Friday, January 22, 2021


We took in a classic movie this week, starring Karlheinz Böhm, son of the legendary Austrian conductor.  You'll have to wait a day or so to find out which one. 

Karl's grandiose Eroica, with its purposefully ponderous funeral march, was part of the soundtrack to my fresher year at Cambridge. Klemperer's was even more leisurely. 

(If you want to hear how this symphony supposedly ought to sound, try Harnoncourt.) 

Böhm senior also scored many a long car journey with my father — specifically his interpretations of the Brahms symphonies.

This symphony is perhaps a lasting testament to the dangers of idolising someone too early in life. Beethoven was certainly one of my totems as a student. He was in fact one of the first men to ever be commemorated by a statue. These days however, that's not such a good look. 

In The Spectator last month Jonathan Biss declared the German composer his man of the year...
Aside from its greatness — which hardly needs to be explained, by me or anyone else — the reason Beethoven’s music has had such special significance for me these past nine months is that it is the product of a person who was profoundly alone, and who found remarkable power and possibility in aloneness.

Nevertheless, a week or so later James Wood wrote in the LRB of how, as a child, he conspicuously failed to pick up his father's obsession with the music...

I disliked Beethoven’s bombast: the melodramatic dynamic contrasts that seemed like huge arguments followed by wheedling tears; the endless endings of the symphonies, as the brassy orchestra wumps from tonic to dominant to tonic, over and over again. The beer-cellar heroism in major keys – the aspect of Beethoven that sometimes offended even Adorno as ‘ham-acting’, ‘a mere “boom boom”’. Even the beauties of the famous slow movements – the Pathétique or Appassionata, say – seemed stiflingly ‘noble’ on a dull Northern English Sunday afternoon. The string quartets with their polite rustle.

I still stand amazed, especially with the stuff scribbled down by the 'deaf old bear', and yet as I grow older, the music and my prevailing moods seem further apart than they did thirty odd years ago in a corner room at Girton. 

Perhaps old Ludwig was just a little too humourless for 2020, though he was nevertheless fond of a drink. Indeed, it has been suggested that he died as a result of the lead in his vino tinto.  

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