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.
Thanks for the ping
Beethoven’s Fifth must be the most recognized in the world.
As to the composer and trump character comparisons. Perhaps. Trump a genius? That to be decided He is certainly unafraid to take on the impossible.
He is an enigma. On one hand playing one of the elite -high fashion, opera, symphonies and seems to feel comfortable in the role. While simultaneously giving the impression he feels just as comfortable in tennis shoes, walking the streets of the neighborhood and speaking with cabbies, little old ladies sticking their heads out of the windows yelling down to him.
Off to dig thru the LPs and listen to Vangelis, Mannheim Steamroller. Are the lives of these men being taught today? Lives and music? Many composers are known by name but few have a knowledge as to what symphonies they wrote.
Mendel’s Hallelujah Chorus is always a favorite. Hearing the music fills you with spirit right to your core.
Leo Delibes Flower Duet from Lakme is a favorite recorded and constantly played. Joan Sutherland version. A treasure.
Make it a great weekend. It’s raining here which is gladly appreciated.
Yes, man of genius.
One mark of accomplishment, that I tell my homeschooler, is how long his work has lasted and how long it will last. A great deal of thought went into Beethoven’s work. It is interesting to note that a fair amount of it was not well received in its time. It took many years for it to be fully appreciated.
We get this relativism all the time on how modern musicians, particularly pop musicians are just as good. Not so. Lady Gaga and her ilk will soon be forgotten and dare I say David Bowie, despite those who so vociferously defended his work her recently. Their work is highly derivative with an eye more toward shock and profit than truly producing a work of art that will stand the test of time.
Perhaps Schiller should get some credit for the Ode to Joy (An der Freude); a great German Romantic poet. That said, the Ninth is very moving and one of the great pieces of music if not the greatest. H. L. Mencken was also a great American thinkers. He won’t please the religionists, but when I read him I keep saying “oh yeah” to myself. They don’t make ‘em like that any more.
I’m not familiar with Schiller. I am not really a follower of music, but certainly the German culture has brought us some of the greatest music. Mencken himself was from German stock. His father owned a beer company in Baltimore, though H. L. never made it easy for himself. He worked like crazy — high energy guy.
Today’s pundits need to read Mencken so they will realize how boring their writing actually is!
Beethoven did write some great music. If he was still alive today, he'd have had over 200 years of great music instead of the 30-40 years he did have. He could have been on Symphony 165 by now. And I'm sure it would have been a masterpiece.
I ditched regular college midway through for music school. Loved loved loved loved loved music theory and harmony - the mathematic rationality of it that could also be so beautiful. It's pure math, but it's moving math. So ... this sentence that you wrote matters:
"... And no doubt, that's because music lies outside the sphere of rational thought."
Amongst composers - i.e. those who love music theory which contains the building blocks of all the great works - you will find the most rational minds in the universe (at least when they are at it) - whatever their occasional emotional imbalances were. By most rational I mean ... without error ... at least when composing, because you can't hide an error. A man might be a liberal and a composer, but he what probably doesn't know is he is never a liberal when he is composing, unless he's composing crap.
Music is especially beautiful to me because what you said is true, but totally untrue. Once you understand music theory, harmony, how it all fits together, it is pure pure pure math - and that's why it's so cool. It's the coldest possible thing - numbers - but put together in certain ways, temporarily violating the numbers on purpose for a short time and then coming back to them - that is at the basis of everything beautiful in music. So there is no line between the rational and the beautiful and the order of the universe. I wish people didn't always have to make such a mushy emotional cliche of God all the time - it's not that the beauty in the universe lies IN the order, it's that the order and the beauty are not separated.
I could go off on a major tear about the rationality of music. It's not capable of anything BUT being rational if it is to also be beautiful. And yet, rationality alone - which is necessary - is not sufficient.
HL's expression of wit is similar, and that's probably why he sees Beethoven's greatness not just as a matter of talent - but of character - and also why Beethoven saw composing not as expressing talent but as an act of glorifying God. All these things are the not different from each other!
Trump definitely has this. His isn't wit or music ... it's his own concoction ... but what runs through the 3 of them ... reminds me of something I read that was making the point that 'blessed are the pure of heart' does not mean 'good, moral, righteous' ... it means ... 'singular of heart, singular of purpose' ... a little like a dog just knows it's purpose, is not capable of violating it because he can't imagine anything outside it, or it would just be too uncomfortable to live outside it, without integrity (which probably seems like a funny thing to say about Trump to many - but I think it's the reality - I think Trump is totally true to himself.) It could almost appear as dumb or simple, but it isn't ... it's mark is that it's totally unmarked by confusion, doubt, contradiction. That's also the mark of the truly rational and also the truly beautiful. I'm totally sure it's how Beethoven composed, even in between bouts of that there were bouts of frustration and pain.
