What is it About Beethoven?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010 - 09:39 AM

In 1993, I was on the air for my first WQXR Classical Countdown – our annual showcase of classical music favorites chosen by our listeners. The number-one favorite that year was Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (the "Choral.") And Beethoven’s Ninth has been number one ever since, as far as I can recall.

In fact, Beethoven often fills four or five of the top ten positions on the list every year. His Third Symphony (the "Eroica"), his Fifth Symphony (bah, bah, bah, BAH...you know the one), and his Sixth Symphony (the "Pastoral") are hugely popular as is his Piano Concerto No. 5 (the "Emperor"). If these works don't all make it into the top ten, they make it into the top 20, for sure!

So, what is it about Beethoven anyway? Is it name recognition or familiar melodies? Or is his music really so much better than all the others that he deserves this honor year after year? Shouldn’t we think about giving one of the other guys a shot at the top? And, how about voting a living composer into the mix?

I'm throwing all of this out there without having a clue what any of the answers are. The whole Beethoven "thing" has always been a mystery to me. I'm just hoping you will have some interesting ideas to share.

And, thanks!

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Comments [102]


Nov. 30 2011 02:34 PM

@Bruce M. Orgasmic is correct! The truly great composers add an erotic punch to their masterpieces. Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Sousa, etc. all use powerful ,primal erotics in the delivery of their compositions.....rousing, moving melody combined with overwhelming percussion! Total musical ''erotic'' bliss....''DA..DA..DA'''

Nov. 30 2011 02:21 PM
Bruce Martin from Southern Delaware

In a word: Orgasmic!

Nov. 30 2011 01:29 PM
H.R.Brakel from NYC

The "Moonshine" Sonata.
The German noun for moonlight is Mondschein; literally Moonshine. Thus the German title: Mondschein Sonata. (I guess you already know where this leads).
When i first arrived on these shores i used to call the piece innocently the Moonshine sonata, much to my friends' amusement. They pointed out the difference and we all had a good chuckle. On the other hand, perhaps i wasn't so far off. The Moonlight sonata is easily enjoyed in the moonlight with some moonshine (or some other legally approved libation). I like to sit at home with a drink and listen to a good rendition of the Moonshine sonata.

Nov. 01 2011 08:51 PM
Brian from Northern New Jersey

Beethoven was a genius on different fronts: some people understand music theory, but cannot compose a lick. Some people can compose, but there is no ART in their compositions. Beethoven was a genius in music theory, in music composition, but - most importantly - a genius in combining those two elements to produce meaningful musical ART. To me "art" is defined as those vehicles through which we can express what it feels like to be a human being. Picture a man on a horse looking at a sunset: they both see the exact same thing, but the horse is completely unmoved, it feels nothing. Musical "art" is the ability to put into sound what it feels like to see that sunset. (Picture Luke Skywalker watching the two suns setting on his home planet and the MUSIC that accompanies that scene - John Williams perfectly captures that human experience through the music he wrote for that scene. Now THAT is art!). Not only does musical art describe what it is like to be human, but it can actually ENHANCE the experience; it can stretch us so we feel those things deeper, fuller, more intensely, more expansively, more profoundly that we otherwise would have.

This was is why Beethoven is the best of the best - he could express through his music the varied ways it feels to be a human being. For example when you listen to the second movement of the 7th Symphony, Beethoven is saying: "This is what it feels like to be me ,,, here are some feelings that I have had ,,, have YOU ever felt this way, listener?" And we can say "yes". We sort of "go along for the ride" with those feelings as we listen. We feel what he felt, and the music bears us up into those feelings - kind of like how a wave carries you along when you body-surf. The more intensely we've had those same feelings in our own lives, the more the music strikes a deep chord within our humanity. Have we ever felt joy, exhilaration, frustation, peace, love, beauty, tranquility, anger, hope, exhuberance, etc? These (and many more) are all clearly expressed in the various compositions. In one of the movies about Beethoven, they have him saying: "music is like hypnotism: it carries you into the very mindset of the composer." Whether that is a direct quote from him or not, I do not know, but I think it hits the nail right on the head. Beethoven is the best because he was the best ARTIST - he expresses most clearly what it feels like to be "me." His music is "the soundtrack of life," as it were. I think that is the best way to describe it. The soundtrack of life.

Jun. 10 2011 01:45 PM

The first piece that I can recall hearing by Beethoven when I was a child was the so-called Moonlight Sonata. With its somber, melancholic opening, a brief respite in the middle, and ferocious ending that almost had me leaping out of my seat, this marked the beginning of a life long love affair with his music. What is most amazing about him, to me, aside from his ability to compose great music even after going deaf, was his uncanny ability to take the simplest, least promising little musical motifs and turn them into masterpieces. He was also a great innovator. Listen to his last piano sonata, op. 111, second mvt. At one point it sounds almost like ragtime music written a century later. Or how about his revolutionary late string quartets which, to me, sound as if they could have been written today. Couple these things with the fact he wrote with such passion, such joy, sorrow, anger, an ,at times, playful sense of humor, etc. and you can see why he is so highly regarded. His music is heavenly and we should be extremely grateful that such a genius was ever placed in our midst.

Feb. 05 2011 05:34 AM
Michael Meltzer

Another testimony we often overlook is, knowing how freely Franz Liszt embellished and partly recomposed so many of his transcriptions of other composers' songs and orchestral excerpts, when he set his pen to transcribing the Beethoven Symphonies for piano solo he made them as faithfully note-perfect as could be done in the range of ten fingers. He changed absolutely nothing!

Jan. 24 2011 07:32 AM
Paula Jane Davis from Brooklyn, NY

Describing Beethoven's music is like describing a really good lover. His music is both gentle and powerful. It is emotionally satisfying while mentally stimulating. Riding the rhythm, climbing through the melodies, as listeners we trust these intimately familiar compositions to open our hearts and calm our souls.

Jan. 19 2011 08:55 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

What is it about him? The only thing I can say is that when I hear the first movement of the 7th Symphony I can almost cry. It sounds like it is going up to God and I am not a weepy person even if I am of Italian descent.

