27 Sep 2016
What's the big deal about Beethoven? Or rather, what isn't a big deal about this legendary German composer who reshaped the musical universe forever?
Beethoven wrote nine symphonies that would become the yardstick of perfection, composing some of his greatest works as he endured a personal battle with deafness. Four personalities tell why listening to Beethoven will change your life.
Media personality and author of popular mathematics books
Like most of us I struggle to belt out a symphony - even a piano sonata. The fact that Beethoven generated so many of these things when partially or completely deaf staggers me. Admittedly he has the head start of being one of the greatest musical minds of all time. To sit back and listen to Beethoven's later works and ponder what he actually 'heard' while creating these masterpieces is a joy in itself.
Beethoven won't change your life. He's never transported me outside myself, or made me into a different person, or given me a glimpse of heaven. Instead, his music sits next to you like the best kind of friend: laughing or crying with you, comforting, exhorting, celebrating. Beethoven is a quotidian composer in the best possible sense: a composer for every day, not just for weddings and funerals. He doesn't change your life; he lives your life with you.
Restaurateur, writer, musician and filmmaker
I am a crap sight-reader, so I pick the easy pieces of music, and play them really slowly. Reading the dots and making each note sing in context makes Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata a meditation. They say music soothes the savage beast. I must be a savage beast, because this particular piece of Beethoven is so calming. Beethoven is a meeting of science and math, heart and soul. I like cherry picking out chord sequences for jazz improvisation. It's a great piece to cook to as well, with a glass of wine.
Principal Oboe at the Sydney Symphony Orchestra
Like any great artistic expression, Beethoven's music speaks to us all on a fundamentally human level. Whether you have never heard his music or heard it a thousand times, cannot read music or have a profession in it, he takes you in his embrace and says to you: "We are all beings of worth who strive, dream, love, cry, rage, rejoice, console. We are all human, across the ages and all races, and that unites us in our emotions and our need for those emotions to be expressed and understood." To feel that embrace within a live performance situation as part of a large audience is electric. It adds a visceral physicality to the embrace, as if our senses understand the world before our minds do.
The Sydney Symphony Orchestra performed a Beethoven Celebration at the Sydney Opera House on 12-29 October 2016. Vladimir Ashkenazy conducted Beethoven's Eroica, Pastoral and Ninth symphonies, joined by pianists Nobuyuki Tsujii performing Piano Concerto No.3 and Jayson Gillham performing Piano Concerto No.4.