Saturday, July 16, 2005

Brandon, Beethoven, and Friends

When the young man who would eventually become my best friend and surrogate son moved in with me in February 2003, I knew the two of us were going to find ourselves in the middle of a never ending culture war over the the kind of music he listened to. I had given up on the rock/pop scene in the late 1970s at the height of the disco craze (talk about sperfificial) and had switched over to almost entirely classical by the end of 1978. In other words, at the time "the kid" moved in, I was a 45-year-old male who needed his morning fix of Beethoen or Wagner in the same way that a caffeine addict might need a cup of coffee. Brandon, on the other hand, was a self-assured and very self-directed young man who loved heavy metal and rap. Despite my political inclinations, which lean decidedly to the left, my musical tastes are rather conservative. Some might say reactionary. So I knew the differences between us--in so far as music were concerned--would be a major problem unless I took immediate action.

Admittedly, I could have clamped down and said, "this is my house, take it to your room," but that would have been counter productive. Coercion wasn't going to work. I could see that much from the get go. That meant that the only viable options were suggestions and education, and I played them to the hilt. It didn't take long to realize that Brandon was more interested in rhythm and loud, walls of sound than in anything else. All right. What could I do with that? Well, as it turned out, plenty. Can you say, "Igor Stravinksy?" Can you say "The Right of Spring?"

Watching the expression on Brandon's face as he listened, for the first time, to the relentless rhythm's and unrelenting dissonances of Stravinsky's early 20th Century masterpiece was a sheer delight. Was this, I wondered, the same expression I had worn when I heard the Beethoven "9th Symphony" for the first time in the late 1970s?

Possibly, I told myself.

From "The Rite of Spring," we hopped back to the Beethoven "7th Symphony." And then forward to Bela Bartok's "Music For Strings Percussion and Celesta." From there we went on to Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," and to Mahler, and to Bruckner (the original, but seldom herd 1874 version of the Bruckner "4th Symphony" is a staple in hour household), and to Richard Strauss, and of course, Wagner.

All right, as of this writing Brandon still isn't interested in the Baroque nor Classical periods; and there are certain Romantic composers who I know he will never learn to appreciate. Offhand, the names Bach, Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn, C.P.E. Bach, Berlioz, Mendelssohn, and Verdi come to mind. But as a trade off, he loves 20th Century masters such as Gershwin, Ravel, and Shostakovich etc.

Of course he's only been listening for two years. It took yours truly the better part of six years before he was comfortable with Mahler, and another year after that before I truly enjoyed Mahler. In other words, if I give "the kid" a little time and allow him the process of self-discovery, he might just reach the point where he not only respects, but actually enjoys the pieces which currently offer him little to no pleasure. In my case it took a wonderful performance of the Mahler "9th Symphony" with Leonard Bernstein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. True to form, my affection for the performance developed into a genuine affection for the piece itself, which evolved quikcly into an affection for Mahler in general.

In other words, give him time. Things may happpen.

Nearly thirty years ago, I thought the sun rose and set with pop music. Today. I wonder if the term "pop culture" isn't an oxymoron. Granted, there are still days when I derive a certain amount of pleasure from my old Beatles albums, but at the end of the day I'm still fiercely loyal to Bach, Chopin, Mozart, Haydn, Rachmaninoff, Mahler, Bruckner, Mahler, Ravel, Tchaikovsky, and above all others, Beethoven.

I can still recall the first time that I heard the Beethoven 9th Symphony. It was 1979, and I had made the decision that I did not want to be listening to disco when I was in my mid thirties or forties. Moreover, I wanted something that was a little more substantial than the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever. The Beethoven 9th provided everything I had been looking for--and more. There was depth here. There was feeling, emotion, and, perhaps more importantly, complexity. It was enough. More than enough. Beethoven opened the doors to a new and exciting world. To this day, I have no desire to go back to the past. I'm happy with Ludwig.

Beethoven never fails to please. Beethoven offers a sense of comfort. Beethoven offersa sense of permanence in a confusing, often hostile world. Beethoven never fails to please. You might say that Beethoven, like Brandon, is a faithful and loyal friend.


Blogger Daniel Gallagher said...

My first encounter with Beethoven was at a garage sale! My mother loved to go around to all the sales on Saturday morning. One day an elderly couple up the street from where we used to live in Springfield, Illinois, were selling their house and had the obligatory house/lawn/moving sale. The stereo inside the house had been cranked up so that they--and the whole neighborhood--could hear the music in the front lawn. It was, of course, the final movement of the Beethoven Emporer Concerto. I was only about 9 or 10 at the time, but I liked the sound. I asked them what it was, and the wife told me to wait, got up, went into the house, and came back with an old LP of the--you guessed it--Beethoven Emporer Concerto. It was the standard New York Philharmonic version under "Broadway Lenny" but it remains one of my favorites to this very day!

7/16/2005 1:28 PM  

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