Jan. 14 2011 11:38 AM
Daniel from Atlanta

Are you on drugs? What's with Beethoven? Have you listened to it? The Symphony in C Minor is the purest expression of what it means to be a human being on planet earth--and I teach English Literature for a living.

Jan. 14 2011 01:00 AM

Well said, Mr. Meltzer! With 5 out of the top 10 (and the 9th Sym. in first place for as long as I can remember), miraculous indeed. Beethoven speaks to me, and to very many others as shown in the voting.

Dec. 31 2010 11:19 PM
Michael Meltzer

The only rational, scientific explanation for Beethoven possible is that he was a miracle. And we're very lucky.

Dec. 31 2010 07:57 PM
EDSPRESSO from Maine

I just ran across the blog a few minutes ago. "So, what is it about Beethoven anyway? " AT that moment his 3rd was announced and I sat back and smiled.

Dec. 31 2010 06:53 PM
Sallie McKenna from San Francisco

I second many of the comments to date, particularly those to do with Beethoven somehow encompassing and representing in music the range of what it is/feels like to be a human being. His music is intensely communicative. I imagine and can feel the fierceness and fullness of the emotion behind the hand that put the notes to paper for us.

I read somewhere that Leonard Bernstein said (rough paraphrase) that the "next note of Beethoven's is always exactly the right one"...that you "can imagine no better once you have heard his choice". That stuck with me and struck me as profoundly true. Apologies for the quotation marks around my paraphrasing.

Dec. 31 2010 05:38 PM
Jonathan From New ork

The plain and simple reason for the extraordinary popularity of Beethoven is that his music meets the needs of the public. It is at the same time moving, beautiful, poignant, incredibly melodic and meaningful. Mozart probably comes closest to Beethoven. I still believe that the Fifth Symphony is the greatest piece of music ever written. While the Ninth is beautiful, in my opinion, it can't hold a candle to the Fifth. Regardless, no wonder Beethoven's music dominates the top 10 spots every year.

Dec. 30 2010 04:32 PM
Mike from Brooklyn, NY

He says with music what is on my mind. But even his most forceful statements are "spoken" with a beauty and a sense of optimism that only a romantic poet captures.

Dec. 28 2010 07:10 PM
Phyllis Sharpe from Teaneck, NJ

My husband told me that the purpose of "the Arts" was communication.To me "the arts" were paintings. So this led to a long discussion of what was "the arts".
By my husband's, and now my definition, Beethoven was an artist. Beethoven thru his music communicates. With or without words his music touches every human emotion.

Dec. 22 2010 06:53 PM
Jeanne from New York

What I adore most in Beethoven is the duality: ferocious and gentle, despairing and joyful, surprising and inevitable, masculine and feminine. There is a perfect tension in his music that expresses the deepest essence of life.

Dec. 22 2010 10:37 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN on his deathbed at age 56 uttered his last words, "I know that I am an artist!" It took a combination of syphilis, cholera, jaundice, dropsy and pneumonia to fell this giant of a genius. It is on record that he shook his fist at the raging storm outside his bedroom window defiant and protesting to the end. Many years ago, Capehart Radio published a color painting depicting Beethoven on a mountaintop with clenched fist challenging the heavens with a fierce expression on his face. Born in Bonn, Germany 240 years ago, on December 15th 1770, his father started him on the piano at age four and maintained a daily discipline over his son. His father was an alcoholic, so that, only in his teens, Ludwig became the sole breadwinner. At age 22 he arrived in Vienna and began his composition studies with Haydn. By age 30 he had become a published composer with works derived in style and approach to those of Haydn and Mozart. The first symptoms of deafness occurred at age 30.
In the famous Heiligenstadt Testament a despairing letter to his brothers her relates his fears. From 1800 to 1815, before he became totally deaf, he completed his opera Fidelio, eight of his nine symphonies, and five piano concertos. Amazingly, the Ninth, the Choral, Symphony, the last five piano sonatas and the later string quartets, his greatest masterepieces, were written when he was totally deaf. He democratized music in all the then existing formats, politically aligned himself with the people against the royal households of Europe and significantly improved the dramaturgy approach to opera. I remember when I started my own career, visiting the tiny attic room of his birthplace in Bonn, marvelling how with such a humble beginning such a titan of music could be spawned.

Dec. 21 2010 10:53 PM
Michael Meltzer

One of the most thrilling moments in all Western music is in the middle of that too-often neglected work, the Choral Fantasy. After the long opening piano solo, the piano states the main theme as the beginning of a theme-and-variations, which is batted around in the woodwinds and winds up in a string quartet. In the time or space of one measure, the string quartet ends, grows and explodes into fortissimo full orchestra in an absolutely glorious re-statement of the theme.
It's goose bumps, which is a Beethoven specialty.

Dec. 19 2010 02:28 AM
Gregg from Astoria Queens NY

I typically spend my days, and usually my nights as well working with my computers. I naturally have WQXR playing on the radio. I work best when the station chooses a work by the maestro. As it happens yesterday's example by Mr MkNight ended with Beethoven's Fifth playing. One of my favorites of his symphonic works of course... But his Ninth and his Sixth are indeed the ones.

To this day I can't figure out if the composer was working on the Ninth and his Choral Fantasy work for Piano and chorus, at the same time.

But probably not.

But what he died from, we may never really know.

Incidentally the creator of the "Peanuts" happened to be a musicologist by training. So it happens that the 32 piano works for a soloist by Beethoven would be his favorite, of course there are those for a pianist and a violinist as well. So the ones with Schroder and Snoopy are appropriate.....

