Skip to comments.The Source of Beethoven's Musical Genius: His Greater Dignity as a Man
Posted on 03/18/2016 9:01:47 AM PDT by poconopundit
| When I hear Beethoven's 9th Symphony, I just love it. Trouble is, I can't begin to tell you exactly why his music inspires me so much. And no doubt, that's because music lies outside the sphere of rational thought.
What I can tell is that the triumphant parts of Beethoven's 9th symphony thrill my heart. When I hear it, I feel the power of victory and freedom. It's as if my body could fly across the room!
Now H. L. Mencken (1880 - 1956) was not your run-of-the-mill music critic: he was simply the finest American newspaper pundit and literary critic of his era. He was also a great student of classical music, played the piano himself, and could tell you the difference between an aria and a sonata (something I cannot).
Regardless, I think you're going to love reading how Mencken analyzed Beethoven's genius. You'll also notice many parallels in Beethoven's character to another Olympian artist in the fields of business and politics.
Beethovenby H. L. Mencken
...Well what sort of man emerges from these almost endless pages of fact and surmise, gossip and tradition? In brief, a man who somehow lives up to his music — a man who, in spite of his puns, his lawsuits, his braggadocio, this dirty cuffs, his grotesque amours, his feuds with publishers and his moods of almost operatic despair, was obviously and unquestionably great.
Surrounded all his life long by men of his own craft, and some of them the first talents of the time, he differed from them enormously, not only in degree but also in kind. The mind that he brought to the problems of his art was different in every way from their minds. He saw music differently: he sensed possibilities in it that they were entirely unaware of; he began his study of it where even the best of them left off. And the feelings that he put into tone, once he had conquered the old technic and invented his own super-technic, were infinitely nobler than the feelings of any of those men, and infinitely more subtle and profound.
It was a bizarre jest of the gods to pit Beethoven, in his first days in Vienna, against Papa Haydn. Haydn was undeniably a genius of the first water, and after Mozart's death, had no apparent reason to fear a rival. If he did not actually create the symphony as we know it today, then he at least enriched the form with its first genuine masterpieces — and not with a scant few, but literally with dozens.
Tunes of the utmost loveliness gushed from him like oil from a well. More, he knew how to manage them; he was a master of musical architectonics. If his music is sniffed at today, then it is only by fools; there are at least six of his symphonies that are each worth all the cacophony hatched by a whole herd of Strawinkis and Eric Saties, with a couple of Tchaikovskys thrown in to flavor the pot.
But when Beethoven stepped in, then poor old Papa had to step down. It was like pitting a gazelle against an aurochs. One colossal bellow, and the combat is over. Musicians are apt to look at it as a mere contest of technicians. They point to the vastly greater skill and ingenuity of Beethoven — his firmer grasp upon his materials, his greater daring and resourcefulness, his far better understanding of dynamics, rhythms and clang-tints — in brief, his tremendously superior musicianship.
But that was not what made him so much better than Haydn — for Haydn, too, had his superiorities; for example, his far readier inventiveness, his capacity for making better tunes. What lifted Beethoven above the old master, and above all other men of music save perhaps Bach and Brahms, was simply his greater dignity as a man.
The feelings that Haydn put into tone were the feelings of a country pastor, a rather civilized stockbroker, a viola player gently mellowed by Kulmacher. When he wept it was the tears of a woman who has discovered another wrinkle; when he rejoiced it was with the joy of a child on Christmas morning.
But the feelings that Beethoven put into his music were the feelings of a god. There was something Olympian in his snarls and rages, and there was a touch of hellfire in his mirth.
Most political pundits on the national scene today are timid and superficial. Their political correctness and the manors they own in Fairfax, Virginia hold them back from being honest. But H. L. Mencken was a true pundit of the people who told it like it is -- and in an engaging, plain English style that brims with intelligence and is often hilarious.
