Monday, 3 August 2015

Beethoven and the Ode to Joy

"What art offers is space - a certain breathing room for the spirit." (John Updike)

I make no apologies for adding the above recording to this blog. I think I've listened to this track (on a different recording) literally hundreds of times in my car. I've started to judge the lengths of journeys by the number of times I can play it - each time it's eleven and a half  minutes on my car DVD - a bit faster than this version. I try to move on to the contemplative 3rd movement but invariably switch this one back on.

Am I hooked? Probably. Beethoven really was the greatest of the greats. How many composers coming after him drew from the wealth of his imagination and spirit? I can tell you - all of them. This music makes me want to laugh and cry simultaneously. It has all the elements of nobility without losing the playfulness of (symphonic) music. It takes a whole lot of musicians to play - musicians devoted to their instruments and the music - and invariably to Beethoven, even if they were to deny it, and to be honest, I've never come across any musician who denies Beethoven. 

Singers get to sing the fourth movement. I've sung it - though Beethoven treats the alto in a rather miserly way. Usually, the singers are not called on stage until the 4th and last movement so soloists have to listen from the wings or over the loudspeakers. Maybe Beethoven could hear even less of an alto than of any other voice. He was deaf when he wrote this music, but I understand that he was still able to hear shreds of high violin music. He was as old as my father when they both died - aged 57. My father was deaf (and my hearing could be better), but his spirit lives on in the music Beethoven wrote. Maybe all spirits live on in music. 

I downloaded a score of the second movement so that I could look at what Beethoven did with the notes. The visuals bounce along with the sound you can hear as a musician reading a score. The vivacity is all there - written down nearly 200 years ago and still as fresh as a daisy. Elements of folk music squeeze through in the quiet passages. Village hops, fairy-tale woods, pipers playing panpipes - all there for want of listening. And then we dance off into the sunset...... 

My day can now go ahead, but I'll just listen to the recording once more before breakfast.

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