Dec. 19 2010 12:19 AM
Hans-Hartwig Ehlers from NYC

I read all the comments above and could not possibly better any one of them. As for anyone not liking Beethoven I have to wonder if they have taken the time to really listen? There is no color or emotion left out in his body of work, he has soul, he is able to reach every fiber within you. Very few artists are able to do that. Callas was one. Beethoven is as fresh and new as he was hundreds of years ago. Think of Brahms, he was so in awe of Beethoven that it took him over twenty years to compose his first symphony. The universal importance of his music can be likened to the invention of the wheel if you will, you can change it anyway you want, it is still the tool that is able to take you anywhere like our beloved friend.
Happy Holidays
Hans-Hartwig Ehlers

Dec. 18 2010 10:53 AM
Kenneth Bennett Lane

Beethoven's anti-tyrant hero Florestan in "Fidelio," Puccini's hero, in a police state, Cavaradossi in "La Tosca," Giordano's political French revolution hero Andrea Chenier in the opera of the same number, ALL are three-dimensional personages. Beethoven, in real life, opposed royalty and dictatorial leaders like Napoleon Bonaparte, and in his "Chorale Symphony"; and "Fidelio" he aptly presents the case for freedom and the brotherhood of mankind, womankind understood.

Dec. 17 2010 07:22 PM
Dr. D from NYU:Poly

Each fall as part of my Bioengineering Physiology class I cover the brain's auditory system. I end my lecture on "hearing biophysics" with Beethovin. We discuss his method of hearing sounds with the "legless piano on the floor" and how his skull served as a conduit for each piano key's vibration and his remarkable understanding of sound transmission from vibration source to inner ear and brain. We discuss how he composed music (without hearing sounds) by his incredible ability to "remember" each note. He is the best example of how an individual with a severe auditory disability used his knowledge of sound physics and had the profound (and inspiring) desire to produce phenomenal music that has endured because of its superior quality rather than because it came from a hearing-impaired individual.

Dec. 17 2010 03:16 PM
Michele Berman from NYC

What I love about Beethoven is that he draws forth the spectrum of human emotions in one piece, while still making it pleasing to the ear!

Dec. 17 2010 02:39 PM

Well Midge, if you really want to understand Beethoven's appeal , you really must see Stanley Kubrick's ''A CLOCKWORK ORANGE''. It offers one lad's devotion to this great classical master. When music is art, it propels certain individuals into an almost bliss state of being. It makes mere mortals into champions.....super hero gladiators fueled by melodic, bombastic sound waves. ( Isn't it amazing how some people can become obsessed with one composer?) (LOL)

Dec. 17 2010 02:05 PM
Elek Schneider from Chicago, IL

Classical music has always been a part of my life and even as a child I was always drawn to Beethoven's music. He was German (as am I), which might influence my admiration of him, though most of the greatest composers lay claim to the same heritage. As a young adult, I attended a performance of the Missa Solemnis at the Salzuburger Festspiele and that experience cemented my undying admiration for the greatest of all composers. Certainly, many other composers' music touches the soul, but Beethoven's buries itself within and lifts the listener to such a sublime and serene sense of being that one cannot deny Beethoven was touched by the hand of God. Es lebe Beethoven!

Dec. 17 2010 11:21 AM
Shadeed Ahmad from New York, New York

Mr. Beethoven is sublime, riveting and a torrent of credenzas that melt away toxic emotional blockages unworthy of lodging themselves in the paths of our quests for peace and harmony.

Dec. 17 2010 02:41 AM
ODIR BENITEZ from Staten Island, NY 10309

well: of beethoven i say that he conveys authority, his personal charm and presence; is almost out of this world his music is full of emotion. if you have a heart beat you are going to feel et. my favorite by far.

Dec. 17 2010 12:19 AM
Michael Meltzer

Exhumation and examination of his skeletal remains have proven beyond a doubt that syphilis was not one of Beethoven's illnesses, as it was for Schubert and Delius.
His hair samples were loaded with lead. I don't think the jury is in yet as to whether that caused his deafness;.

Dec. 16 2010 09:15 PM
Lisa from Long Beach

Beethoven speaks to and touches our souls and expresses the many different voices of our souls. Whether it is the joy expressed in the 4th movement of the 9th, Violin Concerto and 5th Piano Concerto; the majesty of the 5th Symphony or the overwhelming poignancy of the 2nd movement of the 7th ; when I listen to Beethoven I am reminded that there is indeed something larger in the universe than ourselves and that I do indeed have a soul.

Dec. 16 2010 08:23 PM
Deborah Fortier from New York, NY

Beethoven's popularity is, I think, because his music communicates profound struggle and extraordinary joy. For me, Beethoven's 9th symphony, the last movement of the sonata les adieux, his triple concerto, finale of his violin concerto- and so much more!) is unparalled in all of music in the joy that he conveys, that shines forth all the more brilliantly by following the depth of sadness and struggle of earlier movements. He is the Shakespeare of music- the master of eloquence, speaking to the humanity in us all.

Dec. 16 2010 07:49 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane

LUDWIG van BEETHOVEN on his deathbed at age 56 uttered his last words, "I know that I am an artist!" It took a combination of syphilis, cholera, jaundice, dropsy and pneumonia to fell this giant of a genius. It is on record that he shook his fist at the raging storm outside his bedroom window defiant and protesting to the end. Many years ago, Capehart Radio published a color painting depicting Beethoven on a mountaintop with clenched fist challenging the heavens with a fierce expression on his face. Born in Bonn, Germany 240 years ago, on December 15th 1770, his father started him on the piano at age four and maintained a daily discipline over his son. His father was an alcoholic, so that, only in his teens, Ludwig became the sole breadwinner. At age 22 he arrived in Vienna and began his composition studies with Haydn. By age 30 he had become a published composer with works derived in style and approach to those of Haydn and Mozart. The first symptoms of deafness occurred at age 30.
In the famous Heiligenstadt Testament a despairing letter to his brothers her relates his fears. From 1800 to 1815, before he became totally deaf, he completed his opera Fidelio, eight of his nine symphonies, and five piano concertos. Amazingly, the Ninth, the Choral, Symphony, the last five piano sonatas and the later string quartets, his greatest masterepieces, were written when he was totally deaf. He democratized music in all the then existing formats, politically aligned himself with the people against the royal households of Europe and significantly improved the dramaturgy approach to opera. I remember when I started my own career, visiting the tiny attic room of his birthplace in Bonn, marvelling how with such a humble beginning such a titan of music could be spawned.

