Seeing through Romantic notions of heroism
What does being a hero really mean?
RECENTLY on ABC Radio, a program entitled ‘The Great De-Beethoven’ was devoted to the proposition that Beethoven was the greatest of all composers.
Though the spirit was tongue in cheek, I was saddened both by the need to formulate a hierarchy of composers – it is precisely this adversarial element that undermines anything art might offer – and by the quality of debate.
Which is not to say the debaters themselves lacked quality. On the contrary, I was impressed by their erudition and their passion.
What stood out, however, was a narrowness of vision – an inability to join the emotional dots. These boffins had bought the Beethovian package.
They spoke of his Eroica symphony – dedicated initially to Napoleon, whose shtick the composer had fallen for, only to become embittered when the despot declared his ambitions (of the lack of any normal relationship with a woman, Beethoven invariably yearned for the unattainable) – and of the parlous state of his original scores, which were littered with signs of struggle.
They referred to this struggle as ‘heroic’, and to his music as the ‘triumph’ of the spirit over adversity, this triumph lending it the universality so central to greatness.
By contrast, Mozart would never have been duped by Napoleon. He could work a room, certainly, but he knew precisely who he was dealing with.
He loved, failed in love, married and raised children. Had Beethoven been capable of engendering love, he would’ve run screaming from any such ‘real’ relationship.
Mozart’s music poured from him, like water from a spring – not because it is inferior to Beethoven’s, but because it possesses an intimacy and a simplicity not seen anywhere in the latter’s oeuvre.
You never hear anyone humming an aria from Beethoven’s Fidelio, while Mozart is the heart and soul of opera, the most human and humane musical form.
In a word, Beethoven is the quintessential Romantic composer, largely because he is the quintessential romantic – glorifying the clay feet of heroes, idealising women to the point of extinction and wallowing in the self-absorption of the tortured (‘heroic’) artist. This is what imbues Beethoven’s music with its tendency to bombast, a quality never seen in Mozart.
Alas, too many of us buy the Beethovian package, which makes us miserable.
Heroism is not the stuff of the Hollywood action hero. It is what I see my patients do every day – struggle, fail, struggle again, fail again, keep going. The most it ever shares with Beethoven’s heroism is tenacity, which hasn’t quite the same ring. It invariably goes unnoticed.
Tags: , Blogs