Ludwig Van Beethoven: Piano Concerto Number 3 in C minor

I’ve chosen to write about Beethoven’s Piano Concerto Number 3 today. I probably heard it sometime during my junior year of college, which tell a story about below. The first movement quotes a theme from Mozart’s Piano Concerto Number 24, which Beethoven, who was a gifted pianist used to perform.

This concerto starts with a very long orchestral prelude before the piano comes in. Writers have noted that this creates an imbalance which the pianist has to overcome by pitting the instrument against the orchestra. And this marks the beginning of the great Romantic style of concertos, where the featured instrument plays against the orchestra. The second movement is a lovely meditative largo, in which the piano and orchestra create a dream-like reverie, full of beauty and harmony. The last movement is a fast rondo, which like many pieces of the late classical period was associated as having a Turkish or oriental flavor to it. Though at times sounding a bit moody or seething, the overall feeling of the last movement is quite upbeat and it dances along interrupted by fluid runs and solos by the piano to a dazzling and pyrotechnic conclusion.

Growing up Xenophobic
by Kurt Nemes

Remembering my junior year of college brings up reflections on racism. I spent that school year (1975 – 1976) in the French House at Indiana University, which, for the first time in my life, brought me in contact with African American with similar interests to my own. That experience helped me to break down preconceptions I had nourished since my childhood. And I had a few.
In South Bend, Indiana, I had been brought up in a household in which ethnic jokes and stereotypes were part of the oral culture. During the 1960s my father had been asked to join a vigilante group when the riots broke out in Chicago after the assassination of Martin Luther King and threatened to creep into the black community of South Bend. To his credit my father didn’t join, but I never got a clear message from him on racial issues. Sometimes he would launch off on a discussion of the weakening of the white race and other times he would say he wasn’t a racist and had worked and been friendly with a number of blacks during his years working in factories.

Was my family racist? I think what went on was more like the mechanism that all people, the world over, tend to develop, that is, a distrust of “The Other,” of people “not like us.” I have never met a group who’s been immune from this. Even highly educated and professional people make fun of hillbillies and I’ve even heard disparaging racial remarks from people with PHds.

It wasn’t like we even had that much contact with blacks to develop an opinion one way or another. In my township, there were only one black family whose son went to my school. But that didn’t stop me from developing a fear of blacks which lead to repeating jokes and laughing at stereotypical portrayals of blacks in say, the short stories of James Thurber.

My fear came from an encounter with a black youth about my age when I was about eight. Our school once took us on a field trip to Chicago to see the White Sox play at Kominsky stadium. Chicago had a large black population and my parent warned me to say with the group and not wander off. At some point, I had to go to the bathroom and not finding any adults to take me, I went off by myself. I was just coming out and suddenly in front of me blocking my way stood a small black child about my height and build. He pushed me against the wall and held up a pen knife in a threatening gesture. I don’t remember what he said or why he let me go. Looking back on it now, I see it was probably some juvenile attempt to establish a pecking order rather than racially motivated on his part. Unfortunately, it scared the bejesus out of me and imprinted an unease with blacks that took years to shed.

One thing that helped was having a great 6th grade teacher named Mrs. Heminger who was very progressive. In 1967, she taught us about courage, freedom with responsibility, and civil rights. That year was a seminal one in the States during which it actually seemed that the Hippie and anti-war movements, the sexual revolution, and civil rights all were converging to wipe away the years of prejudice and discrimination. It taught me to respect the dignity of every human being, and I came out of that era a liberal and have remained one ever since.

When I got to the French House at Indiana University, I finally had the opportunity to mix with what we now call people of color. I believe I mentioned a woman named Cynthia C*, who live in my dorm. She broke every stereotype that had been inculcated in me while growing up. She came from a fairly wealthy black family in Indianapolis, her father was active in Republican politics, she was majoring in voice and she spoke fluent French. She was a cultured a person, the kind I was desperately trying to be.

Cynthia used to hang out with the artsy-campy clique in the French House and we often spent afternoons at the local bar called Bear’s Place. On one of our trips back to our dorm, Cynthia suggested we stop in and visit her high school friend, Portia. I had never heard the name before and thought it was odd that a family would name their daughter after a German sports car. Portia turned out to be a beautiful, statuesque girl with high cheekbones and a lovely heart-shaped face. When I remarked on her beauty later to Cynthia, she said, “Yes, she has those lovely Nubian cheekbones.” Intellectual blacks in the middle 1970s were working out issues in the wake of the Black Panthers while at the same time wondering whether assimilation would work. I remember getting into a discussion with Portia about being a white male and therefore responsible for the ways blacks have been treated in the United States. I made the point that since my ancestors had come to the US in the early 20th century and been part of the powerless and exploited working class, I didn’t think it was fair all of us be blamed for the racism of the US. She conceded that, but of course I didn’t share too much about my upbringing.

A week or two later I asked Cynthia how Portia was. She said she was fine and “She really liked you.” That should have been my cue to call her up and ask her out. But you know, I never did. I don’t know whether it was out of fear of just calling up a girl (which I always had a mortal fear of, owing to a dread of rejection) or because of her race.

To me, this story represents the ultimate tragedy of racism. Not only do people who are discriminated against get shafted, but the people who do the discriminating are just cutting themselves off from having meaningful interactions with people because of something so ephemeral as skin color. Diversity is the term we apply to this concept these days. I still wonder how my life might have been different had I been able to put down my prejudices and give Portia a call.

Download MP3s or Buy CD of Beethoven: Piano Concertos Nos. 3 & 4


About kurtnemes
Writer and Education Professional. Specialties include Ethics, Personal Memoir, Classical music, Tai Chi, Stress Reduction, Meditation, Coping, Classical Music, Aging, Love, Joy, Compassion and Equanimity (& what interests me.)

2 Responses to Ludwig Van Beethoven: Piano Concerto Number 3 in C minor

  1. Kurt, what a great post and a fantastic story, beautifully told, thank you. You are absolutely right that it is sometimes hard for all of us to deal with people or things which are different from our own ‘norm’, whatever that may be, but having the courage to do so enriches life from all perspectives.


  2. kurtnemes says:

    Thank you, leapingtracks. It feels good to know it touched you. Racism gets currency unfortunately, every election season, it seems. I wish we as a species could get beyond it, but it seems so difficult. Disheartining that politicians keep using it. All the best.


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