I'm totally rambling out a not very good composition ... but it's Friday so what the hell.
Glad you pinged ... thanks for posting ... and happy weekend!
Thanks for the interesting read.
| Love your thinking, tinyowl. And thank you for taking us on an interesting path that's beyond the political fray. You've inspired me to contribute a future article on Mencken's advice on journalism -- where his own true genius lay.
I never thought of musical composition as mathematical, but you must be right. Great intelligence and discipline is called on. nbsp; Imagine the genius required to synchronize all the instruments of an orchestra to create a beautiful symphony. It boggles the mind.
Perhaps there's an analogy here to the creation of fractal art and other mathematically created art. There are many thousands of fractals on Google Images, but a rather low percentage we would consider truly high quality art. The algorithms must meet a mind that's graphically trained.
That's actually what was going through my mind when I was trying to explain it.
If the disconnected universe were to listen to Beethoven ... it would appear as fractal art ... pleasing only in the sense that it obeyed rules. But somehow our emotions are played with by certain ... arrangements of the fractal.
If you listen to Gregorian Chants ... it's beautiful but NOT because of harmony or melody (actually melody can be beautiful, but it probably wouldn't be if it were just the same melody played out on piano)
As time progressed, composers started messing with things. But always - it is in relation to resolving. you start to hear these tricks in Classical music ... but all of it can be analyzed. But what's weird is that you don't need to know theory - the ability to analyze it - to come up with it. So there is a second mechanism in our brains that can get at it purely through aesthetics.
Elton John was classically trained - so his music is very easy to analyze.
Almost all music follows a version of progressive movement from 1 to 4 to 5 to 1. (not that 1 - 4 is movement up a 4th, which is the strongest movement, and so is 5 to 1 (because there are 8 'notes' ... so 5 to 6 to 7 to 1 is 4.) The second strongest movement is up a 2nd -> say, from 1 to 2, or 7 to 8.
All classic blues is based virtually entirely on 1-4-5 movement.
New age music gets very boring because it doesn't use strong movement, so there is no tension, and that's also why it's relaxing.
An example of temporarily messing with the math is that the strongest melodic movement is the 7 to the 1 (one is always the tonic center - what things resolve to to make Mr. Mind feel like the tension has all been resolved.
So you go hundreds of years with them composing stuff like this, but then the composers (and listeners) start to get bored. So they say "well OK to stretch it out, we'll change key's -> we'll wander from tonic center to tonic center.
So no consider that we said movement from the 5 to 1 chord is the strongest chord movement, but we also said movement from the 7 to 1 is the strongest melodic movement (actually, chord movement from 7 IS the strongest, because there is a diminished 5th BUT the brain hates that (until it's mellowed by jazz and 7 chords) ... so it wasn't used a lot.
But let's say we want to move from the key of C to the Key of G -> very common in either major or minor. When you move from key to key, you need to try to find a 'pivot' chord - a chord that exists in both keys, so that the ear/brain doesn't say "hey ... come on ... that's just a plain old new song."
So you see this:
Pop music that is popular -> always always always you can easily identify the harmonic trick that the mind loves. Of course that has to be combined with the lyrics, and or the love of the artist etc.
But, at the end of the day, if you analyze Beethoven's 9th (I've never done it - it would be fun) it's going to be 1, 4, 5 ... 1, 2, 5 ... 5's of 5 and 7's of 5 all over the place.
You'd probably enjoy - if you don't want to dive too deep into all of this - but just to appreciate it -> go online and read an intro course to counterpoint.
Yet as I said - some of your favorite musicians will never have been trained in music theory in their lives - and though all of these music theory 'rules' can be codified as math - they will come at it merely from the ear.
I think all genius, whether wit, philosophy, music, visual art is merely thought that is at it's base, without the artist able to change it other than through intense discipline (which requires character - but also love for what they are doing - lost to the point of turning of the monkey chattering thoughts-mind) ... all this genius is at it's base the same ... it's a product of order, with a slight conscious violation of that order, that then returns to the order.
It is literally 'being close to God, being one with God' ... and in saying so I put no definition on how God should be revealed for anyone. It's more like being 'without attribute' or 'what already is.'
I would love to read what you write about Mencken - any exposure to genius is purifying. Usually what I find is that what defines the genius is not the construction - not what's included -> but what's not allowed in, what's proscribed. Hence the Constitution of course ...
| For a small creature, you're got a big mind :-)
One key take away from your comment that resonated for me was:
We could have a very long discussion on that one! The brain is organized to filter information so we only notice things that break the stereotypes we've previously stored. If it weren't that way, our brains would overload.
The human mind apparently hungers for the new and fresh.
I posted a couple of weird posts on FR where the pictures violated the established "order" and I got some good comments.
Your theory explains a lot, I think.
