The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Was Beethoven so great that he hurt music?

November 1, 2014
11 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Recently an essay by Alex Ross appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

The subject was Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) and how he changed forever the course of classical music -– not only the composing of it but also the programming and performing of it, even the recording of it on LPs and CDs.

Beethoven big

It was so thoroughly researched and had such a well defined point of view with such unexpected insights, that it formed yet another proof to The Ear of why Alex Ross, who in 2007 won a National Book Critics Circle Award for “The Rest of Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century” has to be considered this nation’s premier music critic.

The gist of the argument by Ross (below) is that Beethoven exerted such a profound influence on Western classical music that he single-handedly changed the course of music history – and not always  for the better especially if you care about living composers and contemporary music. (You might recall that this season both the Madison Symphony Orchestra and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra will perform all-Beethoven or mostly-Beethoven concerts, featuring symphonies and piano concertos, toward the end of the current season. They have also done so before, and the result is usually a sell-out. Beethoven’s popularity, it seems, never wanes.)

Alex Ross 2

To accept Ross’ arguments does NOT mean you have to reject or belittle Beethoven. Beethoven remains THE iconic composer of classical music.

But Ross’ essay is certainly eye-opening about the results of the iconic status we have granted to Beethoven since the famous composer’s own lifetime.

And his look back at the effects of Beethoven’s massive and revolutionary Symphony No. 3 “Eroica” – a YouTube video of the “Eroica” Symphony, performed by conductor Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic, is at bottom — and his Fifth Symphony, as well as the late string quartets, yields new appreciation of these works.

But don’t take my word for it.

Read Alex Ross’ essay for yourself and give me your reactions.

Here is a link:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/10/20/deus-ex-musica


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