On Beethoven’s Birthday

Ludwig van Beethoven was born on this date in 1770. He was an innovator in his lifetime and still stands at the pinnacle of classical music over two hundred years later.

His story is well-known to many, especially the part of it concerning his gradual decline into deafness. Whatever its causes, and there is plenty of speculation on them, he had lost his hearing completely by the beginning of his middle years.

For a man who loved nature and spent hours walking through the woods listening to birdsongs and all the other sounds around him, to lose the sense of hearing was a blow that struck at the very core of his being. This is to say nothing of his life as a musician and, more essentially, as a composer. To not hear the instruments he was writing for or his own playing of the piano or the effects of his conducting on an orchestra: these would seem to be obstacles too daunting for anyone to overcome, especially at a somewhat late stage in a life that had been indelibly shaped by and devoted to one thing, music.

But almost as legendary as his deafness was Beethoven’s stubbornness. The trait that often sent him into rages, or got him into difficult social and romantic situations, was also his salvation. While he certainly had his periods of despair and questioning of what he was going to do and whether it might not be better to die than continue the way he was, in the end, there was really no question at all. Beethoven believed that God had created him for the sole purpose of composing music, and, methods be damned, that’s what he was going to do.

This not only explains his perseverance of his art even when he could only imagine in his own mind the sounds of what the notes he was writing on the page would sound like. It underscores his continued pursuit of the usual tools of the musician’s trade; his new piano, which he had looked forward to for so long, arrived from the English maker Broadwood after he could no longer appreciate what the instrument was capable of.

But it also clarifies why Beethoven was the composer who began shattering all the conventions of the music of his time. He began writing works not to please patrons or delight aristocratic sponsors, but to encapsulate in musical form the inner dialogue of humanity as he experienced it at the individual level.

Even today, his Ninth Symphony stands as an icon of this ideal. While it was groundbreaking in its time because of Beethoven’s use of a choir, not to mention the whole architecture of the work and the way the musical ideas and themes are shaped into a whole, it has come to symbolize and synthesize one man’s understanding of his and our place in the universal realm. We listen to his music now, and that fierce determination to do what we were put on this earth to do speaks directly to us.

In this way, Beethoven continues to teach and remind us that, as idealistic as it may seem, to discover the true passion of your heart, to see that passion as your sole purpose in life, and to make a place for yourself in the vast human tapestry so that your passion becomes an indispensable part of the fabric of the larger community, these are the truest and noblest goals of humankind.

And to remain dedicated to your heart’s work, your life work, despite any seeming roadblocks that would make it impossible to keep following your chosen path, this is the greatest lesson Beethoven has for each of us, whether we are musicians or not.

Even long after the last notes have faded beyond human hearing, they will continue to resonate in our hearts.

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Explore posts in the same categories: music, Special Days, spirituality

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