Dec. 16 2010 07:22 PM
Michael Meltzer

For all his musical genius and mastery, Beethoven understood better than any other composer that music was a just a tool for tapping into the next step, the human spirit. That's why every note of his speaks to you.

Dec. 16 2010 06:27 PM
Bruce Newman

Freude, schöner Götterfunken
Tochter aus Elysium,
Wir betreten feuertrunken,
Himmlische, dein Heiligtum!
Deine Zauber binden wieder
Was die Mode streng geteilt;
Alle Menschen werden Brüder,
Wo dein sanfter Flügel weilt.

Dec. 16 2010 05:33 PM
Anne Trevor from Randolph, New Jersey

On Dec. 16, 2001 my father died. As my brother & I stood at his bedside I realized that it was Beethoven's birthday. How did I know this? Why, from Charlie Brown, of course. I recalled a Peanut's strip wherein Lucy said to the Beethoven-loving Shroeder, "Beethoven wasn't so great. How can you call a person great if they've never had their picture on a bubblegum card?" That was my introduction to Beethoven about 50 years ago. Just before noon today WQXR played the 5th Symphony. I cried as I thought of Dad. He was not a Beethoven man. He was more a Louis Armstrong, Mills Brothers kind of guy. But I like the connection that my Dad now has with Ludwig. They were both great men, even if neither one ever had their picture on a bubblegum card.

Dec. 16 2010 04:32 PM
Ken from Little Neck

The incredible thing about Beethoven is that pretty much everything he wrote embodies all of music. It's a mix of technical mastery (structure, harmony, counterpoint, etc), emotional depth, and accessibility. What astonishes me, though, is that his very greatest works aren't even known by the general public. I love the symphonies as much as anyone, but his string quartets are by far his crowning achievements. I'm still waiting for a composer (besides possibly Bartok) who can pick up where the late quartets left off.

Dec. 16 2010 02:52 PM
sharon Gray from greenwich village

gastronomically speaking I have to disagree with an earlier listener who compared Mozart and Beethoven;
I believe that
Mozart is a lovely dessert but there is no doubt that Beethoven is the main course !

Dec. 16 2010 02:46 PM

This is not a contest where people vote to make winners ( Who's the greatest composer ? ) from year to year. You can't have Mozart win one year and then have Hayden win the next year. Beethoven has a definitive Style that is unmatched by the other composers. I like many different composers like Mozart ect... I could make a very long list of composers that I enjoy their compositions.

Dec. 16 2010 02:42 PM
Howard Fox from Staten Island, NY

Much of the notoriety behind the music of Beethoven can be attributed to musical innovation. Who, at the time, had the imagination and gumption to start a symphony with two tonic chords, or to invent the scherzo from the waltz, or to introduce trombones, piccolo and contra-bassoon in the ingenious way he did? Or to bring a chorus to a symphony, but keep them waiting until the last movement? The list is endless.

But what makes his music endure the generations and give it inexplicable universal appeal is expressed in the "glue" that binds the notes to each other in a piece. There is nary a single measure in his Fifth Symphony that doesn't contain the 4-note rhythm of the opening two measures. Anyone else who tries to keep a rhythm going for that long, especially one as simple as that one, would bore the audience to death. But Beethoven is successful in seemingly hiding the monotony to the point it's hardly discovered, and it's only our inner-"ear" that seems to make the connection, despite our inability to completely hear it or understand it. His music is replete with such examples, including the famous "Moonlight" Sonata.

With a composer like Glass, the repetition is not only deliberate, but obvious. With Beethoven, it's certainly deliberate, but concealed in heights of music as to make it connect, without making the obvious connection.

The "separates" of Beethoven's music were simple: simple harmony, simple melody, simple counterpoint, simple rhythm. That simplicity allowed the common man to appreciate the music. But the underlying and seemingly hidden connection between these simple components is what has his music endure the eons. It is the perfect blend of simple and complex that explains what can't be easily explained.

Dec. 16 2010 02:36 PM
Ron Reich, Esq. from Freehold, New Jersey

There is absolutely nothing like a Beethoven composition. Ever since I heard his works in the 7th grade, I knew that none could surpass them for their majesty and quality.

Dec. 16 2010 02:23 PM
L.Lubin from Ft.Lee, NJ

Why does Beethoven stand head and shoulders above all others? One word: HUMANITY.
The strength that allowed him to overcome his deafness, the single-minded determination, the rugged individuality, and the humor, wit and tenderness of all mankind lies in his music.
Sometimes its right out there plain as day, and sometimes its as obscure and intangible as deepest night. Does anyone not respond immediately to the Ninth or the Moonlight Sonata? Would any real musician dare to claim to understand fully the last quartets? The finale of the Fifth sets all hearts pounding and the violin solo of the Missa Solemnis's Benedictus leaves those same hearts broken.
Perhaps if they had lived longer Mozart, Schubert, or Mendelssohn might have achieved the same depth, but they only hinted at tit in comparison.
I often claim Wagner and Bruckner as my favorites, but both of them acknowledged Beethoven as the Master. If I could take only one composer to that proverbial desert islan, it would be Beethoven.

Dec. 16 2010 02:17 PM
Jorge Pabon from Puerto Rico, USA

What is it about Beethoven? I think the question should be "What in the world isn't Beethoven?"

I know many people like Mozart because it is playful and intellectual. But to me, is mostly that. A machining brain doing his thing.

Beethoven, on the other hand, is the subjugation of the human emotional spectrum in black and white notes that when played, turned into a dazzling arrangement of colors, senses and ideas.

Listening to Beethoven can evoke the darkest most perverse feelings or the sweetest most caring emotions.

A person who is able to achieve such a contrast in a coherent manner, DEFINITIVELY MUST STAY on the top of the ranks.

Take Care and keep bringing the good music to Puerto Rico through your website.

