Two hundred forty-four years ago in Bonn, Germany one of the world’s greatest composers was born. Ludwig van Beethoven has been a big influence on me in many ways, most of them musically. I have spent a great deal of time learning all I can about the man and his music. I have read six biographies on him, one of which was written by his secretary Anton Schindler several years after Beethoven’s death in 1827. But I would like to share my own story about how I came to discover him and why I admire him so much.
In 1987 I was a very different person. I had been going through some of the most horrible times of my life and I was listening to some of the worst kind of music imaginable. I mean, you know, music about the devil, death and stuff like that. Bad stuff! At the behest of the psychologist I was seeing at the time, I decided to change my musical interests toward something more positive. Since I had been playing the piano since age seven, I decided I wanted to switch to classical music. I always had respect and interest for it since I played it on the piano so many times. So I decided to purchase Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 – seeing as I was familiar with that work and loved it. But when I went to the record store…yes, as in LPs – remember this is 1987, compact discs hadn’t come about yet…anyway, when I went to the record store I just quickly thumbed through the records and found the first thing with the number 5 on it. I didn’t know the difference between symphonies and concertos and stuff like that. When I got home and plopped the record on my Dad’s turntable and listened, I was surprised to find it was not what I was looking for. But I stopped myself from turning it off because the power and majesty of the music was incredible. I listened to the entire record and was immediately hooked on Beethoven. I went out a few days later and got a whole pile of records and cassettes to play: String Quartets, more concertos and of course, the Symphony No. 5 I had wanted in the first place. Over the years I became more and more enamored with this dude named Ludwig – who was he? what was he like? what did he love and what did he hate – what was his story? So I began a quest to learn everything I could about who he was. I soon came to learn that he and I have some things in common. I’m not deaf, but I do have a stormy personality. He considered himself above the common people, I do that on occasion too. Beethoven overcame many trials in his life, he never married, he could never find someone to share his life with. He, like me, had many relationships that ended in failure for one reason or another. Despite those challenges, he overcame the emotional trauma of losing loves and eventually his hearing. He overcame it all through his music — just as I too compose music to cope with the challenges I face in my life.
So I wish my mentor, my teacher, the one who has inspired me more times than I can count, a very happy birthday. May God bless his soul where-ever he may be.
And now, in closing, here is a YouTube video of the very same piece of music I heard on that day in 1987. Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-Flat Major, Op. 73 “Emperor”