Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

HAPPY 240TH BIRTHDAY, LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN!

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As with many things in his life, Beethoven struggled with the words he set to music. Still, it didn’t stop him from composing dozens of songs, numerous choral works, masses and one opera, as well as making original arrangements for folksongs. Friedrich Schiller was one of Beethoven’s favourite writers, yet he considered Schiller “difficult” to compose for. The composer, he felt, must “lift himself far above” the poet. “Who can do that with a Schiller text?” he moaned, before setting to work and doing a rather formidable job of it with Schiller’s "Ode To Joy" in the fourth movement of his ninth symphony.

Beethoven is known as a difficult singer’s composer. He expected inhuman efforts from human beings. Apparently he expected the same of himself. No less a writer than Johann Goethe often eluded his talents, despite the fact Beethoven felt Goethe was “much easier” to compose for than Schiller. That was because he found Goethe’s writing more realistic and therefore more accessible to his compositional style. Still, of eight early songs he set to Goethe texts, six remain incomplete. A later text from, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister, was subjected to four different settings because, he wrote, he lacked time “to produce a good setting” of the work. Ironically, his most triumphant moment with Geothe’s work was in fact non-textual: his setting of incidental music to Goethe’s tragedy, Egmont.

I doubt that many would consider Beethoven a failure, but if he were here today he would probably still be perfecting his efforts. Cheers to Ludwig van and his struggle to venerate the writer’s work!

1 comment

Beethoven's late string quartets are, for me, among the most extraordinarily expressive works ever composed. Modern, moving, complex, translucent, paradoxical-- completely inexhaustible. Powerful for painting to, too. No words needed. (Thank you, Jeffrey.)

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Jeffrey Round

Jeffrey Round is an award-winning writer and director. His most recent novel is The Honey Locust.

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