Monday, April 6, 2009

Beethoven and the Garden State Phil

There are probably about as many reasons to love Beethoven as there are to love sex. But one, his strange physicality, leaps to mind. Some primal urge, animal and powerful, surges through Beethoven's most famous musical epics. Susan McClary, a 21st century feminist musicologist, goes so far as to categorize some of Beethoven symphonies as straightforward "triumphs of the 'masculine' over the 'feminine' principle." She adds: "Many of Beethoven's symphonies exhibit considerable anxiety with respect to feminine moments and respond to them with extraordinary violence: see for example, the first movement of the Eroica."

Could it be true? Could our hero be so deeply flawed as that? You betcha. Beethoven was rough-handed and direct, poorly educated, self-absorbed, self-consciously masculine, aggressive and bullheaded. Like Hemingway, he could probably have been accurately described as "a great ass of a man." Like Hemingway, he was utterly brilliant.

Some will remain unable to be at ease with this music's violence, unable to find a psychological posture from which to appreciate safely Beethoven's genius. Lamentable, yes, but at least they get it. They understand the danger, the glorious rampage boiling in Beethoven's soul. Some will make a larger mistake and completely misunderstand, hearing the music as a soothing anthem to the mundane, unaware of its context, unaware of its forceful, revolutionary aspect. We must try to be patient.

Don't believe me? I beg you, don't take me at my word. Go to the concert at the Strand, 400 Clifton Ave., Lakewood, on April 18. There you will hear the Garden State Philharmonic match the Eroica symphony with excerpts of Wagner (equally disturbing in his own way) and Rossini in the orchestra's fourth Masterworks program of the season. Conducted by artistic director Anthony LaGruth. Visit the group's website for more information.


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