Thursday, March 28, 2013

Beethoven and Then

By all accounts Beethoven wasn’t the sort of guy you’d likely have over to watch the Super Bowl or chat with over the back fence. He didn’t suffer fools gladly. Hollywood has portrayed him as a short-tempered man given to emotional outbursts. His monumental Ninth Symphony, Ode to Joy, was a compensatory creative burst which revealed his enormous embrace of universal brotherhood.

We are complex creatures with hidden rooms in our mansion, some doors bolted, others ajar.

Kobe Bryant is as competitive an athlete as there is in professional sports. When he loses he doesn’t slam the water cooler or talk trash. He sits down at his piano and plays Moonlight Sonata. Kobe channels Ludwig!

Hedy Lamarr, born Hedwig Kiesler in Beethoven’s Vienna with his music running through her veins was the paragon of movie glamour in the years before and after WWII. Her face was an ode to behold. Fellow actor, George Sanders, remarked that when she spoke one just watched her mouth moving and marveled at the exquisite shapes made by her lips. We were all startled to learn that she was also co-inventor of a process known as frequency hopping which prevented jamming of torpedoes aimed at enemy ships.

The U.S. military never did use her device. In the Pacific the Japanese navy was in shambles by 1945. Their most effective weapon was human sacrifice in which 4,000 died in the Samurai tradition using their plane as coffins. Kamikaze pilots were a precursor of today’s suicide bombers.  In missions they called Floating Chrysanthemums the Japanese managed to sink 47 U.S. vessels and damaged 300 others. Fortunately 86% of their attempts missed or were shot down.

Surrender was tantamount to shame and dishonor while their flaming death was perceived as a glorious act. Many of them composed poems sent to their families.  Here are a few fragments of poetry left behind:

Green grass dies in the islands / to be reborn verdant in the homeland.

How could we rejoice over our birth /But to die an honorable death/

Maybe Beethoven has that effect on people. Listen to his music and anything can happen.
If you immerse yourself long enough you will begin to brood and be unfit company having dwelled in your shadowy places. At the same time you will dare the outrageous and see glimpses of the numinous.

Beethoven showed us the back side of ourselves, the untamed and disowned.  He released from us sonatas and odes, the mathematics behind a chiseled face, the poet buried inside the zealot.

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