MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

Happy Birthday, Ludwig!

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Portrait of Ludvig van Beethoven composing his Missa solemnis by Joseph Karl Stieler (1819) Beethoven Haus, Bonn, Germany/The Bridgeman Art Library International

Beethoven was my very first “classical music” love. And Beethoven remains inexhaustibly fascinating. I’m still digesting Jonathan Biss’s thoughtful performance of Op. 111 last weekend at Meany Center for the Performing Arts.

In honor of the composer’s (probable) birthday (we know at least that he was baptized on 17 December 1770), a few favorite quotes from the master:

“I must despise a world which does not feel that music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy, the wine which inspires one to a new generative process, and I am the Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for humanity and makes it spiritually drunken.”

“My thoughts go out to you, my Immortal Beloved I can only live wholly with you or not at all-

“What you are, you are by accident of birth; what I am, I am by myself. There are and will be a thousand princes; there is only one Beethoven.”

“It seems I could wrest my ideas from nature herself with my own hands, as I go walking in the woods. They come to me in the silence of the night or in the early morning, stirred into being by moods which the poet would translate into words, but which I put into sounds — and these go through my head swinging and singing and storming until at last I have them before me as notes.”

“The true artist is not proud, he unfortunately sees that art has no limits; he feels darkly how far he is from the goal; and though he may be admired by others, he is sad not to have reached that point to which his better genius only appears as a distant, guiding sun. I would, perhaps, rather come to you and your people, than to many rich folk who display inward poverty.”

“Must it be? It must be.”

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