Why, Ludwig?

Questions are interesting creatures.

Aren’t they?

If you ask me when, I might answer with a preferred time, or an expected time, or I might answer with another question: why?

Where? It doesn’t really matter to me, but why do you ask?

How? I have no idea. But, what do you think? And why ask how?

Who? That’s easy, but why would you ask who?

Which? Uhhh . . . it depends on why?

Which Beethoven symphony? It depends on when it is, and where, and where in time (which is when), and whether it is who or whom. And I’d ask why? And then the which would incorporate all the other questions, and I would have an answer.

So, I am thinking of Ludwig now, and ignoring some of him, his early symphonies, for example. The first two do conform to form, but in #3 he begins to come into his own. The progression continues all the way to his ninth and final symphony, one which is enjoyed around the world. I do aspire to the third, but I do not feel it always. And how I long for the ninth, and I sometimes taste it. But, currently I shall plead the fifth . . .

Which? I’m telling you. How? I just told you. Why? Please don’t ask me. The fifth embodies a balance between them all, and it, in my view, is for this time and place. So we have a when and a where for the who and whom.

Beethoven himself said, “Symphonies are the best representation of my true self . . . ” and taking the fifth suits me to a T.

For now.

My favorite recording, hands down, is Carlos Kleiber and the Vienna Philharmonic. Hands up, there are some other good recordings. And I do like the idea of using period instruments, like John Elliot Gardner with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique. I heard that recording on the radio today (although I had a draft of this post a couple of weeks ago). But, I am thinking that if Ludwig were still here, he’d embrace modern instruments; and I know that I do. The pure tones and the range and the technical prowess that is allowed by the modern bring music that is timeless to new heights.

As I said, this is my favorite recording of #5. I have it on vinyl and twice on CD (because Amazon said to keep the one that I ordered, the one that seemed to fade out at times, even though I discovered that it was because I was sending it by Bluetooth to my headphones and the dynamic range was too wide for the signal and I told Amazon and they sent me another one anyway and that is great and now I have two and they are okay with that). Click on the link and then “Watch on YouTube” to be redirected to an ad and then get ready for a stunning performance. There are markers in this video for the movements, which is quite helpful (although they might not appear if viewed on a phone). I won’t bore you with my thoughts about the music except for these notes:)

1st movement—Oh, those first four notes! You may be surprised to know that the first three are not triplets, but they are the three eighths after an eighth rest in 2/4 time followed by the downbeat of the second measure. Take notice of the duality (light/dark? yin/yang? high/low?) and how each asserts itself, and then yields to the other. Also, this is one reason that I like Kleiber: the tempo has an urgency, an immediacy to it, without feeling rushed. There is no hurry, must not be, but it is of such import, that it feels weighty.

2nd movement—Some nice themes here. I love the gentle playfulness at around 11:25 that increases in volume and then drops suddenly. And this movement ends, and ends again more softly, and then ends again, finally, with a flourish.

Horrid little YouTube ad.

3rd movement—Begins with some mystery, and then what is it, a journey maybe? Decisive, whatever it is, certain and sure. Bold. And directional. And then some underlying mystery returns bringing tension with calmness. Is that possible? And then the strings low with countermelody and low, then high, then both with the high asserting. And lilting flute and clarinet. And all of the delightful pizzicato section is a prelude to the mystery again, softly. And then comes the haunting entrance of the timpani, and all of it is anticipation. Almost unbearable, it goes on and on until . . .

4th movement—Regal! A new kingdom. No words here, just the music.


It’s odd, (and this is all true, it happened 15 hours ago) how, as I traveled to work this morning I was thinking and very much praying of measures and time and where the music is going. I got off the MAX train and then got on the 33 bus. It was a new driver! and I am thinking of movement and getting from one place to another and how (yes, I know, I was asking how?), and this driver, this new driver actually said to me, “Hey, you can do the driving if you want.” That’s all he said. I laughed, of course, thinking he was kidding me because maybe he thought my postal uniform was a bus driver uniform (same colors). I sat down, and I am thinking about time again and that measured urgency without the hurry that I had written about in the first movement. There are three more movements and many more symphonies, all the way to the ninth, after all. But, I was thinking.

Oh, it’s my stop next. I pull the cord, still in my thoughts, and as I get off the driver says one more thing to me: As I step off, I look in his overhead mirror into his reflection. He says, “You’ll still have time to run off into the sunset.”

I know the answer to every question . . .


Photograph “Saint in Hiding” © 2018 Timothy Waugh