Beethoven’s “Eroica,” Symphony #3 in E flat Major, Opus 55, 1803 – 1804 (reblog)

Great, thoughtful, informative post about this piece and the historical context in which Beethoven birthed it.

History Of The Music

A portrait of Beethoven Ludwig Van Beethoven

If I recall correctly, the tale goes somewhat like this:

Beethoven was chatting with his comrades in his home when one of the other men informs the maestro that Napoleon Bonaparte has just crowned himself Emperor of France.  Heretofore Napoleon had represented to the revolutionary people of Europe–of which Beethoven was most definitely one–the heroic paradigm, the model of a man for the common people who were striving to rise about levels that had, for so many centuries, been socially and legally impossible for them to breach.  Napoleon had done this–breached those bounds–but in so doing, he had elevated himself–and his wife–above all others, again creating a massive gap between the people and their governance.

Incensed, as the story goes, Beethoven stormed over to his recently completed score of his third Symphony, the Napoleon, snatched the dedication page and tore it to shreds, all the while…

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Summer Reruns–Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: “Hm!, Hm!, Hm!,” from Die Zauberflote

Few works of classical music can make you laugh. Opera seems particularly ill-visited by the comic muse. Think of Tosca throwing herself of a parapet; Mimi dying of consumption; and Pagliacci stabbing his wife in a jealous rage. Not necessarily what I would call knee-slapping stuff. Even comic opera like The Barber of Seville doesn’t really make me dissolve in howls of laughter. But there is one aria from Die Zauberflote that does.

The opera opens with a dragon in hot pursuit of the Egyptian prince, Tamino. He swoons in fear, but just then, three ladies, the minions of the Queen of the Night, come to his rescue and slay the dragon. As noted in my previous post, Papageno then enters singing his aria, “Der Vogelfanger bin ich ja” (I am the, walrus, sorry “bird catcher”). The singing wakes Tamino, who asks if it was Papageno who saved his life. Papageno says yes, but the three ladies yell at him and for his impertinent lie, and lock his mouth shut.

There follows a hilarious duet between Tamino and Papageno, which, by dint of his condition, Papageno must hum. That piece still makes me laugh, even after 40 years.

Just why did that aria tickle my fancy so much? Probably in Mozart’s time period, people still believed in dragons and magic, so the previous scene with the dragon might have actually seemed frightening to Mozart’s audience. To relieve the stress, Mozart introduces a clown to lighten things up. I was wondering what role a willing suspension of disbelief might play in this. All opera requires this, because who in real life ever sings what’s on their mind unless they be aphasic? Maybe it’s the irony that for once a character in an opera can’t sing, and making him hum a duet despite that is funny. Good clean fun.

What this makes me realize, however, was how my sense of humor started to change as a result of living in the French House at Indiana University in the 1970s. I now wonder if the change was for the better. Until then my sense of humor had been fairly benign. I loved slapstick and corny jokes as a boy. In middle school we studied satire and sarcasm, but the intent was to poke fun of pompous authority figures. At the French House, among my highly vocal and articulate dorm mates, the two preferred forms of humor were wit and putdown, as is often the case with cliques. At the same time, because we were studying French, we all became obsessed with the concept of decadence, i.e., leading a voluptuous and sensual existence. Usually that gets translated into alcohol use and abuse, which tends to sap one’s creativity. The result was that many of us became cynical, lost our nerve, and abandoned our dreams. The clique often couldn’t deal with those who had clear goals and often these became the object of our ridicule or scorn.

I think of one of our dorm mates. He was a gifted singer, a baritone originally, who had discovered that by singing in falsetto, he had a perfect counter-tenor voice. He was active with the early music consort, and I went to see him once in a performance of Monteverdi’s Orfeo. Since he didn’t actively seek to ingratiate himself with our clique, they sniped at him, and he didn’t seem too bothered by it. His name was Drew Minter and he went on to have an international career as a counter tenor.

I’m kind of torn up about this now. The French House was the first place I ever felt accepted for my interests by more than just one or two people. If one lacks a strong sense of self, as was my case at the time, one will gravitate and accept the values of the group that offers acceptance. Now I realize that in identifying with the group of people at the French House I did just that. So perhaps it’s time to let go of that. I am thankful for having met them all. They taught me so much. But in the words of some sage, “when your memories become more real than your dreams, the end is near.”

So since then, I tried to remain objective and non-judgmental of other groups. I’ve also tried to avoid participation in groups that tend to set themselves up as different or better than others–especially cultural or social groups.

Here’s a bio of Drew Minter and him performing Handel’s Vaghe fonti (Arioso di Ottone) from Agrippina.

Hildegard of Bingen, Spiritus Sanctus

This is day two of the A-toZ Challenge in which I attempt to blog every day (excepting Sundays) during the month of April.

Today I’m writing about Hildegard of Bingen, an abbess from the 12th century who was a Christian mystic, a philosopher, a writer, a polymath in the 12th century.  You can’t call her a Renaissance woman, because she lived in the medieval era, but that’s splitting angel hairs dancing on the head of a pin, if you catch my drift.

Hildegard started having visions at the age of 3 and eventually her parents sent her to a nunnery.  There she fell under the influence of another mystic who taught her to read and write and and there she learned to play the psalter and compose music.  She eventually became abbess and then was called to found two more nunneries.  About 30 years ago, her music was rediscovered and she got a lot of airplay on classical stations during the Gregorian chant craze, which saw teenagers abandoning disco music and big hair and putting on sack cloths and hair shirts.  NOT!

Spiritus Sanctus text is from Psalm 110/111 and is included in the Vesper of Hildegard.  Here are the words followed by the translation:

Spiritus Sanctus vivificans vita,
movens omnia,
et radix est in omni creatura,
ac omnia de immunditia abluit,
tergens crimina,
ac ungit vulnera,
et sic est fulgens ac laudabilis vita,
suscitans et resuscitans omnia.

Translation

Holy Spirit,
Giving life to all life,
Moving all creatures,
Root of all things,
Washing them clean,
Wiping out their mistakes,
Healing their wounds,
You are our true life,
Luminous, wonderful,
Awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.

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