Several compilations of H. L. Mencken's writings are out there. The Impossible H. L. Mencken is certainly one of the best.
Edited and annotated by Mencken scholar, Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, the book shows the broad range of Mencken's writing on subjects like journalists, presidential conventions, congressmen, food, music, and the American language.&nsbp; I own the thick paperback edition which is printed in a larger found and is very easy to pick up and read.
A bit of the old Donald J. to start the day.
The score pictured above is the opening of Beethoven’s 5th symphony.
Indeed. I noticed that too! It should have been the familiar strains of “Ode To Joy” to accompany the article, rather than the also majestic opening strain of the 5th Symphony.
Thanks so much. You inspired me to surf to some great music which is soothing my ears after listening to all the non-stop Trump-bashing on the cables.
Beethoven was no doubt a great composer but dignity? Certainly at times he was dignified and certainly was that way about his music but he probably died from syphilis and hepatitis both probably contracted sexually. The syphilis probably caused his hearing loss. He drank to excess and was generally a royal pain to be around. Basically the aging rock star of his day.
You’ll also notice many parallels in Beethoven’s character to another Olympian artist in the fields of business and politics.
Irritability. Irascibility. Bipolar disorder.
“Beethoven’s personal life was troubled by his encroaching deafness and irritability brought on by chronic abdominal pain (beginning in his twenties) which led him to contemplate suicide (documented in his Heiligenstadt Testament). Beethoven was often irascible. It has been suggested he had bipolar disorder.”
Yes, the above is pulled from wikipedia. But all of that info above is footnoted to legit sources.
Somehow I doubt that’s what you had in mind when comparing the character of these 2 folks.
Let’s see if Trump’s name is still remembered as fondly as is Beethoven’s 200 years after his death.
I think the pre-electronics, pre-recording, pre-broadcasting composers had the isolation necessary for concentration and creativity.
Back in those days if you wanted to hear music you had to go where people played it. Isn’t it interesting that to this day none of the orchestral instruments need to be plugged in.
It amazes me that the piano, with 88 identical hammer-driving mechanisms, was invented and manufactured way back then. The action is the same today as it was a hundred years ago (I think). The grand has a more complex action than uprights. These actions, when in good condition, work perfectly and silently and are nothing but wood, felt and a little metal.
It still amazes me that I can listen to Beethoven anytime, anywhere, at the push of a button. I often wish he could come back and hear himself on modern equipment.
Interesting. I would have never known :-)
| What you say is true. Our modern age has not really improved on the acoustic piano.
My daughter took lessons and could play some beautiful pieces, but now that she's gone we sold our piano and it was sad to see it go.
I think you can isolate yourself successfully today, but it takes a little more effort. I don't own a personal cell phone because I find it a distraction. But nevertheless, I am addicted to FR :- )
Beethoven is my favorite composer. His music expresses what I feel.
| You make a good point. I looked up the word dignity and found one definition here:
"a man of dignity and unbending principle"
Mencken admitted that Beethoven the person was in many ways undignified. But when it came to music, Beethoven was able to tap into a certain power or genius that other men could not.
And I thoroughly agree that many rock stars are not dignified either.
Even still, the quality of the best rock music and Beethoven can be respected regardless of the man or woman behind it.
Perhaps Mencken should have said "a man of genius" instead of a "man of dignity".
What do you think?
” I don’t own a personal cell phone because I find it a distraction. But nevertheless, I am addicted to FR”
My wife and I have one cell phone that neither of us regularly carries.
I’ll admit that I might be called addicted to FR. I love it in part because it comes up so quickly and has worthwhile content. We all need to contribute to it. I do, but probably not “my fair share”.
“It still amazes me that I can listen to Beethoven anytime, anywhere, at the push of a button”
The cell phone, the internet, the GPS, and throw in cheap powerful audio amplifiers, have given us a new world.
I remember when a 30 watt hi-fi amp was pretty powerful.
bump for later
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