THANK YOU! Perfectly beautiful, pure, golden. The faces in the audience seemed to be filled the same same emotion I.
Returning the favor :-))
“I WILL FOLLOW HIM”
Andre Rieu & The Harlen Gospel Choir I will follow him New York
This was first heard back in the 50’s Sung by Little Peggy March. Loved that song and sang it all the time when alone. LOL Never in public!
The following are just a few of favorites remembered. The range includes Jazz, Opera, and even rock. Perhaps you might find one or two you might agree fill you with an overwhelming desire to fly.
This vinyl LP has been purchased and replaced 3 times thru the years.
It is one of the best!
Debussy- performed by Tomita
Vangelis- CARL SAGEN, COSMOS THEME
Susan Boyle- I Dreamed A Dream
Susan Boyle - Hallelujah
If you will remember, this woman began her career on British TV
Cass Elliott (Mamas & Papas)
Yanni at London’s Albert Hall
And LAST BUT NOT IN ANY WAY LEAST
Kate Smith sings God Bless America which includes a snip of one of our Past Presidents
This song never ends with dry eyes. It is so filled with spirit and pride, love of God and Country.
Music fills our lives. Makes us cry, makes us fly. Brings us to tears and calms our fears.
I saw a very interesting demonstration regarding the particle/wave war about light, that proposed that it's not just a one way thing - where light is racing towards what it approaches, but that there is an equal .... pushing of pulling ... from the receiving end. This I think explains why some perceive that faith itself creates God. Actually, they arise simultaneously, are no different. The mind pushes-pulling as much as things come into it. Same as the Buddha saying 'the nature of the universe is created by the mind alone.' Everything arises simultaneously. It's not that everything is one, it's that nothing is separated.
But ... back to math and music -> here's one you'll recognize, there are a thousand examples of this, but certain songs that everyone knows demonstrate it. They are usually songs that people can't get out of their minds (whether that makes them happy or not).
Whiter Shade of Pale (I happened to watch the Commitments at neighbors house for a St. Patty's day get together. It's not my favorite song but it's a good demonstration -> here's why it's so catchy and seems to flow so easily from chord to chord.)
Keep in mind that a simple scale in C has C, D, E, F, G, A, B ... and C again. represented by roman numerals I through VII. Notice the movement up of 4ths ... and keep in mind that these scales ... the next C above C is always twice the number of beats per second ... middle A is 440 beats per second, the next A is 880 etc. 4th and 5ths are 2 to 3 and 3 to 4 ratio's ... so even at its very base ... it's all very very simple math building blocks. Our ears like it that way ... upon birth.
To 'hear' this ... just read left to right, give each chord about 2 seconds ...
I . . . iii . . . vi . . . I we danced the light fandango
I, iii, vi, I
IV, vi, ii, IV
V, vii/5, iii, V
1 ... up 3 up 4 up 3 up 4 to
4 ... up 3 up 4 up 3 up 2 to
5 ... up 3 up 4 up 3 up 4 back to
So you can see that pattern - movement up 4ths (movement up a 3rd ... the ear hears as 'stationary' but shifting, and then remember that all blues is based on 1, 4, 5 (actually in a way everything is based on 1 to 5 to 1 ... the 4 is a passing semi-5-ish cord because it contains the 7 of the 5. So note in the left column -> 1, 4, 5))
So as if that's not pattern enough ... the base notes go ...
1, 7, 6, 5
4, 3, 2, 1
5, 4, 3, 2,
... and again notice the 1, 4, 5 going down the left row.
That's pretty much what all music does - wander around 1 to 5 to 1 ... often 1 to 4 to 5 to 1 or 1 to 4 to 5 to 4 to 1. All the 2's, 3's, 6's and 7's are heard as variations on the 1, 4 and 5.
Pretty MUCH everything else is a variation on that, structurally. It's kind of like a square is the basis of a floor .. and walls and ceiling and then a cube is the basis of a room, but also the basis of a building ... or/and then an apartment complex. Our mind's find harmony in those shapes but coincidentally they also happen to work well with math and work well when 'making things' that are both useful and aesthetically pleasing.
But then with music you have all this occurring over time, so it's like moving math ... walking through an equation.
Totally cool! Beethoven loved this sh*t, probably drove him crazy at times and made him miserable, but ... drove his life, made him very connected to life directly ... he would have understood 'God' even if no one had told him about It.
As for Trumpazine and the Titanic -
Trumpazine - the first 4 or 5 comments are classic. I think as an artist, you should hope to hear that for 9 out of 10 of the things you do, then maybe one you get the same strength of reaction but they get it. Titanic - sweet visual of Trump's face as glacier. I would think a paper would pick that up - no? It has the same effect and makes the point as well as the super popular Trump=as=brick-wall image ...
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