In my early teens my family visited rellies in New Plymouth. My cousin was a year older than me, and was (I thought) already well acquainted with the ways of the world, and would therefore no doubt have plenty to teach me. She proved to be surly and a bit dismissive with me, her fourteen-year-old baby cousin, but she did invite me to listen to her latest groove. I expected something from the hit parade, but to my bemusement she played a piece from a classical LP. Even then, uncultured as I was, the piece struck me as exquisite. Or maybe I just liked it because she did.
The piece she played was the Emperor Concerto, from some musical wunderkind called Ludwig von Beethoven.
When musical geniuses are tossed around (figuratively), Mozart and Bach are usually the ones put forward most insistently. But, not to disparage them (for fear of inflaming the readership), they are the lightweights to Beethoven’s gravitas, the toast and marmite to Beethoven’s full lamb roast. Granted, this is just opinion, but once you begin to infuse Beethoven’s nine symphonies, his five piano concertos, and legions of other works, you’ll never find the bottom of them. Not as prolific as Mozart or the Bachs, but charged with a richness that I’ve never found anywhere else.
Beethoven was an eighteenth century man (from Bonn, then Vienna), and not that likeable by all accounts; but his irascible personality might well account for his soaring opuses, as well as his exquisite quieter pieces. Born fourteen years after Mozart, the two did meet on one occasion (in 1787), and they seemed to respect each other. Even then (as a teenager) he was a strong pianist, an inspired improviser/composer, a violinist and, a little later, a conductor, and was famous before he was thirty.
I reckon so.
So do others. (See links below, for example.)
Glenn Gould, twentieth century Canadian writer, broadcaster, composer and conductor, said of him, “[Beethoven’s] senses of structure, fantasy, variety, thematic continuity, harmonic propulsion and contrapuntal discipline were absolutely — miraculously — in alignment.”
He captivated. Some of his music was shocking, apparently, to contemporary music lovers, so ‘revolutionary’ was it considered to be1. He was said to ‘spurn the rules of classical romantic music’. But he captivated, nevertheless, through his compelling music and his ADHD persona.
Ludwig’s music is best breathed in, experienced as an experience. You can wallow in it, like Scrooge McDuck in his millions, or like immersion with 360 degree VR goggles.
Anyone wanting to start experiencing his work … [I’m thinking] … start with Fur Elise, a lighter piece, then on to the Emperor (his Fifth Piano Concerto), still my favourite piece of all music of all time, even though I am now some decades older than fourteen; then perhaps one of his sonatas (try the 8th, 14th or 23rd); then: the incomparable Choral Symphony (the Ninth) is essential. After that you’ll migrate to numerous other piano and violin concertos and sonatas and seven other awesome symphonies. But listen to the Choral and overlay its splendour with the realisation that he composed it when he was almost completely deaf2 and only three years before his death, and you won’t doubt his genius.
[He actually died (of cirrhosis of the liver) at 56 in a thunderstorm, which seems appropriate, given his stormy mien, life, and creative output.]
My third genius.