14 February 2007


Everyone loved Beethoven at first. He was all the rage. His piano concertos and sonatas, his early symphonies, everyone wanted to hear them. At first. But he grew out of fashion. The crowds didn’t understand what he did. They didn’t understand those long, complex development sections, and just when they thought they came to the recapitulation, they found Beethoven had only began a second development section. The horrors! He sat on the cusp of that new Romantic age. Ushered it in, actually. But it wasn’t quite there. Not yet. They still wanted the Classical music of Hadyn they all enjoyed so much.
Give us something nice. Give us something like him!
So Beethoven did. As a joke. He thought, I’ll write something they ask for, and they’ll see how inferior it is to what I’m doing now. The piece is called Wellington’s Overture. Legend has it, Beethoven told the musicians to switch instruments just before the performance. I guess he thought it would tip the audience off to the farce. It didn’t. The applauded. A standing ovation. Disgusted by the audience’s idiocy and frustrated by his loss of hearing, Beethoven receded into dark corners behind curtains. He died a pauper.
Why do I tell you this? I’m not exactly Beethoven. The music I have composed and the books I have written cannot be in the same room as Beethoven. Nay, not even the same house. I see Beethoven and I see someone committed to his art, no matter what everyone else said. Sometimes he held popularity. Sometimes he faced rejection. But he never stopped working hard.
I will never be successful in the way of Stephen King and John Grisham and all the other bestsellers crowding the front tables of Barnes and Noble and Walden Bookstore. But Beethoven died a pauper. Jesus died betrayed by one of his closest friends and abandoned by almost all, including his Father. Those are some pretty darn large footsteps to walk in.


Erin said...

This is like, totally NOT the direction you were going here, but it seems curious that Beethoven would go to the effort to write a FARCICAL piece, teach it to the orchestra, instruct them to switch instruments, and then play it before a crowd just to prove to the crowd how poor their tastes were. I'm not surprised he was disappointed in the reaction.

There is a smug creative culture out there that likes to walk around with the back of their hands placed against their foreheads, moaning about being misunderstood. And they spend a great deal of time patting each other on the back and pumping sunshine up their own pant legs about being true to themselves, etc. etc.
I think it's true, in part- most of us are a bunch of tasteless slobs. ;) But perhaps if these artists created something remotely understandable and relevant to the common slob's life...

Don't know much about Beethoven, but this is the image your story conjured up.

Now Jesus, he's in a class by himself!

L.L. Barkat said...

Erin, you might like the book A Profound Weakness: Christians and Kitsch. Betty Spackman talks about the quandaries of art... the reach for what is great, the snubbing of what is inferior, and her rethinking of her own position as artist in the world... it's all very interesting

Erin said...

Thinking more about this this morning...
Jesus. He was relevant. TOTALLY relevant. But to our fleshly logic, he was not totally understandable.

All his different interactions with individuals while he walked this planet were so widely varied.
He was using the physical world to relate spiritual truths. Nothing He said was ever about the physical world alone. There was always a spiritual reality delivered inside it. Our focus is so on the physical realm though, that I think we have a difficult time grasping that there's more than this touch-and-feel experience.

And yet, still I wonder how anyone could have come in contact with Christ and remained unchanged? How is that possible?

You better write another blog post Heather, because this has absolutely nothing to do with Beethoven. Can't you just stay on-topic?!

Heather said...

So the deal with Beethoven and that piece: he thought that if he gave the people what they asked for, they would recognize that it's really not what they want. It back-fired. Politically, those were rocky times (time of Napolean and the French Revolution), so that also affected things.
Ask anyone today, and you'd be hard up to find someone who doesn't recognize that Beethoven changed music and that he was a brilliant composer, especially in development.
But, I understand what you mean. There's a balance, I think. Good story-telling and communication skills is necessary, but also, you may have something to say and even a great way to say it and no one will like it because they don't want to hear the message.
Like Christ.
Speaking of, one challenge for you: why do you separate the physical and spiritual realms as if they are not interrelated? This goes back to the Platonic influence on Christianity that emphasizes escaping the physical to get to the spiritual, which I don't believe Christianity is about, to be quite honest.
And, yes (wow, this is getting to be as long as a post!), how did anyone come into contact and not be changed? How did the Pharisees have such hard hearts? But then I put myself in their shoes (which is not too ill-fitting, I must admit): if my expectations went one direction for centuries, and someone came along and said that was completely wrong and even acted in a way I considered immoral, would I be so easy to follow?

Erin said...

"why do you separate the physical and spiritual realms as if they are not interrelated? "

I don't. At least, I'm not trying to. But I do think it's incredibly hard for the average human being (of which I'm a good, average representative) to continually and habitually understand/remember/perceive that the spiritual and the physical work together.

You have to admit that the physical world throws an awful lot of distraction our way... things that we spend the bulk of our selves enjoying or trying to run from or trying to fix or trying to maintain. The distractions for the average person of Jesus's day may not be exactly the distractions I experience in 2007, but the same basic element is there- distraction.

Ecclesiastes says it's better to be in the house of mourning than in the house of merrymaking. I take that to mean that the wise person will lift their gaze from the party, the feast, the shopping sprees, the morning commute, the picnics (the physical realm), and spend time contemplating their sin, their separation from God, the ultimate end of all things without Christ, the grace and righteousness imparted to us through Christ (the spiritual realm).

If the Creator made us with BOTH the physical and spiritual facets, it seems logical that He expects us to engage Him through both of those avenues. (Was it CS Lewis who said that some Christians are so heavenly minded that they're no earthly good? Can't remember the exact source, but I love the sentiment.) My pendulum is usually unbalanced, swinging from physical to spiritual and back again. Jesus was the only one to get it perfect. He told us to be in the world but not of it.

Sometimes I want to be in the world AND of it. And other times I want to be NEITHER in the world OR of it. So my question to myself is how to get to the point where the physical world is less distraction, and more avenue. Help me!

Beethoven- Do you think that the rocky political situation made the general public distracted and less able to handle or accept his advancements in music? (There's that distraction word again.)
Did he ever write music "for the crowds" after this incident? Were his (musically speaking) best pieces written before or after he fell out of favor?

And, without someone like Beethoven pushing the envelope at the time he did, where would music be today? (I didn't intend to slam Beethoven, you know. My thoughts were completely tangental to Beethoven as a person or a musician.)

I'm going for the world record for longest comment. ;)

Christianne said...

WOW. I was totally intrigued by your post and came here to basically just say, "Great idea for a post, Heather! Very nicely articulated! You've seen the film Immortal Beloved, no doubt, right?"

That's it. Wanted to know if you've seen Immortal Beloved. (My own immortal beloved shared the film with me last year and I have never found another film to quite fit the space it fits inside my heart since.)

Anyway, that's what I came here to the comments page to write and then got smacked upside the head with THIS LONG CONVERSATION THAT IS MAMMOTH IN SCOPE AND SIGNIFICANCE.

Sheesh. Love it. And cannot in the least compete with it. I left my philosophical brain in California, at the college that used to pay me to mentor its honors students in these very same subjects. No more Plato for me for a while, please!

But you girls, have at it. You rock. Seriously.

Erin said...

Yeah, and I got a book recommendation, a movie recommendation, AND a great conversation outta the deal! Feelin' rich over here.

Heather said...

Who knew that Beethoven would spurn such debate?
Actually, Christianne, I haven't seen the movie. Someone gave it to me years ago (in VHS, if that helps to put it in perspective), and I just never got around to watching it. Don't know why.