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What Beethoven's Fifth is not

An answer to vox.com

The short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern corresponded in Morse code to the letter 'V' for Victory.
The short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern corresponded in Morse code to the letter 'V' for Victory.

The post-modern politics of power are now trying to tack their sloppy thought processes onto Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. An article at vox.com claims:

“Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts with an anguished opening theme — dun dun dun DUNNNN — and ends with a glorious, major-key melody. Since its 1808 premiere, audiences have interpreted that progression from struggle to victory as a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness.

"Or rather, that’s long been the popular read among those in power, especially the wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance. For some in other groups — women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color — Beethoven’s symphony may be predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism.”

Let’s apply some common sense to the atrocious content of this article.

To start with, the opening theme of Beethovens Fifth is not anguished. The opening of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is anguished but the Fifth Symphony? No.

The opening is stern, ominous, dreadful, or threatening but not anguished. The fact that the authors used the term anguished immediately tells me they have not thoroughly listened to Beethoven’s music.

At its premiere in 1808, the concert was considered, “Unsatisfactory in every respect” by the influential Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. The idea of this symphony being about “Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness” only became popular after Beethoven’s death and the discovery of what is called the Heiligenstadt Testament.

The Heiligenstadt Testament was what amounts to a suicide note Beethoven wrote to his brothers in 1802. His Third Symphony, written in 1803-1804, was the result of Beethoven coming to terms with his deafness.

The Fifth Symphony is clearly about revolution, social revolution, as it refers to the popular French Revolution songs in the finale movement. Beethoven’s Fifth wasn’t received well in Vienna but when it was premiered in Paris, the audience immediately recognized the tone of this revolutionary symphony.

Now let's address, “... the wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance.” In my opinion, this is an egregious begging of the question.

How about a few names, besides Hitler, of white men who used this music as a symbol of their superiority? Maybe the authors mean the Allied command of WWII as they used Beethoven’s Fifth as a symbol of “V” for “Victory” and thereby created a symbol of their superior military forces. If you are going to make a statement that white men have turned Beethoven’s Fifth into a symbol of power, you must provide evidence of how that happened.

Claiming that classical music is exclusive and elitist tells me the authors are not frequent guests of classical music concerts. Later in the article, they complain about the rules of going to a symphonic concert.

Has anyone noticed that there is an announcement at the beginning of movies that tells the audience not to ruin the movie by talking? That’s ok but expecting a classical music audience member not to ruin the concert by talking is elitist.

Very rarely does anyone clap or cheer in the middle of the movie. Every now and then it will happen at a premiere but, for the most part, no one claps or cheers at movies.

Are the movies now elitist and exclusive? Of course not. Everyone at the movie pretty much understands that clapping, cheering, and talking is rude at the movies.

The same thing is true of classical music. It isn’t about elitism, it’s about respecting the context in which you find yourself.

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The short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern corresponded in Morse code to the letter 'V' for Victory.
The short-short-short-long rhythmic pattern corresponded in Morse code to the letter 'V' for Victory.

The post-modern politics of power are now trying to tack their sloppy thought processes onto Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5. An article at vox.com claims:

“Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony starts with an anguished opening theme — dun dun dun DUNNNN — and ends with a glorious, major-key melody. Since its 1808 premiere, audiences have interpreted that progression from struggle to victory as a metaphor for Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness.

"Or rather, that’s long been the popular read among those in power, especially the wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance. For some in other groups — women, LGBTQ+ people, people of color — Beethoven’s symphony may be predominantly a reminder of classical music’s history of exclusion and elitism.”

Let’s apply some common sense to the atrocious content of this article.

To start with, the opening theme of Beethovens Fifth is not anguished. The opening of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is anguished but the Fifth Symphony? No.

The opening is stern, ominous, dreadful, or threatening but not anguished. The fact that the authors used the term anguished immediately tells me they have not thoroughly listened to Beethoven’s music.

At its premiere in 1808, the concert was considered, “Unsatisfactory in every respect” by the influential Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung. The idea of this symphony being about “Beethoven’s personal resilience in the face of his oncoming deafness” only became popular after Beethoven’s death and the discovery of what is called the Heiligenstadt Testament.

The Heiligenstadt Testament was what amounts to a suicide note Beethoven wrote to his brothers in 1802. His Third Symphony, written in 1803-1804, was the result of Beethoven coming to terms with his deafness.

The Fifth Symphony is clearly about revolution, social revolution, as it refers to the popular French Revolution songs in the finale movement. Beethoven’s Fifth wasn’t received well in Vienna but when it was premiered in Paris, the audience immediately recognized the tone of this revolutionary symphony.

Now let's address, “... the wealthy white men who embraced Beethoven and turned his symphony into a symbol of their superiority and importance.” In my opinion, this is an egregious begging of the question.

How about a few names, besides Hitler, of white men who used this music as a symbol of their superiority? Maybe the authors mean the Allied command of WWII as they used Beethoven’s Fifth as a symbol of “V” for “Victory” and thereby created a symbol of their superior military forces. If you are going to make a statement that white men have turned Beethoven’s Fifth into a symbol of power, you must provide evidence of how that happened.

Claiming that classical music is exclusive and elitist tells me the authors are not frequent guests of classical music concerts. Later in the article, they complain about the rules of going to a symphonic concert.

Has anyone noticed that there is an announcement at the beginning of movies that tells the audience not to ruin the movie by talking? That’s ok but expecting a classical music audience member not to ruin the concert by talking is elitist.

Very rarely does anyone clap or cheer in the middle of the movie. Every now and then it will happen at a premiere but, for the most part, no one claps or cheers at movies.

Are the movies now elitist and exclusive? Of course not. Everyone at the movie pretty much understands that clapping, cheering, and talking is rude at the movies.

The same thing is true of classical music. It isn’t about elitism, it’s about respecting the context in which you find yourself.

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