Doctor Who & The Musical Master

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Christopher Morley says happy birthday to old Ludwig...

The Doctor has always been a man of varied musical tastes, having taken up the recorder and spoons during his Second and Seventh incarnations. Two selves on from picking up the musical cutlery, he would exhibit a certain fondness for pop music...

...And now having been rid of the leather jacket awhile it seems he's gone a bit more highbrow.......

From Britney to Beethoven, as Before The Flood recently demonstrated. Perhaps the TARDIS radio he'd so readily smashed up had been tuned to Classic FM?

Often referred to as "The Master" (no, not that one) Ludwig Van Beethoven was born on or about December 16th 1770, in the city of Bonn in the Electorate of Colognehad. The exact date is unknown, although maybe with the help of a time machine we could find out...

"So there's this man. He has a time machine. Up and down history he goes, zip zip zip zip zip, getting into scrapes. Another thing he has is a passion for the works of Ludwig van Beethoven. And one day he thinks, "What's the point of having a time machine if you don't get to meet your heroes?" So off he goes to 18th-century Germany.

But he can't find Beethoven anywhere. No-one's heard of him, not even his family have any idea who the time traveller is talking about. Beethoven literally doesn't exist. This didn't happen, by the way. I've met Beethoven. Nice chap. Very intense. Loved an arm-wrestle.

No, this is called "The Bootstrap Paradox". Google it. The time traveller panics, he can't bear the thought of a world without the music of Beethoven. Luckily he'd brought all his Beethoven sheet music for Ludwig to sign. So he copies out all the concertos and the symphonies... and he gets them published.

He becomes Beethoven. And history continues with barely a feather ruffled. But my question is this. "Who put those notes and phrases together?" Who really composed Beethoven's 5th?"

Of course, Beethoven's Fifth Symphony is one of the best-known pieces in the classical music repertoire. First performed in 1808 in Vienna, its première was underwhelming. Fast forward around a year and a half and the critics were raving over its composer's mastery.

The German author ETA Hoffmann imbued it with some remarkable sonic imagery,
"Radiant beams shoot through this region's deep night, and we become aware of gigantic shadows which, rocking back and forth, close in on us and destroy everything within us except the pain of endless longing—a longing in which every pleasure that rose up in jubilant tones sinks and succumbs, and only through this pain, which, while consuming but not destroying love, hope, and joy, tries to burst our breasts with full-voiced harmonies of all the passions, we live on and are captivated beholders of the spirits."
Perhaps he'd beheld a few too many before the concert, depending on point of view. Amazingly he wasn't finished there either!
"How this wonderful composition, in a climax that climbs on and on, leads the listener imperiously forward into the spirit world of the infinite!... No doubt the whole rushes like an ingenious rhapsody past many a man, but the soul of each thoughtful listener is assuredly stirred, deeply and intimately, by a feeling that is none other than that unutterable portentous longing, and until the final chord—indeed, even in the moments that follow it—he will be powerless to step out of that wondrous spirit realm where grief and joy embrace him in the form of sound..."
Sinfini Music paints a picture of him much in line with his newest fan's idealised portrayal of the man behind the symphonies.
"Beethoven wrote some of the most physically and spiritually exhilarating music in existence. His work is the essence of classical music and despite suffering far reaching medical and emotional torments (he became completely deaf by the age of 40) his music is a testament to the human spirit in the face of cruel misfortune - there is the sheer joy in the finale of the Seventh Symphony and the slow movements of his late works seem to convey a serenity quite at odds with the troubled persona of a lonely individual."
Perhaps his only Time Lord fan is one of a rare breed of listener, as according to composer Tom Service, writing for the Guardian,
"Quite possibly the only life-forms who now really hear the ambiguities in the opening of Beethoven's 1808 symphony are infants or extra-terrestrials."
Ludwig himself might have been on a similar wavelength, having once said ,
"Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life, [and it is] a higher revelation than philosophy."
And perhaps his biggest revelation was the Fifth Symphony. Listen and you just might hear what Classic FM called,
"One of the only works in history that has become defined by its first eight notes."
The very same notes their latest player performed on his guitar...

In addition,
"those eight notes and the way they're played has become a musical hot potato - no-one seems to agree on how quickly to play them - but once you're past them, it's triumphantly full-blooded stuff. You'll know the first movement, but there's still loads to explore beyond that - go for the bonkers fourth movement for maximum excitement."
Beethoven's Fifth was heard during the Second World War as a sort of BBC theme tune, those iconic notes played on drums before broadcasts to a Europe then being ravaged by the Nazis. Coincidentally the "dun dun dun derr.." phrase also sounds like a sort of phonetic spelling of the Morse code for the letter V - hence some dubbing it the Victory Symphony.

Dun dun dun derr....

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