art history

Beethoven's bad influence

Alex Ross in the New Yorker: "Music is being accorded powers at once transcendent and transformative: it hovers far above the ordinary world, yet it also reaches down and alters the course of human events. Beethoven’s music went some ways toward fulfilling the colossal role that Hoffmann devised for it. Epoch after epoch, Beethoven has been the composer of the march of time: from the revolutions of 1848 and 1849, when performances of the symphonies became associated with the longing for liberty; to the Second World War, when the opening notes of the Fifth were linked to the short-short-short-long Morse code for “V,” as in “victory”; and 1989, when Leonard Bernstein conducted the Ninth near the fallen Berlin Wall. “We ourselves appear to become mythologized in the process of identifying with this music,” the scholar Scott Burnham has written. Yet the idolatry has had a stifling effect on subsequent generations of composers, who must compete on a playing field that was designed to prolong Beethoven’s glory. As a teen-ager, I contemplated becoming a composer; attending a concert at Symphony Hall, in Boston, I remember seeing, with wonder and dismay, the single name “BEETHOVEN” emblazoned on the proscenium arch. “Don’t bother,” it seemed to say."