Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Beethoven Effect?

We have all heard of the Mozart effect and many of us grew up listening to Mozart because of it, but in his recent article in the New Yorker, Beethoven's Bad Influence, Alex Ross explores the length and width of the shadow Beethoven cast over other composers, both before and after his time.
Ross brings many interesting points into his argument,exploring Beethoven's background, relatives, politics etc, but what caught my attention was the way that Beethoven elicited change through his music. He didn't cater to the public, he wrote what he wanted to write and his audience caught his vision so well, that it soon became the expected norm.
As Ross puts it in his opening paragraph "Beethoven is a singularity in the history of art—a phenomenon of dazzling and disconcerting force. He not only left his mark on all subsequent composers but also molded entire institutions. The professional orchestra arose, in large measure, as a vehicle for the incessant performance of Beethoven’s symphonies. The art of conducting emerged in his wake. The modern piano bears the imprint of his demand for a more resonant and flexible instrument. Recording technology evolved with Beethoven in mind: the first commercial 33⅓ r.p.m. LP, in 1931, contained the Fifth Symphony, and the duration of first-generation compact disks was fixed at seventy-five minutes so that the Ninth Symphony could unfurl without interruption."
While reading the rest of Ross's well expressed thoughts, I found myself still thinking about this paragraph. Could it be that in the year 2014 we have gotten so wrapped up in our desire to preserve past art that we are not as free to focus on creating our own? Have we put Beethoven and others like him in demigod power over the arts?
"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." Alex Ross
What would happen if young composers and young musicians when listening to the works of this genius where not struck with "Don't bother" but instead thought "I am going to do that!" What if we paid homage to this brilliant man by not simply by playing his music, but also by attempting to carry out his legacy in our own compositions & performances? Bravely making them uniquely ours and not copies of another mans genius? Now that would be a Beethoven Effect worth having.
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