This year, the zero-year of 2020, we’re celebrating an important jubilee: the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven, that titan who resisted fate’s tragedies with his immortal music. It’s an occasion that I view not only as cause to celebrate (which it is, of course), but also as an opportunity to reflect on just why, after more than two centuries, Beethoven’s music is still so relevant.
For me, music is fundamentally about unforgettable moments: some concerts vanish from our memories as soon as we’ve left the concert hall, while we end up cherishing the memory of (a few) others for the rest of our lives. I attended one such concert a couple of years ago that I still remember with crystalline clarity today: I was sitting in the Golden Hall of the Vienna Musikverein at a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. And at that moment when the entire choir stood up after fifty minutes of purely orchestral music and began singing the Ode to Joy, I felt all the tension of the world being released as I became part of something larger: “All people become brothers,” go the words. Such a simple melody, but the music as a whole so grandiose. I was so overpowered at that moment that I got goose-bumps all over, managing to hold back my tears only with great effort. Amidst all this, I briefly noticed how the stranger next to me, a man approximately 40 years old, discretely wiped away a tear. And then it struck me: at that moment, he and I and possibly every single person in the Großer Musikvereinsaal were experiencing the same thing. We were deeply moved to hear this music, sprung forth from the vision of a grandiose, deaf composer over two hundred years ago. And I ask myself: isn’t it amazing just how much power music has to tie together multiple centuries, generations, and cultures while connecting people on a level beyond words?
I believe that this important 2020 jubilee should (once more) remind all of us, in particular those among us who work in music, just how happy and privileged we can feel to be among those who convey such miracles.
Many thanks for this music, Mr. Beethoven!