Reconsidering Beethoven’s Fifth, and other “warhorses”

Posted on: November 19, 2012

In Saturday’s (11/17) Boston Globe, Matthew Guerrieri writes, “Consider the warhorses: those pieces of music that have seemingly permanently wedged their way into the standard kit of Western cultural literacy, repeated and reprogrammed as if by reflex. And consider probably the most well-known of warhorses, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I have spent a good part of the last several years working on a book about Beethoven’s Fifth. It is a little strange to spend so much time in the company of a 200-year-old piece of music. For one thing, our relationship to music has profoundly changed since the symphony’s premiere. Music, today, is a commodity: I can listen to Beethoven’s Fifth whenever I want. … Commodified or not, culture remains, in all its guises—high and low, serious and trivial—the main way human beings make sense of their place in the world. But today’s culture is, as a whole, forbiddingly unwieldy. The landscape is saturated with information. … One could think of warhorses as the monopolizing surplus of that reproduction, reprints squeezing out the space for new releases. But one could also think of them as watchclock checkpoints—fixed stations in the cultural warehouse, keys that we need to periodically turn in order to keep our bearings among an ever-expanding floor plan.”

Posted November 19, 2012