Today is Beethoven’s 240th birthday. (Maybe. Several sources claim he was born on December 17, which means we share a birthday. No matter.) So make yourself a nice cup of tea, nestle into a comfortable chair, and be sure to listen to something by him today. Here are some of my favorites:
- Piano Concerto No. 4. I took a class in college on Beethoven and my professor believed that this piece was inspired by the recent publication in Vienna of Ovid’s Metamorphoses into German. The three movements were, in his mind, expressions of Orpheus charming the animals, descending to Hades to redeem Eurydice, and being torn apart by the Bacchantes. It may be sacrilege for some to think of Beethoven as having written “program music,” but my prof made a very convincing case, and it makes the music all the more powerful.
- Sonata No. 32, opus 111. I love how the third movement is echoed in Scott Joplin’s piano music 100 years later.
- Piano Concerto No. 5, the “Emperor.” Peaceful. Heard this for the first time in the movie “Dead Poets’ Society.”
- Symphony No. 3, the “Eroica.” Majestic, beautiful. Beethoven originally dedicated this piece to Napoleon, but when the once-inspiring leader crowned himself emperor, Beethoven scratched out the dedication so vigorously he tore the paper.
- Symphony No. 5. Classic.
- Symphony No. 6, the “Pastoral.” Beautiful, reminiscent of Beethoven’s own walks which would last for hours sometimes. The first movement was used to great effect on a Simpsons episode when the kids’ favorite cartoon went off the air and there was nothing to do but go outside and play.
One could go on, but these are what I reach for when I want to listen to Beethoven these days. What a legacy.