in search of beethoven


“I shall seize fate by the throat.” ― Ludwig van Beethovenbeethoven sonata



I know just enough about classical music to be dangerous.

However … I do know when I hear something if I like it or not.


Which brings me to Beethoven and a great documentary on Netflix.



Beethoven … maybe some of the easiest classical music to listen to because … well … it is interesting.

He was not really a snoozer type of classical composer.


Beethoven was acclaimed as a genius by his contemporaries during his life and immediately upon his death.

It was clear to even his contemporaries the extent of his talent.  And Beethoven encouraged this type of thinking not just by his general attitude <he knew he was good> but also by composing stuff in such a way so that people would damn well understand how great he was <many of his compositions were almost impossible for lesser skilled musicians to play>.


I certainly am not qualified to say whether Beethoven was the best of all time … but I can suggest he was the ‘songwriter of his generation.’

Even if you don’t know his compositions you know snippets. He wrote some of beethoven peanutsthe iconic memorable passages ever known. We casually whistle or simply recognize portions of Beethoven even today … just as we do a Lennon/McCartney piece … without really knowing who wrote it.


His symphonies redefined many of the classical music beliefs. His symphonies were huge epic structures that passionately told a story. Instead of the 3 movements of the classical symphony, that lasted only 10-12 minutes, his symphonies were bolder, used more instruments <in different ways>, conveyed more emotion and lasted longer.

His Third Symphony lasts about 50 minutes.

The Ninth Symphony lasts well over 60 minutes.

It seemed like Beethoven needed to make things bigger.


His symphonies are master works of the complex and the simplicity <listen to symphonies Nos. 3, 5, 6 and 9>.


Everything Beethoven wrote had something new, strange or distinct about it. It seemed like he just liked to change things … all the time. And almost every piece he composed was different from any of the others. As soon as he created a formula he put it away and started playing around with a new formula.


And he was a tinkerer.

Beethoven seemed often to work down to the last minute. On the morning of the concert for the oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, a friend found him sitting in bed composing the trombone part. The trombonists rehearsed from Beethoven’s handwritten music at 8 a.m. that day. The ink was barely dry.






The documentary – In Search of Beethoven – now streaming on Netflix.


This is worth watching … even if you don’t like classical music it is a wonderful glimpse behind the scenes of people who do shit that most of us could only dream of being capable of doing.beethoven casa


At minimum … it will remind you that there are some incredibly talented people in this world.



The entirety of In Search of Beethoven is some pictures of Ludwig van Beethoven, interviews with scholars and musicians about Ludwig van Beethoven and performances of his works.

Over the two hours and twenty minutes there is quite a lot of all three things.


The documentary is singularly delightful in that world class musicians discuss how they <themselves> struggle to play Beethoven’s work. In fact … there will be several times where a musician <world class I will remind you> will state with candor that they cannot do it.


<note: I don’t have kids but I think watching this with your kids would be fun … it is interesting and engaging>




“Modern man is full of platitudes about living life to its fullest, with catchy keychain phrases and little plaques for kitchen walls. But if you’ve never retreated to the solitude of a dark room and listened to Beethoven’s Ninth from start to finish, you know nothing. For music is a transcendental exploration of human emotion and experience, the very fabric of life in its purest form. And the Ninth our greatest musical achievement.” –  Tiffany Madison





Last thoughts.


Just because I was curious <because the documentary is an absolutely un-apologetically  Beethoven adoration piece> I did some research as to what the general population thought about Beethoven versus other great composers.


Just to share what I found:


The “three geniuses” of early 19th century Vienna were Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.  Compared to those two, Beethoven did a couple of things differently. 


First, he abandoned the classical symmetry that characterizes much of pre-Beethoven classical music in favor of a more tension inducing, unbalanced style of music.

Second, Beethoven went big.  When the audience heard the Fifth Symphony for the first time the reaction must have been something like a big crowd getting wowed at an arena rock show- no one had ever written symphonies on such a grand scale.


When you consider the three giants of classical music, Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, they all developed their own style.


Of course Johann Sebastian Bach created the foundations of the house in which all subsequent composers lived. Some may misunderstand him of being too intellectual and emotionally cool.

This music gives you a perspective to look into the depths of the Universe and understand its inner works. Who does not feel awe and see God when absorbing these fruits of baroque passion.


Then came Wolfgang Mozart who had learnt Bach´s formal lessons and added a unique element of playfulness into music which still inspires fun even in his minor pieces like the Rondo alla turca.

This is the kind of music that reconciles you with the absurdities and cruelties of the real world.


Then came Beethoven, the giant, whose powerful and dynamic chords and melodies shake the foundations of anyone able to feel


beethoven last wordsWas Beethoven the greatest? Geez. Music is just too subjective to make that claim.

Beethoven composed some of the most well-known and well-respected compositions, from the first four notes of Symphony No. 5 to the fifth movement of Symphony No. 9, and let’s not forget his Piano Sonata No. 14 (the Moonlight Sonata), all of which are identifiable by those outside of the classical music scene. While Bach and Mozart produced a greater cornucopia of music, it is difficult to argue against the fact that Beethoven’s music is the most well-known among the masses and among the best composed during the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras. He epitomized the tradition (to be fair, along with Bach) and subsequently produced a sound that influenced generations.


While Beethoven may be one of the most revered and prolific composers in history, music is far too varied to claim him as the best composer of all time.

So, while he may be a great composer, it is too far to say the best.


It is all good stuff.


Youtube has a fantastic “best of beethoven”:

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Written by Bruce