Liberal Arts Blog — Ludwig Van Beethoven: Helen Keller, Leonard Bernstein, Boston Symphony Hall
Liberal Arts Blog — Thursday is Joy of Music Day
Today’s Topic: Ludwig Van Beethoven: Helen Keller, Leonard Bernstein, Boston Symphony Hall
Do you know anything about Beethoven that the rest of us might not know? Recently, I learned the story of how the deaf and blind Helen Keller came to appreciate his music. Today, a summary of this and other tidbits from an article by Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe written in honor of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth in 1770. What makes Beethoven the most beloved of all classical composers? And is that really true? Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
HOW THE DEAF HELEN KELLER HEARD BEETHOVEN
1. “In a letter thanking the New York Symphony Orchestra for a performance of the Ninth Symphony broadcast over the radio, Keller explained that she had been able to “hear” the music by placing her hand on the radio receiver.”
2. “What was my amazement to discover that I could feel, not only the vibrations, but also the impassioned rhythm, the throb and the urge of the music. . . . My heart almost stood still,” she wrote.
3. “As I listened . . . I could not help remembering that the great composer who poured forth such a flood of sweetness into the world was deaf like myself. I marveled at the power of his quenchless spirit by which out of his pain he wrought such joy for others — and there I sat, feeling with my hand the magnificent symphony which broke like a sea upon the silent shores of his soul and mine.”
THE FREEDOM CONNECTION: Napoleon, World War II, the Berlin Wall (1989)
1. “In a famous incident, Beethoven at first dedicated his “Eroica” symphony to Napoleon, whom he regarded as a champion of liberation. But when Napoleon proclaimed himself emperor, Beethoven was outraged. He erased the dedication from his manuscript with such force that it tore a hole in the title page.”
2. “For generations, people have turned to Beethoven’s music when liberty was at stake — “from the revolutions of 1848 and 1849, when performances of the symphonies became associated with the longing for liberty,” wrote Alex Ross in a 2014 New Yorker Essay “to the Second World War, when the opening notes of the Fifth were linked to the short-short-short-long Morse code for V as in Victory.”
3. “On Christmas Day in 1989, as the Iron Curtain was collapsing, Leonard Bernstein conducted a celebrated performance of the 9th Symphony in Berlin. He memorably altered the lyrics in the symphony’s climactic fourth movement, replacing each appearance of the word “Freude” with “Freiheit” — so that the chorus, on this occasion, sang not an “Ode to Joy” but an “Ode to Freedom.” Bernstein said at the time: “I’m sure that Beethoven would have given us his blessing.”
THE UBIQUITY OF BEETHOVEN
1. Japan: Performances of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony are part of Japan’s New Year’s tradition. It is called “Daiku” (the Big Nine).
2. “Beethoven is routinely name-checked in popular culture, from Chuck Berry’s “Roll Over Beethoven” to a disco scene in “Saturday Night Fever” to Schroeder’s devotion in the “Peanuts” comic strip.”
3. “The first 33–1/3 rpm vinyl record ever made was of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony.”
NB: In Boston’s Symphony Hall, Beethoven’s name is inscribed on a large medallion above the proscenium. “The other plaques were left empty,”explains the Symphony Hall website, “since it was felt that only Beethoven’s popularity would remain unchanged.”
FINAL WORD — more joy, more people, more years
“There are many great composers, but none who have astounded so many for so long. Two hundred fifty years after his birth, Beethoven stands alone. Two hundred fifty years hence, he undoubtedly still will.”
Here is a link to the last three years of posts organized by theme:
Time to share the coolest thing you learned in the last week related to music. Or the coolest thing you learned in your life related to music. Say your favorite song or songs. Or your favorite tips for breathing, posture, or relaxation. Or some insight into the history of music….Or just something random about music… like a joke about drummers. jazz, rock….or share an episode or chapter in your musical autobiography.
This is your chance to make some one else’s day. And perhaps to cement in your memory something important you would otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than you otherwise would about something that matters to you.