Dec. 16 2010 02:12 PM
Richard L Dunklee from Laurel Springs, NJ

At first I wasn't a big fan of Beethoven. I still prefer waltzes, marches and polkas from the Strauss family. But I have all 9 of Beethoven's symphonies on my IPOD in my car. About once every 5 -6 weeks I will play all 9 during my drive to and from work. I takes me about 3 1/2 days to get through them all. My favorite as with a lot of other listener's I'm sure is his 9t symphony. When it ends, it just keeps me wanting more and more. It is just captivating.

Dec. 16 2010 02:12 PM
Pete Bacinski from Atlantic Highlands, NJ

Beethoven was the man who revolutionized classical music. In his compositions he told fellow composers to throw out the book on how to write music and to compose what makes them happy. I am amazed how a man who is totally deaf can compose something as glorious as the 9th Symphony and the other pieces he composed in the later years of his life. We appreciate his extraordinary talents and demand his exalted status.

Dec. 16 2010 02:07 PM
Robert from Manhattan

Of course there should be other guys at the top! That said, my explanation for why Beethoven continues his ranking at the top is as follows:

Imagine a hot summer Saturday evening or a Sunday afternoon and you are sitting in the shed at Tanglewood, a gentle wind is wafting through and you are among thousands assembled and caught up in the majesty of the last movement of Beethoven's ninth - the Boston Symphony Orchestra is playing for all it's worth and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus is pouring forth with joyous voices - well, there is nothing quite like that experience to confirm Beethoven's place in the pantheon of great composers - Sublime!

Dec. 16 2010 01:36 PM
Michael from New York City

One word: drama.

We can write volumes about what creates the dramatic tension, but everyone responds to being gripped, to having their head spun.

And his symphonies are movies we'll watch again and again and again!

Dec. 16 2010 01:32 PM
Morty Rosner from Teaneck, N.J.

To my mind Beethoven is the first to appeal to modern sensibilities. He burst out of the genteel classical world of Haydn and Mozart with a power and thrust unlike anything before. Note the agitation, the conflict, the mood swings in Beethoven. He transformed the minuetto movement into a pusating scherzo: The 9th Symphony is exhibit A. Is he the most revolutionary composer of them all? I think so. Beethoven bares every emotion; there is sadness and joy, optimism and gloom, seriousness and humor. And what a gift for melody! Melody abounds in every symphony, concerto, sonata and quartet. Happy 240th birthday, Ludwig !

Dec. 16 2010 01:06 PM
Wally from Manhattan

I think Beethoven always had (and has) a great
press agent. In every genre of classical music I think by he is outclassed by Haydn, Mozart,
Chopin, Strauss & many others. To me a lot of his music is warlike, too thunderous and deafening(perhaps for good reasons). And the pastoral, gentle works are inferior to Composers such as Mendelssohn & Schubert.

Dec. 16 2010 12:57 PM
john lollos from Atlantic Highlands, N.J.


Great strength
next to breathtaking sensitivity
and not one moment without
delightful surprise
a gift to us all

Dec. 16 2010 12:51 PM
Saul Zalkin from NYC-Upper West Side

I also can't give you a definitive response but would like to share this anecdote.
I taught music for over 30 years in various public high school in NYC. My last school was located on the lower east side where the students were immigrants from China or several Latin American countries. Sometimes they would ask me to play the piano and I would play the first movement of the "Moonlight." Wrapped attendtion! No whispering, no rustling papers, they just listened, and not because of my skills as a pianist.

PS Please send my best to Graham Parker

Dec. 16 2010 12:47 PM
Gene Lieber from Montclair, NJ

While some of Beethoven's early music seems ordinary, his piano sonatas from the very first are masterpieces. The 32 I would take to a desert island.

Dec. 16 2010 12:43 PM
David A. Johnson from Union Twp., New Jersey

I have no idea why Beethoven is so popular. The who Beethoven 'thing' is a mystery to me.

Mozart is like a delicious, properly-cooked meal. Beethoven is like a heavy ten-course meal that gives indigestion and gas pains.

I always think of 'ten-ton Beethoven.' I don;t like Verdi's operas very much, either.' I always refer to them as 'Verdi thumpers.'

Hope you don't mind a voice from the dissenters.

Dec. 16 2010 12:37 PM
kadoblin from Pasadena, CA

I wonder about the way the public, almost ceremonial nature of creating 'top 10' lists influences these selections. I think it might explain the absence of his late quartets on these lists. Serious music folks still believe in and value the idea of 'greatness', and want to be associated with it; so the list is usually not just 'favorite' but 'greatest'. Also, there is the moral component to LVB's legacy. When making a public declaration, we like to associate ourselves with high ideals.

Dec. 16 2010 12:29 PM
Ruth Ann Lipschutz from East Brunswick, NJ

To me, the stature of Bach, Beeththoven and Mendleson are the same. The difference lies in the fact that Bach wrote to smaller orchestras (chamber music) because that is what was available, and Beethoven and Mendleson wrote to the full orchestra. The way I define orchestral pieces is by their flavors. Bach was the appetizer, delicious and hinting for more to come. Beethoven the main course, full and heavy . Mendleson was the desert, with a sweetness of rich honey.

Dec. 16 2010 12:03 PM
Mac McComsey from Edinburg, Texas

The opening notes to Beethoven's fifth is introduced to young children through cartoons, elementary school music, whatever. As I child, we know nothing of his music, but we know those notes and the name. As we grow older, and become more familiar with 'classical' music and Beethoven's name and his music. But it's the child beginnings that start it all.
@Suzanne, NYC For me it was 770 WABC with Bruce Morrow et al.

Dec. 16 2010 11:31 AM
Mark from Jersey

According to my daughter, its all about the rhythm.
Beethoven was a genius of rhythm. Plus he had some pretty decent melodies as well.

Dec. 16 2010 11:26 AM
Emma Missouri from Manhattan

Beethoven mastered, developed and charged all the musical forms he touched. What is go great about him in addition to his composing and technical genius is his passion. His 5th Symphony is a consummate master piece of form and passion.

Dec. 16 2010 11:15 AM
Ossi (O.C.) from Beethoven, CT

Darien CT is now Beethoven CT

Darien Connecticut has been renamed after the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven. Darien is a nice name and a good name but it has no real meaning. It rhymes with Maryann and that's good but the name lacks power. On the other hand Beethoven's music defined majesty, glory, and expanded the soul of humanity.

