Beethoven Enters the 'Mad Men' Universe

Monday, April 16, 2012 - 10:33 AM

Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) in 'Mad Men' Episode 5 Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser) in Episode 5 (Michael Yarish/AMC)

A season of AMC's “Mad Men” that began with the French pop ditty "Zou Bisou Bisou" has now progressed to Beethoven's "Ode to Joy."

Sunday night's eventful Episode Five included multiple references to Beethoven and, as is often the case in film and television, his music was used to underscore darker themes.

Early on, Pete Campbell and his wife Trudy host a dinner party in their Cos Cob, Connecticut house, in which Pete shows off his big new console stereo to Ken Cosgrove and Don Draper, imagining a "tiny orchestra" playing inside. As Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony swells in the background, Pete marvels at the size of the hi-fi cabinet: “It’s a beautiful piece of furniture. It’s seven feet long.”

An ongoing theme of this episode is Pete’s misery in his suburban isolation, which is juxtaposed with Don's more swinging urban lifestyle. Attempting a happy spin on his situation, Pete boasts that he can play the music as loud as he wants living in Cos Cob in a house instead of a New York City apartment. "Do you like the music?" he asks, and Draper replies, "I do." (Whose recording of Beethoven may the "Mad Men" writers have in mind -- Fritz Reiner's? Leonard Bernstein's?)

Beethoven returns at the end of the episode, with Ken Cosgrove, sitting in bed and scribbling a story on his notepad called “The Man With the Miniature Orchestra” using a new pen name, Dave Algonquin. Ken imagines his fictional Pete hearing Beethoven on the “miniature orchestra” and reflects on the composer’s solitary life, beset by personal disappointments and encroaching deafness.

"He imagined Beethoven, deaf and soul-sick, his heart broken, scribbling furiously while death stood in the doorway, clipping his nails," Ken writes. "Still, Coe thought, it might have been living in the country that was making him cry. It was killing him with its silence and loneliness, making everything ordinary too beautiful to bear.”

We hear his story in voiceover as we watch the miserable Pete enduring a driver’s ed class in Connecticut. Fade to black, with the sound of a dripping faucet in Pete’s house followed by the strains of the Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" over the credits.

Weigh in: What did you think of the use of Beethoven in this episode? Was the soundtrack in keeping with the show's themes of violence and isolation (and perhaps, transcendence through art)? Leave your comments below:

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Comments [2]

Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ


Movies of the 1930s and 1940s made extensive use of classical music, symphonic as well as opera and their use was most effective to boost the atmospherics. Wagner's Liebestod, Rossini's William Tell Overture, Tschaikovsky's Marche Slav, Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto, Ravel's Bolero and Moussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain were standard fare to back up mthe dramaturgy of the more interesting scenes. "Mad Men"
with its dark nature will benefit from any music and why not music from the man who defies injustice and speaks for all mankind in his music, the opera Fidelio, the Third Symphony {the Eroica) and the 9th Symphony (the Chorale) with its inspiring Ode to Joy. I am a Wagnerian heldentenor and the director of theRichard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where professional actors are trained for the Shakespeare roles and big-voiced singers are coached in the Wagner roles and voice production and dramaturgy techniques.
Websites: WagnerOpera.com, ShakespeareOpera.com, and RichardWagnerMusicDramaInstitute.com where one may download, free, 37 complete "Live from Carnegie Hall" selections that I have sung in four concerts, three of them three hours-long solo concerts and one a Joint Recital with the dramatic soprano Norma Jean Erdmann, in the main hall of Carnegie Hall, the Isaac Stern Auditorium, by opening up, downloading from the "Recorded Selections" venue on the home page. My next concert in New York will be on Saturday, June 9th at the YOGA EXPO at the New Yorker Hotel. The title of the concert is 'BRING HIM HOME, with that song from the musical LES MISERABLES, encouraging the return of our armed forces and inspiring hope and love of country with This Land is Your Land, The House I Live In, Climb Every Mountain, You'll Never Walk Alone, The Impossible Dream, Granada, Wien, Wien, nur du allein, When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again and 19 other selections.

Apr. 17 2012 05:34 PM
Bash Ahmed

I believe the recording used was Von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic, which if I'm not mistaken, was released right around the time this season is set.

Apr. 17 2012 04:33 PM

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