Happy Birthday, Beethoven!

On Sunday afternoons in Vienna at the time of Beethoven, pianos were parked outside in the squares around town and in front of concert halls where pianists would improvise for the Viennese civilians. Beethoven showed up and caused widespread panic. There are journal entries from pianists at the time threatening to lock their doors and cut off their hands. Others claimed LVB was possessed by the devil.

Aside from the piano Beethoven was also an accomplished violinist. When asked to compose something for another house of royalty’s visiting violin gunslinger Beethoven would agree and then write something the new guy in town couldn’t play. When confronted, he would play the piece himself.

My favorite professional story might be how, in the Fifth and Sixth Symphonies, he wrote a varying number of bars of introduction where he would weave the themes around each other, exposing the “colors” of the key. He got a lot of critical flack for it. By God, composers were to state the key on the front end, not fart around getting to it. In response to the critics Beethoven begins the Seventh Symphony with the entire orchestra making a one note WHAM of A major. He proceeds to beat us with it several times in the intro. Dum dee dum dee WHAM. Carl Maria von Weber, a contemporary no one remembers, said of the Seventh –

“The extravagances of Beethoven’s genius have reached the ne plus ultra in the Seventh Symphony, and he is quite ripe for the madhouse.” To which Beethoven responded, “I quite liked your last opera. I’m thinking of setting it to music.”

There are far too many stories to tell about Beethoven. Poet, romantic, insane genius, rock star, ladies man. Now, 24/7 two-hundred and fifty years later, someone, somewhere is listening to or playing Beethoven. On piano, violin, cello. On YouTube, on the radio, in school, a movie, a church. However, possibly the closest we may come to immortality, musical genius and artistic vision are not the major takeaways from Beethoven.


What Beethoven wanted to show through his music was a way to a better, enlightened world. He dedicated much of his music to a concept of the Heroic Age called “benevolent despots.” Rulers who with wisdom and charity would bring the whole of humanity up out of ignorance by the bootstraps for the common good. We all know how that worked out. It was down to the artists.

His answer? The Ninth Symphony. In which Beethoven declared that the ideal society, Elysium, was not going to rise from heroes, benevolent despots or from God, but it was something we must do for ourselves. As brothers and sisters. As citizens in the brotherhood of humanity.

Even without the music, that right there? Pure. Genius.

Happy Birthday, wild man.

Published by

Phil Huston


13 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Beethoven!”

    1. Prog Superstar. Or six string shredder. Van Halen with all ten fingers. Plus, he is quoted as saying “the guitar is a miniature orchestra in itself.” Beethoven would have gone nuts for the Chapman Stick. And effects pedals? Oh my. Beethoven with a delay/looper playing on top of himself? Your head would explode trying to listen to it. I tried for the longest to separate some of the quartets and follow the single lines simultaneously. Forget it. Beethoven is best taken as a whole. Start to take it apart and you’ll go nuts. LIke Monet said, some things are best left alone or they’ll drive you mad.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. And you didn’t even mention the deaf part.

    Was Beethoven synesthetic by any chance?

    Are you for that matter? If so does that explain your love of musical details (for lack of a better word)?

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Deafness was a curse, but far from insurmountable in his case. He knew what it would sound like.
      I can’t speak for Ludwig, but I owned a piano that produced the neon geometry, the neon bubbles. However, for me it is dependent on the piano. They all have different personalities. For years I kept it to myself for fear of the white coat people. From the time I was 6 until my 18th birthday I went to various labs on an annual basis because of a visual sensory recall ability. Smell, sound, visuals. I couldn’t tell you someone’s name 20 seconds after they told me but I could describe them in minute detail. They’d show me something and wave a scent under my nose, same thing. Triggers of some kind. I wasn’t one to look at a page and repeat it and I always needed a chart for a song. Memorization without a trigger was a no go. But visual and audible detail? Yep. I have always had daydream-itis as well. I can make music out of rush hour traffic, trains, nature, segregate the noises in an automobile, doctors office, restaurant, listen to their “arrangement”. Weird.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. No research. In my youth I devoured everything Beethoven I could get my hands on. Letters, notes, journals, news, anecdotes. No way was I ever going to play that stuff, but the man fascinated me. No idea why. Like he was an old friend. Crazy, huh?


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