Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Beethoven's Birthday

Today is Beethoven's birthday, or so it's believed since he was baptized on December 17 and the tradition at that time was to wait a day [or so] to see if a child was going to survive. I'm glad this one survived.

The joy and wonder that I've had because this man wrote the music as he did has made me happy that he was who he was. I understand from Malcolm Gladwell's new book, OUTLIERS, that what he possessed [like Mozart, Schubert, Bach, Brahms, on and on] was not a gift but an innate talent and he had the good luck to be in the right place and time to hone that talent to an enormous degree. Also the circumstances of his personality and the life he lived made it inevitable that this particular music would pour out and be rewritten until it reached the perfection which we know.

I've been thinking about the idea of "gift" since this is the season of gift giving of a much more mundane sort. Gift suggests a giver. Once we are old enough to give up the Santa Claus story, we know whence our Christmas gifts. We also know whence our "gifts" of personality, both nature and nurture. We look at in our mirrors and think, Good God, my mouth has become exactly like my mother's or I have high blood pressure just like everyone in my father's family. We watch our children grow up and think, yes, I know where that trait comes from.

But in the case of heart stopping genius like Beethoven's do we look at something supernatural to explain the "gift"? I don't think Leopold Mozart would have said that about his little Wolfie. To go a little afield, where and how did Shakespeare's genius spring forth? I understand literature a little better than music though I cannot say I love it more. Beethoven awes me in my ignorance of just "how" it all works. Shakespeare awes me with the structure and invention of his work but more so with the understanding of human psychology and the actions and turns of phrase that reveal the complexity to us. I want to agree with Galdwell, I don't want to attribute it to any divine "Gift" except with that small "d" so that it is an adjective not a noun. And the same for Beethoven.

It is not a gift, but a hard earned self-education that make me able to appreciate these wonders of creation. I have a sense of richness in my life that has nothing to do with money because I appreciate Beethoven's music and so much else. I think the richness is in what we can enjoy, the complexity we can appreciate for what it is.

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