The Relevance Of Beethoven
The leitmotif of this article is to illustrate the elemental in its various manifestations in human experience, especially in the music of Ludwig van Beethoven. Whether it be in the Greek conceptions of Zeus and Apollo, or Athena and Demeter, or in the architecture of the Parthenon, or the Adagio from a Beethoven Concerto or in the experience of Turkomen nomads, or the genius of Aeschyles’ Prometheus desmoto, there is in all some underlying theme which have compelling characteristics.
An aspect of the elemental is the progression of aesthetic effects from the primeval darkness preceding creation, through turbulence and force, to deep peace and harmony in a celestial dream.
A vital aspect of human experience – whether it be for the earlier nomad horsemen on the Eurasian steppe, or in the inexorable inevitability in the first movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony – is the sense of vastness, overwhelmness, starkness, utterness and implacability.
In the elemental there is a portrayal of the whole range of attitudes towards human existence, from crescendos of emotional drives and brooding mysteries, to humour as a reaction to the underlying tragedy of life. The motifs of simplicity and earnestness are dominant as is the struggle between right and wrong in its numerous manifestations.
This entails reflections on beauty and grace culminating in beauty too sublime for this world, as in the slow movements of Beethoven’s music, such as the Adagio from the Choral symphony, the slow movement from the Fruehlingsonate, the Adagio from the Pastorale, the Cavatina from the Quartet Opus 130 and the slow movements from the Sonatas Pathetique and Hammerklavier.
The heavenly tranquillity resulting from embroidery of beautiful themes leads to perfection and harmony in a divine form. The mysteries of human life and of good and evil here find their most compelling expression.
The wonders and magnificence of Beethoven’s spiritual world have to be approached with honesty, simplicity, affection and awe. His music displays the ultimate unifying poetic principles. His process of musical creation is of deep significance to human imagination and will.
“The nine symphonies of Beethoven are like the rungs of a ladder that leads from earth to Heaven, from the known to the unknown. Perhaps they should be renumbered in accordance with the true position of each in the spiritual scale. They would follow then, perhaps, in this order: No. 1, 2, 4, 5, 3, 7, 8, 6, 9.
The kinship between the Pastoral and the Ninth is so close as to make them appear like the two halves of Beethoven’s musical testament. Toscanini so exhibits them – the Pastoral as man’s identification with nature, the Ninth as his struggle against and joyful surrender to that Necessity that created Man and the Universe.” (Samuel Chotzinoff)
At the beginning of the Ninth Symphony, the whisper of defiance heard through subterranean darkness is gradually and implacably built up into a Promethean challenge. A great struggle rages through titanic proportions and with relentless persistence. In the slow movement are the Elysian fields, for those who embrace life and pain leading to Beethoven’s ever more and more rarified spheres. It is an experience of unearthly serenity and harmony. The Ninth symphony affirms spiritual and poetic integrity. In it, mystery and exaltation, wild humour and super-terrestrial beauty, tragic despair and ecstasies of joy are all galvanised into an organic aesthetic unity.
The Hammerklavlier sonata is huge in scope and profundity with a complex treatment of varied and divergent ideas. In it, concept and emotion are perfectly integrated. The element of conflict is expressed in stormy passages, depicting life’s struggle to better and renew itself. The Adagio is exquisite in expressive form, lofty in vision and sublime in introspection.
The slow movement of the Sonata No 8 in C minor Opus 13, the Pathetique, too, is pensive and melodious with a tinge of hidden grief. Similarly, the Largo of the Trio in D major Opus 70 contains music of unbroken melancholy, expressed as only Beethoven could. The immense will power exerted by Beethoven in his late String Quartets is an effort to convey the essence of his conceptions. Here dark intensities of mood and searching tenderness impel contemplative meditation of the universe.
The elemental in human experience is most loftily denoted in Beethoven’s genius. What a tremendous achievement for humanity has his music made. What a supreme expression of the victory of life over death and of will over fate. The great architectonic works of Beethoven display a perfection of the intricacies of development within a classical symmetry containing and controlling emotions.
The study of musicology is as intellectually challenging as is the study of many other academic disciplines in a modern educational curriculum. It is therefore given considerable importance in educational learning in the developed countries.
The eastern cultures of Japan, China and Korea are increasingly turning to western classical music. Thousands of their young students are studying it in their conservatories. This is a sign of uplift and vitality. These countries have produced renowned musicians like the Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa, the Chinese cellist Yo Yo Ma, the Japanese pianist Mitsuko Uchida and the Korean conductor Myung-Whun Chung. There is a link between the Confucian outlook of these peoples and their remarkable economic upsurge. Their tradition is another aspect of the elemental. Can we distantly hope for such a salutary development here? Xenophobia and obscurantism must be rebuffed. Let us make our society less morose.