In the great treasury of music, I keep finding myself coming back again and again to Beethoven. You may think it’s because he was one of the greatest composers who ever lived despite his deafness. That is true, everybody loves great music and everybody loves an over-comer.
But there’s something more that keeps drawing me back to Beethoven. I found it difficult to identify what that ‘something’ was until I saw a certain documentary about his life.
At the end of the program I heard a number of people make comments that came close. One said, “The reason he is the greatest composer is that he’s prepared to share his life with you more than any other composer.” Another person said this about Beethoven’s music: “In sadness there is hope, where it’s hopeful it’s sad.” Still another commented, “A great piece of music is like a mirror. Everyone sees himself.”
In Beethoven’s music I see his struggle with his deafness, despairing then hopeful, quiet beauty then explosive defiant energy. I hear his stark anguish and celebration, despair and victory, beauty and pain. He knows the struggle against disability yet still rises to ability. And I think to myself, “That’s the unstated message: The human spirit can triumph against adversity, it can find possibilities in impossibilities. The human spirit seeks ability even in disability.”
Beethoven’s music is like a mirror that demands the listener to enter those emotional and spiritual aspects that make us human. Beethoven put his humanity at the center of his music. He shows the listener open and emotionally naked vulnerability. In Beethoven’s vulnerability we are reminded of our own.
The last person to comment in the documentary captures the essence of Beethoven best for me:
The thing about Beethoven that impresses me the most is his remarkable generosity in his music. This man who had a stormy and difficult life, a lot of conflict in it, returns again and again to the most important piece to the most telling moments, to a kind of deep, grateful, hymn-like utterance — as if to say life is good, it’s all worth it.
That’s it! That is why I find myself continually coming back to the music of Beethoven. It is a declaration that despite tragedy and trials, life is worth while.