I Can’t Believe It’s Not Beethoven.
Two nights ago I was listening to Beethoven’s first symphony and the radio promoted the fourth, to be on last night.
So when I got home from the day’s meeting, I expectantly sat down to listen to Beethoven’s 4th. I heard a marvellous but as-yet-incomprehensible Simfonia di Requiem by Benjamin Britten; his musicial idiom is fresh and strange to my ear, but I believe I heard something wonderful from him.
Then came the symphony. I cooked and ate through the first three movements, then when the final movement came the cat and I sat completely still and listened.
It was astonishing. Whereas the previous three movements had been a fairly urbane exploration of conventional classical themes, the final movement exploded in a regular springtime of counterpoint. I marvelled, gasped at many points at the brilliance of the variations, then simply fell silent with awe, only to exclaim at the ending “That was marvellous!”
I compared the effects of the startling and exuberant first symphony with this fourth one as I listened. This was more sedate and conventional, doubtless. But the final movements systematic exploitation of the musical potentials of the main theme, extrapolating therefrom a universe of potential themes, was pure Beethoven. Or so I thought.
Then the annoucer said that we had just been listening to a live recording from Melbourne of the 39th symphony of Mozart. Couldn’t he write a tune, the announcer sighed, as moved as I was. But I had one thought in my head:
I can’t believe it’s not Beethoven!
First of all, the guest conductor displayed a Beethovenian vigor in his treatment of the Mozart 39. But more vitally to me my error indicates not an unfamiliarity with Mozart’s and Beethoven’s music, but rather that the great composers of the classical period share a commonality of spirit which is hard to avoid. Beethoven, who stands in my mind for an expansive potential of the human spirit through felt values, is a perfect complement for Mozart, for in my mind signifies a serene acceptance and trust of the Absolute or Providence as expressed in the form of the sublime and the beautiful.
I am now listening to my on-disk recording of Beethoven’s 4th, and it is as impetuous and romantic as I remember. I don’t know the backstory behind this symphony like one would with the 5th, 9th 3rd, 1st. But it is still lovely, and it makes up somewhat for my having confused the music of Beethoven and Mozarts.