As we ponder what the world is going through and what the world is becoming, no doubt many arrive at a state of sadness, for some even, an inconsolable sense of loss of what History has tried to teach us.
I sometimes listen to Beethoven, Sibelius, Villalobos, Barber, and Shostakovich when I get into those frames of mind. Call it bathos or call it melancholia: it doesn't matter. Whatever we do as private individuals as we contemplate and confront the inevitable shortness of life, the transience of the soul (if there is something beyond the mysterious biochemical definition of life), and try to work our way through levels of thought that almost qualify as grief.
One of the most pleasurable things I have ever done was host many 4 hour radio programs on several stations here in Santa Fe, and perhaps this essay hearkens back to the kind of spoken commentary I would use on those programs.
I present here some links to YouTube for performances for those who want to take advantage of the best in free music:
Beethoven's Eroica Symphony: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tGqRczMf2Yc
By late 1803, Beethoven had written the underlying groundwork for his Eroica, as inspired by the French Revolution and dedicated to its hero, who then seemed to be the great liberator, Napoleon. Beethoven dedicated the third symphony to Bonaparte, believing that he manifested the democratic and anti-monarchical ideals of the French Revolution. The politically idealistic Beethoven titled the work "Buonaparte." Later, about the composer's response to Napoleon having proclaimed himself Emperor of the French (14 May 1804), Beethoven's secretary, Ferdinand Ries wrote that:
When informed of the death of Napoleon (May 5, 1821), Beethoven said, "I wrote the music for this sad event seventeen years ago" referring to the funereal second movement. Composed from the autumn of 1803 until the spring of 1804, the premiere performance of the third symphony was private -- for Beethoven's royal patron, Prince Lobkowitz, at the castle Eisenberg (Jezeř) in Bohemia. The first public performance was on 7 April 1805, at the Theater an der Wien, Vienna.
An extant copy of the score bears two scratched-out, hand-written sub-titles; initially, the Italian phrase Intitolata Bonaparte ("Titled Bonaparte"), secondly, the German phrase Geschriben auf Bonaparte ("Written for Bonaparte"), four lines below the Italian sub-title.
Three months after retracting his initial Napoleonic dedication of the symphony, Beethoven informed his music publisher that "The title of the symphony is really Bonaparte". In 1806, the score was published under the Italian title Sinfonia Eroica ... composta per festeggiare il sovvenire di un grande Uomo ("Heroic Symphony, Composed to celebrate the memory of a great man").
In writing this symphony, Beethoven had been thinking of Buonaparte, but Buonaparte while he was First Consul. At that time Beethoven had the highest esteem for him, and compared him to the greatest consuls of Ancient Rome. Not only I, but many of Beethoven's closer friends, saw this symphony on his table, beautifully copied in manuscript, with the word "Buonaparte" inscribed at the very top of the title-page and "Ludwig van Beethoven" at the very bottom ...
I was the first to tell him the news that Buonaparte had declared himself Emperor, whereupon he broke into a rage and exclaimed, "So he is no more than a common mortal! Now, too, he will tread under foot all the rights of Man, indulge only his ambition; now he will think himself superior to all men, become a tyrant!" Beethoven went to the table, seized the top of the title-page, tore it in half and threw it on the floor. The page had to be recopied, and it was only now that the symphony received the title Sinfonia eroica.,
Sibelius's symphonies speak for themselves far more eloquently than this most famous work, Finlandia, a patriotic piece written during Finland's revolution against Russia, in order to achieve its independence after centuries of being kicked back and forth between Sweden as a Duchy, and Russia as a Czarist possession.
The two most important are Symphony 2 and Symphony 5, plus the Violin Concerto. I find number 5 the most relevant here today, having been almost drowned in #2, which was one of my mother's favorites and one she played at least once a day, a 1952 recording of Pierre Monteux conducting the London Symphony.
Today, I share with you Symphony #5 of Sibelius. Hard to choose between Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic, but since Lenny you can watch conduct in so many performances on YouTube, we will go with the perhaps more profound performance by von Karajan: