The Man, the Myth and the Mermaid

Undoubtedly, one of the coolest facts about Beethoven was that he wrote music with one particular audience in mind–himself.  He composed works that he would find joy in playing, even though his hearing progressively diminished as his career flourished.  It was tragically unfair that such a brilliant master of music had to endure the heartbreak of increasingly deafening silence, unable to fully enjoy his own brilliance.

If you haven’t investigated The Beethoven Project yet, you must do so.  Understanding Beethoven the Man renders a completely new level of appreciation and admiration for Beethoven the Composer.  Beethoven the Man was, by late in his life, disheveled, intimidating and perhaps slightly creepy (this is purely my own speculation, as I’m creeped out by just about everything).  Basically, I’m imagining him as a hot mess with genius musical tendencies.

So, here’s how I picture it: a jaded, curmudgeonly brooding Beethoven walks the streets, animatedly gesticulating to everyone in general, but speaking to no one specifically.  He’s quickly becoming isolated by his physical impairment; to put it bluntly, he’s severely ticked off, so don’t pick fights with our boy.  He’s an eccentric loner in a world of full of sound, noise and music, yet the melodic flow of harmony is unable to penetrate his lonely land of silence.  It’s akin to dropping me into a bakery and not allowing me to have any cookies.  It would be a cruel, cruel fate, indeed.

Given a clearer understanding of his suffering thanks to The Beethoven Project (and my own dramatic interpretation), his music has been colored for me in an entirely new way.  Here are the pain-drenched works that the genius himself had composed, the notes of which slipped like sand through his fingers as his hearing deteriorated.  Concerto No. 3 was awesome.  The piano is expected to be the star, and it sort of pops in when it feels ready, like a celebrity making a sitcom cameo appearance.  It completely steals the show, thanks in large part to the ridiculously talented Yefim Bronfman.  I had a “whoa-that-was-beautiful” moment during the second movement.  The Largo made me wish that the music was bubble bath.  I wanted to sink into it with a glass of Riesling and a warm chocolate chip cookie to escape from it all.

The Mermaid was played well, though I was quite puzzled by the seemingly erratic nature of the music.  It didn’t present Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale in a linear fashion, which made it difficult for me follow.  There were certainly many unmistakable moments, such as the scene where the sea witch cuts out the mermaid’s tongue and sends her to surface to get her man.  The dark intensity of that particular section was clear, yet the rollicking festivity of the undersea ball was awkwardly juxtaposed with it.  The piece was lovely and I enjoyed hearing it, but trying to plot the narrative was challenging.  It felt like Mermaid’s composer, Alexander Zemlinsky, drew disorganized squiggly lines that harshly contradicted Beethoven’s straight, orderly ones.  Despite the scrambled nature, it was a fun piece.

But Beethoven, I still *heart* you most.

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