A Portrait of Beethoven

Persevere, do not only practice your art, but endeavor also to fathom its inner meaning; it deserves this effort. 
For only art and science raise men to the level of gods.

- Ludwig van Beethoven

 
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Beethoven is perhaps the most recognizable of all classical composers as well as one of the greatest.  Evidence of his wide popularity includes the frequency and variety of performances of his music, the displays of his name in concert halls around the world, and the fact that he is known even among people who have never attended a classical concert for his Fifth Symphony, “Moonlight” Sonata, and the “Ode to Joy” finale of his Ninth Symphony.  Here are examples of the “Ode to Joy” signature tune performed by the three B’s: The Beatles from “Help!”, Beaker from the Muppets, and a Barcelona flash mob, all of which are thoroughly delightful and which reflect his appeal to diverse audiences:

 

Here are examples of the “Ode to Joy” signature tune performed by the three B’s: The Beatles from “Help!”, Beaker from the Muppets, and a Barcelona flash mob, all of which are thoroughly delightful and which reflect his appeal to diverse audiences:

The Beatles "Help"

Beaker from The Muppets

Flash Mob in Barcelona

“a sort of odious meowing, and discords to shatter the least sensitive ear”

Although Beethoven is now immensely popular, he was not always universally admired.  There were doubters even as late as the end of the 19th century.  As quoted in the wonderful “Lexicon of Musical Invective,” assembled by Nicolas Slonimsky, the well-known art critic John Ruskin wrote in 1881 that “Beethoven always sounds to me like the upsetting of bags of nails, with here and there an also dropped hammer.”  Slonimsky cites other observers, such as Boston music critic Philip Hale in 1899 referring to the Finale of the Ninth Symphony: “But oh, the pages of stupid and hopelessly vulgar music”, A. Oulibicheff in 1843 describing the Fifth Symphony as “a sort of odious meowing, and discords to shatter the least sensitive ear”, and the British journal The Harmonicon in 1829 asserting that the Eroica Symphony “is infinitely too lengthy…If this symphony is not by some means abridged, it will soon fall into disuse.”  These commentators were not particularly prescient about the ultimate judgment of music history.