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The Beethoven Journal, Summer 2009 | Go to article overview

From the Editor's Desk


In a conversation following Michael Jackson's "murder" - as the L. A. coroner has bizarrely categorized it - on June 25, National Public Radio hosts Scott Simon and Juan Williams agreed that the singer s music "really is the soundtrack of our lives." 1 was so startled by the mutual opinion of these well-respected hosts on the nation's most intellectual network that I grabbed a pen to record their words. Before you jump to the wrong opinion about my take on Jackson, however, let me hasten to assert that I think his composing, singing, and dancing qualify' him as an unparalleled genius in the field of popular music of the last half century.

Simon and Williams started me thinking about two questions. First, "if Michael Jackson is not the soundtrack of my life (which he is not), who or what genre of music is?" Second, "whose music was rhe 'soundrrack' of Vienna from the time of the French Revolution through the 1820s?"

The second question was easier to answer, for it's clear to me that Beethoven, and only Beethoven, captured in the concrete form of music notes what it meant to be fully engaged with that period of revolution that threatened to upend everything people knew about the rule of the state by kings and queens, personal responsibility in the age of "Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity," and the place of the individual - especially artists - within a clearly srrarified class srrucrure of monarchs, nobiliry, the various posirions of the middle class, and servants. Beethoven's music brilliantly captured both Napoleon's breathtakingly vast vision of a new Europe when he and his troops were ascendant in pursuit of their goals - and the bleak disillusionment that followed the failures of that revolution. Though the common label of Beethoven's middle period - "Heroic" - is not, as most scholars have noted, accurate forali the works composed through 1815, ir is indeed the dominant character of public works like the Eroica, Fidelio, the Fifth, the "Emperor." As Napoleon's failures ran concurrently alongside Beethoven's worsening deafness, his inability to form a relationship with his own "Leonore," and his increasing withdrawal from public life, Beethoven's music took on. …

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