Classical Music – Why you must listen to Beethoven (part 2)
Its been awhile since I’ve added to this series of articles. But because of the non-stop stream of emails demanding for more classical music tidbits I am finally returning to finish the work that I began (*please note this may or may not have actually happened). Because Beethoven is amaze-balls he gets two articles, if you want to catch up you can read the first installment here which was posted some time ago.
Ok, so Beethoven was responsible for beginning this new era of music called “Romanticism.” He wrote music that wasn’t just meant to be listened to by stuffy aristocrats, it was meant to be celebrated by everyone. We already heard one of his earlier symphonies that changed the face of music forever. However, he didn’t just change it once, he went on to blow people’s minds with masterpiece after masterpiece and each work topping the one before.
Lets talk about number 5 for a bit.
Everyone knows “Beethoven’s Fifth” by simply hearing the 4 notes that have come to define it: da da da duhhhh! Now listen to how many times you will hear that basic pattern of 3 repeated notes followed by a different note. It permeates the entire movement. He turns it upside down, he elongates the rhythm, he tosses it around the orchestra countless times. Every pop artist would love to get that type of mileage out of just 4 notes.This type of repeated pattern is what we call a “motive” or “motif” in music and Beethoven was the king of motivic writing.
Now back to the good part…
Anyways, so Beethoven paved the way for this highly romantic and exciting style of music but he didn’t stop there. After the gradual decline of his hearing which resulted in total hearing loss for a good portion of his life as a composer he still continued to write more amazing music than you can wave a baton at!! (I apologize for that horrible, horrible music pun). One can argue that the progressive music he composed later in his life was actually enhanced by the fact that he no longer had the inhibitions of having to hear what he was composing. This resulted in his music having more clashing sounds, otherwise known as dissonance, which made his music even more interesting and complex.
Here are a few selections from his later works. You will see a wide range of emotions that seem to capture the struggles and frustration of a man who indeed went insane due to lead poisoning (which many believe also resulted in his deafness).
This is the 2nd movement I from his Seventh Symphony (you may recognize it from the movie “The King’s Speech” among other things).
This next movement from one of his late string quartets remains to be my favorite piece of music ever written. At the risk of sounding like a huge sap I don’t think I can sit through this piece without almost completely losing it. The piece has the inscription “Heiliger Dankgesang eines Genesenen an die Gottheit, in der lydischen Tonart” (A Convalescent’s Holy Song of Thanksgiving to the Divinity, in the Lydian Mode). And was written after Beethoven recovered from a serious illness which he believed to be fatal. Even though Beethoven was completely deaf when he wrote this music, he managed to write absolute perfection. I think this music will simply speak for itself if you take the time to listen to it.
The “Lydian Mode” as I explained in an earlier one of these articles is a different scale of music outside of “major or minor.” Even though the modes came before the major/minor scales it seems that much of pop music has returned to using these ancient modes. That’s why if you listen to this music you may think that some of it sounds like it could have come out of a modern pop song.
So that’s Beethoven folks, he wrote 9 symphonies, all of them amazing. He wrote one opera (which is ok, but not his best work) as well as hundreds of pieces of chamber music. If you want to hear the best of Beethoven listen to his symphonic works and his string quartets. Also, if you ever get the opportunity to hear Beethoven’s famous 9th symphony live (where the Ode to Joy theme comes from) it is a journey that will change you and is absolutely worth taking.
From this point on I am going to fast forward and offer a more piecemeal look at what came after Beethoven, while alternating with the occasional dissection of modern film composers. Lets just say Beethoven is where it all began folks, and from here we can go into some really crazy, and interesting stuff. In the meantime get out there and support your local symphony, we need it now more than ever.