Beethoven was born 250 years ago in December. We do not know his exact birthday, but records show that he was baptized in Bonn on the 17th. 2020 should be a celebration of his intense artistic and unswervingly humanistic musical legacy. “Celebrating Beethoven” looks at four large and well-known works, attempting to identify some ways Beethoven widens his time and his métier into matters relevant to philosophy, romantic spirituality, abstract art and the dawning of modern, personal identity.
Beethoven has three large choral works bordering on or in the religious tradition and meant for concert performance. The three, seen together, says something significant about Beethoven, as a composer and artist, about the time, and about the future.
Everybody knows the opening of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Da-da-da-daaaa. I have been aware of it at least since I heard the pop group Electric Light Orchestra use it as an opening to a cover of Chuck Berry’s Rock’n’roll Music on their second album in 1973.
When I heard the opening of Beethoven’s 4th Symphony (1807) the first time, I perceived it as utterly mind blowing. I heard it as so abstract a sound cluster that I couldn’t grasp it consciously, and certainly not with my emotions. I got confused.
What you hear in the opening of the Second Symphony is a long section of rhythms taking over from each other, leading directly into the movement proper. It doesn’t seem like anything parallel to Hegel’s concept of the spirit, but when you look at it in the historical context it is.