beethoven who moved in his own musical direction….that of the personal, self-realizing romantic approach to music that distinguished his compositions from all those that came before him. He broke mold after mold. This gradual process continued, finding its fullest fruition in his Ninth, which for the first time included voices and a choir within the symphonic structure. He was following his own musical internal ear.

That brings us to the other circumstantial reason he may have been further enabled in his search for personal authentic expression. He was going deaf. He was descending inevitably into personal isolation. His music had fewer and fewer outside influences. His personal behavior also became increasingly idiosyncratic. He shuffled about town in odd clothing. He mumbled to himself and said outrageous retorts to others. He was withdrawn and angry. All symptoms of deafness and its isolating powers. But in his angry isolation, he found an increasingly different muse. Most music historians will accede that Beethoven was the singular break with the music traditions of his time and turned music toward the romantic and personal expression era that continues today.

I leave you, the reader, to explore Beethoven’s biography. But I think it is fair to say and note that he stands as an epic example of a person seeking and attaining his own personal valid autonomy and authenticity. He came back from frequent and brutal precipices in that life long effort, but he prevailed. He stands as one testimony to the struggle toward and achievement of personal Authenticity. And in that, he changed the music of his day, and left for us the works of genius that to this day tower in the world of musical composition.

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4 thoughts on “van Beethoven

  1. Thank you for this profound post. It strikes me that, had Beethoven not gone deaf, would he had written the 9th Symphony or, say, his last haunting quartets as we know them today? I recall a tale of Mozart hearing for the first time a Bach Motet and exclaiming, “now that’s something I can use!” I suggest that Beethoven’s late works would have been different. I only say this because, as a great artist, Beethoven was the sum of all his parts. “Isolated” by his deafness, he could only compose, I assume, based on what he manufactured in his head as music. He was shut off from his worldly references. His example is one of innermost creativity, that journey within, which has its own perils. However, as artists, where else do we go? Where else can we go? The road into meaning, as your book makes clear, is an inward one. Beethoven’s greatness may also be that he never wavered in his direction, despite the overwhelming loss of his hearing. if anything, he plunged deeper into the night of his soul. The road for the rest of his is a little more clearly marked.

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    1. Well observed as always. As Beethoven became isolated as an artist by his encroaching deafness, don’t we all as artists, as we grow older, seek to isolate ourselves from external influences and try to cultivate that solitary muse within?

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      1. Yes, that’s true. That is the way. We do go to find that inner solitude, unencumbered. I wonder if the imposition of deafness on Beethoven gave him any advantage in that direction. Doubtless, it would be for some a distinct disadvantage to lose one’s hearing as a pianist and composer. So what was it that spirited him into greater depths of musical exploration? Was he able to convert the loss into an asset? Did his deafness become simply one more instrument in his musical arsenal? Or was he truly freed to explore the music of his heart? You’ve, once again, given us a lot to ponder. Thank you.

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