So, all by myself, I did it. I renamed my home town, Darien CT, to Beethoven CT.

It was easy.

I mailed a letter to myself but instead of using Darien CT 06820, I used Beethoven CT 06820. I guess the scanners at the post office looked only at the zip code and street address because the letter was delivered correctly to my mailbox. So now, when people write to me I tell them to use my new Beethoven address.

As for the town parades: The music is the 5th.

The town's poem is Ode to Joy.

The town's sonata is the Moonlight Sonata.

Submitted by:
James Ossi
21 Baywater Drive
Beethoven, CT 06820

Dec. 16 2010 11:12 AM
Steve from New York

I don't know whether to laugh or cry at this question. Beethoven's genius is timeless, his music sublime, and his standing completely deserved. Alas for classical music and its followers, we're now constantly subject to the inanities of the mindless "DJs" on classical music stations today.

Dec. 16 2010 11:01 AM
Bill Ain from Belle Harbor, NY

The essence of Beethoven is drama. Music was Beethoven's milieu, but had it been words he would have been an equally brilliant playwright. His "stories" convey unfettered emotion. To this end, he let nothing stand in his way. That is what caused him to become the great innovator; he went single-mindedly at his goal, irrespective of convention or performance constraints. That approach to creativity defines genius.

Dec. 16 2010 10:52 AM
David Rhodes from Loch Arbour, NJ

He makes me cry. He makes me laugh.
He keeps me on the edge of my seat.
What a gift he is to all of us.

Dec. 16 2010 10:48 AM
Tom Gordon from NYC

Mahler is my favorite; but without Beethoven, there is no Mahler.

Dec. 16 2010 10:39 AM
Suzanne, NYC

Many, many years ago, when I was 15 and into WINS 1010 which was the new Roch 'n Roll of the 50's, a friend introduced me to classical music by way of Beethoven's 9 symphonies. At the time, she said I would "outgrow" them as my taste in music matured. Well, mature it did, however I never outgrew any of the symphonies and the 9th still brings tears.

Dec. 16 2010 10:37 AM
sharon Gray

His music makes me feel alive, from the first note to the last . It is powerful but from his soul, not an intellectual exercise. From what I have heard over the years his music inspires conductors and musicians to do their
very best. Perhaps because I know the
difficult circumstances of his life and I also have
feelings of admiration and affection for him.

Dec. 16 2010 10:30 AM
Brad from Ohio

"Without Beethoven there is no Schubert, Chopin, Brahms,Tchaikovsky, etc." (see Fred's comment, #3 down)

-Sure, there'd be a Schubert, Chopin, Brahms et al... they just wouldn't be anywhere near as good without Beethoven to challenge them!

Dec. 16 2010 10:28 AM
Christopher Reilly from Tampa, Florida

I had been introduced to Beethoven in elementary school, but I was too young to appreciate it at the time. I was fourteen when I saw Stanley Kubrick's "A Clockwork Orange" and I had an epiphany regarding Beethoven. Every time I have seen and heard the Ninth Symphony performed live I have been brought to tears. It moves me in ways I don't even understand. It is sublime.

Dec. 16 2010 10:15 AM
Richard Curtis from Manhattan

Alfred Brendel said "With Beethoven it is impossible to escape the argument."

I've never heard it better expressed. With Beethoven you realize there are no options but the one he selected,
Richard Curtis

Dec. 16 2010 10:14 AM
Fred Gottesman from West Orange, NJ

WOW- all these comments are in a word unbelievable.
I would just like to add - he was the first-"El Primo"
Without Beethoven there is no Schubert, Chopin, Brahms,Tchaikovsky, etc. He broke new ground and when one listens to his music we can see where all those that followed got their inspiration.

And thank you Jeff for playing the last movement of the 9th.

Dec. 16 2010 09:48 AM

Why Beethovan? The drama! the melodrama! the intensity of passion!
Barely restrained emotion, guided by a master, expressed brilliantly, it gets right into your heart. No mistake Stanley Kubrick used it so well in A Clockwork Orange.
Beethovan was the rock star of his time.

Dec. 16 2010 09:44 AM
Scudder from Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Beethoven was a genius. Without him most "modern" music I like would simply not exist: Janacek, Grieg, Britten, Shostakovitch, Copland, Schnittke and so on and so on. I would like to advise you all to read the beautiful chapter Thomas Mann wrote about Beethoven and especially about his Opus 111 in DOCTOR FAUSTUS, then you'll know how great Ludwig was (and not just as a composer).

Dec. 16 2010 04:52 AM

Beethoven is not my favorite composer but I know why he cannot be ignored: he was deadly serious about what he did and his music communicates all sorts of things which words cannot possibly describe - things we want to hear over and over until we die. I wonder what Salieri used to say about him.

Dec. 15 2010 11:46 PM
Barrett from central park

His music still sounds to me like the revenge of the unkempt on those who take a bath on Saturday night.

Dec. 15 2010 10:14 PM
Barry Owen Furrer

I've always thought of Beethoven as the "Beatles" of his generation. Always experimenting, breaking form, pushing the musical envelope. In my humble opinion, Symphony No. 7, Op. 92 is the greatest piece of music ever written. Composers who followed, especially Brahms and Mahler, were in fear of publishing their first symphonies in the shadow of Beethoven. While Mahler's1st is nicknamed "Titan," Brahms' first is known as "Beethoven's 10th" - now that's what I call a compliment! Those jazz enthusiasts have to appreciate Beethoven's improvisational skills and his invention of the jazz bass line - if you don't believe me just listen to the final section of the Egmont Overture.

Dec. 15 2010 08:34 PM
Miriam from Passaic, NJ

I think it's the passion. You can hear Beethoven's struggles, his moods. You can hear the whole range of emotions. His music tells stories (not in the way that a tone poem does). An entire picture is painted using a full palette of color, rich with tones and contrasts.
Imagine being so knowlegeable in literature that you can bring it to life in music.

