Ode to Beethoven

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Last Sunday was Beethoven’s birthday.

Listen to his Ninth Symphony.  It was written less than three years before he died, long after he had gone completely deaf.   More than an hour in length, it is best known for the pealing Ode to Joy theme of the final movement, and the first two movements have much of the thrust and momentum for which he is famous, but the heart of the symphony is in the third movement adagio.

He gives you all this forward motion and then after the big BAM at the end of the second movement he opens up the third with a wide, calm canvas on which he places a series of single notes from the woodwinds, separated like stars in the night sky and that the violins then tie together with a long, peaceful sash.  After all the racing that came before it is as if he stopped in an eternal meadow at night to give us a stunning glimpse of the entire universe, a musical firmament that extends below the horizons, guiding us to the far edge of our spiritual capacities, in the way that only music can.   

Beethoven’s later works are unlike anything else in classical music.  His last three piano sonatas, the Ninth Symphony, the Missa Solemnis, the final string quartets.  The composers who followed him (Schumann and Brahms come to mind ) took their cues from Beethoven’s middle period works, leaving his last works as the most sublime cul de sac in all of the arts, unable to be followed.

It is as if his deafness, rather than limiting him, allowed him to cast aside the restrictions of the ear, so that he could write from the mind and especially his spirit. 

When was the last time you stopped for art?   Take the time and clear the space, turn off your cell phone and the lights, and be transformed.      

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