Opinion: Beethoven’s risk-taking legacy and sound world

Posted on: January 14, 2020

“I’ve been a Beethoven-worshipper since I was eight years old,” writes Damian Thompson in Saturday’s (1/11) Spectator (U.K.). “We owned only one LP … Beethoven’s last piano sonata … played by Wilhelm Backhaus…. In the finale’s syncopated third variation he really lets rip. ‘This is like jazz!’ I told my father… Years later I discovered that it’s often called ‘the boogie-woogie variation.’… I still find it astonishing. That’s Beethoven for you…. There will always be something unnerving about the moment in the Ninth Symphony when a [bass soloist] disrupts the proceedings…. The poor guy has been sitting there for nearly an hour, knowing that it’s his job to make musical history by telling the orchestra to shut up. Here Beethoven is using shock tactics…. [Beethoven scholar Maynard] Solomon identifies Beethoven’s greatest legacy: music that achieves a state of holiness through suffering…. Could Beethoven have created the transcendent sound-world of his last piano sonatas and string quartets if he had not lost his own hearing? … Instinctively I feel that the answer is no: the cruel isolation of deafness created the possibility of writing music that slipped the bonds of earth…. That Beethoven grasped his opportunity is an achievement almost beyond comprehension.”