Approximately one week ago , there was a discussion regarding the influence of music on atheism . Many commented on music they felt was important and meaningful . The vast majority of postings regarded popular music and groups . Apart from myself , however , there were only two very brief mentions regarding a composer , without which , todays' popular music would not have been possible . I'm referring , of course , to Ludwig Van Beethoven. A man who singlehandedly freed music from the bonds of stringent , unbending rules . Who , through the power of sheer , unadulterated brilliance and genius , was able to become the first great composer to eschew a permanent position of employment within the church or aristocracy ( then, the only means of earning a living from his art ) . He became in a sense , the first composer to write what he wished , whenever he wished , and earn an independent living from it . And did he compose ! His music is so brilliantly radical and forward facing , that even by today's standards , it may be considered modern .
Beethoven was also the first great composer who was openly and passionately outspoken in his support of the enlightenment and his unwavering belief in the universality of human rights . Recognizing his vast genius , his views were grudgingly tolerated by the church and aristocracy. This was not , however , reciprocated by Beethoven , who felt and showed contempt to those in positions of inherited power and influence.
He became profoundly deaf later in life , after slowly losing his hearing over a period of about twenty years. His deafness , rather than hindering his ability to create extraordinary music , freed him to reach new heights . Many of his greatest works are from this period . He died at the age of fifty seven , having so thoroughly changed music , that every composer after him would have to find their own way .
When I am asked by theists if I believe in god , I always answer , " No , I believe in Beethoven . He is always with me . "

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Comment by SteveInCO on January 20, 2013 at 9:40am

Mozart was almost the first:  he was a freelancer once he moved from Salzburg (and a position under that human turd, Archbishop Colloredo) to Vienna.  However, it was a very uneven living and he was a spendthrift.  Ironically, he died broke, but if he had lived just a couple weeks more a good amount of dough would have rolled in.

It's astounding to realize that if he had lived a mere 15 more years (he would have been 52, not unreasonable), he'd have been around for Beethoven's 5th and 6th symphonies.  There's also some indication in his latest music that he was starting down a path of chafing at classical-era restrictions on form, certainly on the mood of the music.  So perhaps he'd have been doing some outre stuff by then too, and you might be lavishing praise on him too.  Alas we will never know and no one will every hear a work cataloged "Mozart K. 627."  (If god wants to prove there is an afterlife, he can show us that work and the six hundred or so after it.)

Best indications are, BTW, that Mozart didn't take religion seriously.  (Some like to claim him as a nonbeliever but I've noticed that a list like that tends to include people who just made the occasional edgy comment, so I'd want to see some solid proof.)

Comment by Ray R. on January 20, 2013 at 11:38am
Hi Steve . I completely agree that Mozart was a composer of prodigious talent and immense genius . He was not , however , a musical innovator . During his lifetime , composers were considered no better than servants to whatever clergy or aristocracy employed them . The concept of "artist" arose with Beethoven , due to his relentless insistence that he be respected as such.
Comment by _Robert_ on January 20, 2013 at 9:35pm

Ravel, Satie and Debussy are my current musical obsessions. Satie was so irreverent, he founded his own religion, and he was it's only follower. I agree, Ludwig paved the way.

Comment by onyango makagutu on January 21, 2013 at 12:14am

I love Beethoven, he left his left his teacher telling him a genius teaches himself! He really is one of the greatest

Comment by SteveInCO on January 21, 2013 at 7:50am

Hah hah... so many arrogant mediocrities would say such a thing, and be laughed at--they think of themselves as the next Beethoven, but they are wrong. (You run into many crackpot pseudo-scientists too, who will insist they are being picked on just like Galileo...)

Beethoven was no mediocrity however, and could get away with it.

Comment by onyango makagutu on January 21, 2013 at 8:03am

I agree Steve, there are many whackos who think they are some undiscovered genius and then go spewing garbage all over the place.

I listen to Beethoven's symphony No. 9 and all I can do is close my eyes to see the movements. That was one of his best and he was deaf when he did it.

Comment by _Robert_ on January 21, 2013 at 7:42pm

My highly adulterated version of Piano Sonata No. 14 in C-sharp minor "Quasi una fantasia", Op. 27, No. 2 (aka moonlight). When I was learning to play it; I distinctly recall that it seemed to synchronize with my heartbeat; thus I recorded this...complete with my own di mezzo part.

heartbeat sonata

Good thing I don't believe in spirits.

Comment by Brian Daurelle on January 21, 2013 at 9:42pm

Regarding the analysis of history, we must always be careful to not let our modern prejudices overshaddow or dictate a clear understanding of the past.  As Steve points out, Mozart was a freelance composer long before Beethoven, and it is probable that this would have come to be a normal thing at around the same time with or without Beethoven, due more to the changing social fabric than to any monolithic change centered in the person of LvB.

As with most great figures from history, it was not genius alone that brought Beethoven such great fame, but rather a combination of genius and fortuitous timing, being alive at a time when his aesthetics were in tune with the zeitgeist, that makes Beethoven the towering figure we know him as today.  Just as we would think less of Bach had it not been for the Mendelssohn-led revival of his works, it is likely that Beethoven's legacy is not dependant entirely on his works alone.  Certainly, the influence of the Czerny=>Liszt school of pedagogy had a huge influence on making the Beethoven 32 such a solid part of the standard piano repertoire.

This is certainly not to belittle any of Beethoven's achievements in music; despite historical distortion, there's certainly a reason we still study his symphonies, sonatas and quartets.

For all the talk about Beethoven being a revolutionary, I think this is flat wrong; it expresses a tainted, distorted version of the more nuanced truth.  Someone who wrote music that was too far-out or incomprehensible would be laughed off the stage (and indeed there have been many instances of this in the history of western music).  Beethoven's genius was emphatically NOT that he did everything new and different, but rather that he took old things, the system and language his audiences understood, and shaped them in novel ways that exploited their potential in a heretofore unrealized degree.  In the same way that Mozart toyed with the sonata form in his late piano sonatas, Beethoven invested classical forms such as sonata and rondo with new meaning, practially creating a new language of formal expectation just in the way he deviated from traditional expectations.  The point here, though, is not that he thought of or did things that no one ever had before.  Anyone could do that.  What took true inspiration was to create such fresh, exciting new products out of the tired old system and have them remain accessible to the audience.  


Comment by _Robert_ on January 21, 2013 at 10:24pm

Brian, It's more difficult to "create such fresh, exciting new products out of the tired old system" than to create the so innovative "Four minutes, thirty-three seconds", a three-movement composition by composer John Cage. Your post implies that without Beethoven, there would still be "a Beethoven". I disagree. Honestly, with all the compositional tools at a musician's disposal today, you would expect someone to step up to the plate. No one has. If someone did, would you say it was just fortuitous timing ? 

Comment by _Robert_ on January 21, 2013 at 10:34pm

Blaine, you went to the same introductory school of music I went to!...Tom and Jerry has some really good stuff too !


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