Dec. 15 2010 08:22 PM
maddy from new york city

Just enjoying the beauty of the forest, and to hell with the names of the trees. Beethoven is loved because his music is glorious, especially the 9th symphony.

Dec. 15 2010 06:31 PM
mac from chelsea


Dec. 15 2010 05:52 PM
Drew Greis from Bergenfield, NJ

My view on the importance of Beethoven has changed dramatically since I was a teenager and felt the same way as most of the previous posters. Since I attempted a career in music and studied at the Eastman School and SUNY at Stony Brook (BM-'70 & MM-'75) my perspective changed to include the possibility that Beethoven has been greatly overated. I feel that this came about because music history was overwhelmingly written by Germans and subsequently Beethoven was given an extremely generous push to this lionized position. While I cannot dispute the fact that Beethoven is possibly one of the most listened to composers, I don't feel that this is a just criterium for where he seems to stand in music today. Just as it could be said that although Elvis was perhaps the most listened to in his era that he was the overwhelming musical genius of that time. (Elvis fans don't be offended, I do think he had a great voice!)
I think that the French composers of the so called Romantic era; notably Berlioz, are not given nearly enough credit for pioneering and expanding the form, style and scope of this music that we call "Classical."
Twentieth century composers such as Prokofieff, Bartok and Stravinsky are to me much more interesting and emotianally compelling to listen to than Beethoven.
As far as living composers, we have a remarkable British composer, Eric Whitacre and the American David Gillingham who do deserve a shot to be on any "tops list." I recommend that anyone reading this to give these two a listen. Cheers!

Dec. 15 2010 05:26 PM
Michael Meltzer

You see, everybody has a different take, and everybody is right. He is creator and mirror at the same time, and one size fits all.
There must be a word for this, in some language.

Dec. 15 2010 05:17 PM
Jay from Maplewood

I think everybody here has hit on some part of the truth of Beethoven's preeminence, but for me it comes to this: I know of no other composer whose music is so propulsive, so consistently capable of transporting you off into its own reality, forcing you to leave your own behind. Does any other composer so insistently demand your attention?

Dec. 15 2010 05:02 PM
Jeffrey from New Jersey

What is it about Beethoven, you ask? Simply put, Beethoven is the pivotal figure in the history of western music. Those two E-flat chords at the beginning of the "Eroica" delimit the classicism of Hadyn and Mozart from all that came after -- from music written for the approval of rich aristocratic patrons, to music where the composer, the "artist" or "hero", writes for everyone. What is it about Beethoven? A man of humble background whose personality became increasingly unpleasant as his hearing affliction worsened in the early years of the 19th century. Yet Beethoven was an egalitarian who fiercely believed in the brotherhood of man "Alle Menschen werden Bruder". We love the man and his music. It continues to speak to the heart of everyone even after 200 years.

Dec. 15 2010 04:34 PM
William from Westchester County

Beethoven is great because: 1. Schroeder said so; 2. Beethoven's music at its best has a very appealing, heroic characteristic that sees each man (and woman) as a powerful, triumphant individual who is master/mistress of his/her own destiny; 3. his music has a way of not only providing powerful tension and drive, but also contained within each work there appears to be some foreshadowing of the triumph (or not) to come. So that when we reach the point of the finish of the work, we realize emotionally and logically that we have arrived at where we were ought to have arrived. His music has a sense of inevitability. 4. He's just a damn good composer.

Dec. 15 2010 04:14 PM
Bruce Kowal from New Jersey

I would call it "controlled passion", which is also how I would describe any great artist. In the case of Beethoven, it's the anticipation of an emotional release. A good example are the crescendi in the Leonore #3 where a fragment of the full theme is stated louder and louder until finally the full revealed them is stated. Beethoven learned this from Cheubini, by the way. Another analogy is that of a roller coaster: Beethoven takes us slowly up the chute, and then throws us down as he states the main theme. It's that control which he exercises which has rarely been duplicated. Or think of a horse beginning a gallop: with Beethoven we take a few moments to get our footing until we explode into full stride. Well that's the best I can do: controlled passion within expected forms. A good sonnet will achieve the same effect.

Dec. 15 2010 03:11 PM
Silversalty from Brooklyn

I don't know if any great insight can be gotten from winners of best ever lists. In rock its almost always the absolutely dreadful "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida." So Beethoven in that sense alone is a blessing.

Maybe it's the seriousness that's projected from Beethoven, both in the music and his image. I doubt an "Amadeus" like (carefree, giggly) movie could be made about Beethoven. Can you picture Beethoven laughing? And "best evers" are serious stuff. No?

Dec. 15 2010 02:38 PM
John J. Christiano from Franklin NJ

One thing about Beethoven is that no matter how quitely or gently a piece or a movement starts, there is always a barely perceptable undercurrent of tension that you know is going to jump out and grab you by the throat.

Most composers will let the tension build through the movements, heading towards a glorious end, but Beethoven lets you know it's coming....something....and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

You can seet this in the Scherzo from his 9th. Starts off very lightly. Then as it moves, the tympani climb on board and you're running for cover! Bushwacked!

Dec. 15 2010 02:14 PM
david from Marlboro, New Jersey

It is the drive in his music that no other composer has been able to duplicate that so enhances one with Beethoven's music. But that is just a small part of what he was able to do. Other pieces have such melodic interplays that you would think that you are listening to another composer. In many pieces these two are juxtaposed - such as in the Egmont Overture where the interplay between the woodwinds and flute is amazing.

Dec. 15 2010 02:05 PM
Hal from Hoboken

One word: Evocative. Beethoven is the most moving composer of the classical genre. As a young child, with no knowledge or understanding of the various nuances of music, it was Beethoven who spoke to me with the firmest voice. And that still rings true to this day--the mere thought of the 9th Symphony sends a tingle down my spine. No other piece of music has fostered in me such a profound appreciation for it. Quite simply, Beethoven hits all the right notes.

