Following in the footsteps of Schroeder, perhaps my favorite Peanuts cartoon character, today (approximately… most historians believe somewhere between the 15th and 17th) we celebrate the birthday of the great composer Ludwig van Beethoven.
Beethoven was born in Bonn, Germany, one of 7 children – only 3 survived past infancy – to a court musician and his wife. His accomplishments, achievements, and his pure genius are hard to recount here without making some serious oversights. Nevertheless, anyone with serious appreciation for good music is familiar with a number of his works.
Beethoven was radical for his time and broke ground with his composition style. He ushered in the Romantic era of great music. Many of his symphonies are priceless treasures, some of which have been played and caricatured so much (especially the 5th) that they deserve a status all their own.
But let me tell you why Schroeder and I both take a few moments to celebrate Beethoven’s birthday. (Today would be his 234th, by my reckoning.) Few things in the world are as cathartic and as relieving of stress as pounding out a good Beethoven piano sonata. Angry how your boss treated you at work? Had a rough ride home in bumper-to-bumper traffic? Sit down and play through the first movement of the “Pathetique” (not perfectly, of course) and find the strain melting away.
Beethoven tapped a deep nerve in human feeling and passion. Try sitting alone in a room and listening to his 7th Symphony – no, really listening – and not be overswept with emotion. Powerful stuff. A powerful gift. The result of the gradual onset of deafness, broken relationships, and a general emotional instability.
A caveat: Beethoven’s birthday also reminds me that genius is not necessarily greatness. Gifts like his are rare, indeed; but the true “genius” of life is finding God’s purpose and God’s peace. This really has priority. Because compared with our Creator, the smartest among us comes far short of what the average garden slug is compared with our own intelligence.
A happy thought for a snowy December day!