Dec. 15 2010 02:00 PM
Tom from West Orange

Beethoven, as great as he is, doesn't come close to Bach in the quality or quantity of his work. In fact, to me, the best Beethoven sequences are his Bach-like fugal and polyphonic passages. No other composer can span the gamut from the 2-Part Inventions to the St. Matthew Passion and never become tedious or predictable. Another local PBS station, WKCR, airs a Bach fest, nothing but Bach, 24/7(!) from Dec. 20 until Jan. 1. Can you imagine any other composer occupying so much airtime? This has been going on for 30 years.

Dec. 15 2010 01:57 PM
Steve from White Plains

Beethoven continues to dominate because the man could simply 'do it all'. Soaring works that grab you by the lapels and demand attention, works of quiet, introspective, pastoral beauty, everything you'd expect and then, more in reserve. And, top it all off, the fact that everything after the Ninth was composed after he was stone deaf, well, gentle listener, what more could you want? This is the difference between someone who writes jingles for soap and someone who was quite likely 'touched by God'.

Dec. 15 2010 01:51 PM
Hal from Hoboken

One word: Evocative. Beethoven is the most moving composer of the classical genre. As a young child, with no knowledge or understanding of the various nuances of music, it was Beethoven who spoke to me with the firmest voice. And that still rings true to this day--the mere thought of the 9th Symphony sends a tingle down my spine. No other piece of music has fostered in me such a profound appreciation for it. Quite simply, Beethoven hits all the right notes.

Dec. 15 2010 01:45 PM
Nick from Putnam County, way up north from Putnam Valley, putnam county

It's all about the depth: the emotional and intellectual depth of expression.

Dec. 15 2010 01:41 PM
Junius from Longboat Key

1. The Olympian scale and noble subjects of his music. That's why it is so difficult to listen--really listen-- to the 9th without getting emotional in its final 15 minutes.
2. The integrity provided by ingenious improvisations/variations on simple themes. (e.g. the three note theme of the Appassionata Midge just played for us).
3.. His astounding creativity --take a couple of hours and listen back to back to all of his piano trios.
4. Rather than 'Less is More" (Bauhaus) or "More is More" (Mahler), Beethoven is "The most with the absolute least necessary..".
5. The SOUND......my God, the sound!

Dec. 15 2010 01:34 PM
Nina from Sunnyside

Beethoven's music is absolutely compelling. It won't stay in the background. It is rhythmic and strong, full of sudden contrasts and striking surprises. It is moving and gives you the courage to go on -- the kind of courage he obviously had to continue composing through his deafness. His slow movements are sublime.
Architecturally,structurally, harmonically it is the greatest music of all the composers who followed Bach; the height of classical perfection, yet reaching way into the future. It is universal, yet instantly identifiable as his.
I would not want to live in a world without Beethoven's music, and in fact I don't think I could.

Dec. 15 2010 01:14 PM
fernwoodclassic from Plainfield, NJ

Part of the reason for the "dearth of 20th and 21st century composers", as Frank mentioned, is the relatively small number of musicians that choose classical compositition as their pallette. What would Ellington have written if there was no such thing as jazz? Steve Vai or Jeff Beck if not for the electric guitar?
As for the Beethoven "thing", maybe it's because he's one of the first composers we are introduced to as young listeners. There is something simple and accessible yet elegant about his compositions that many others lack.

Dec. 15 2010 01:07 PM
Liam from East Elmhurst

Beethoven expresses human frustration in an articulate manner.
I cannot (and will not) say that a rap musician has EVER expressed anything of but nominal value at best.
It is the lowest form of alleged music.
Ray Charles "Rap is crap,"
Just wanted to add that and comment that WNYC should stop putting RAP up too much in comparision to legitimate art.
RAP is at best a candy wrapper without the contents.

Dec. 15 2010 12:57 PM
Michael Meltzer

Every comment will be as different as the people making them, and every one as passionate as the next. If we could put our finger on how Beethoven accomplished that, and replicate it, there would be ten classical radio stations in New York, not one.

Dec. 15 2010 12:48 PM
Victor from Manhattan

One of the things I have observed is how Beethoven combines the ascending notes simultaneously with descending notes in his music. I have not noticed this technique in the music of other composers. Of course there are other elements in his music that make him the most popular, however I cannot define these elements; I just love his music.

Dec. 15 2010 12:41 PM
Mike from Riverdale

I've often thought about this. His music creates a narrative. He is the most literary of composers. We can follow the narrative drama of a complex feeling through a unified whole as we can in great novels or plays. For all their brilliance, Mozart and Haydn, to take two composers I dearly love, do not have the narrative drive of Beethoven. No other composer before or since has achieved that drive. As a former English major I say Beethoven is the Shakespeare of music!

Dec. 15 2010 12:41 PM
Steve from New Jersey

It's the passion. Beethoven combines the structure of the classical form with the passion of the Romantic form. LvB pioneered the bridging of music and emotion with the 9th and the Ode to Joy with an eternal optimism and declaration of freedom that hasn't and won't be matched, ever. The 9th is an emotional roller-coaster that lifts up his other works above and beyond the rest of the field. His work has influenced a wide variety of media (Movies, Disco, pop) proving the living, breathing superiority of his genius.

Dec. 15 2010 12:40 PM
Lawrence Nannery from Manhattan

From the beginning, when I was 15, I could understand and feel Beethoven because his works are the most noble and the most intimate; the most uplifting and the most pasionate; and the most powerfully driving and complete -- all at the same time!

Dec. 15 2010 12:38 PM


Dec. 15 2010 10:28 AM
Frank from UWS

It's the museum mentality of classical music institutions that gives us the glut of Beethoven and dearth of 20th and 21st century composers. No other art form is so rooted in the past. Go to see visual art, dance or theater in New York and it's full of contemporary works alongside older favorites. Film is all about the new.

Part of this is due to the fact that many composers abandoned audiences through much of the 20th century, writing music that had the appeal of a science experiment. But part of it is risk-averse institutions that don't see it as part of their mission to further the art form with new music.

Beethoven is great - don't get me wrong - but classical music must be a living, breathing art form that looks to the future as well as the past.

Dec. 15 2010 10:22 AM

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