Alan Zendell, March 3, 2017
Last evening, I attended a concert by the marvelous Stetson University student orchestra. I was greeted by this plaque at the entrance to the concert hall. Lovely, isn’t it?
I said it was a concert, but it was really much more. Musicology professor Daniil Zavlunov spent the better part of an hour dissecting Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony, with the orchestra playing snippets to illustrate the professor’s points. Then, with the audience properly primed, the orchestra launched into the complete work with spellbinding effect. As many times as I’ve heard that pivotal symphony, I had never heard or appreciated it the way I did last night.
As Professor Zavlunov frequently noted, no one really knows what drove the great composers to write what they did. Nonetheless, he offered a very plausible defense of the idea that the Fifth Symphony’s power and greatness was Beethoven’s celebration of coming to terms with the personal tragedy of going totally deaf before and while he was composing it. To greatly oversimplify a very complex subject, the home key of the symphony, C minor, represents the depth of his depression and desolation as he realized he was losing his hearing forever. The alternation throughout, between C minor and C major, are, in effect, mood swings, as he fought to overcome his loss, and the symphony’s triumphant finale in the major key is a powerful expression of Beethoven’s personal victory over his affliction.
Thus, the professor took the audience on a journey of discovery. I’m certain that everyone related to it in his or her own personal terms. My internal journey, seated within thirty feet of the violins and french horns, very much mirrored my mood swings over the last four months.
Much of what the professor explained reminded me of another pivotal symphony, Schubert’s Unfinished #8. Again, no one knows for sure either why he composed it as he did or why he never finished it. But we know that he was writing it as he was coming to terms with the syphilis that ultimately ended his life, and was likely in considerable pain and discomfort. He also chose a minor key (B minor) to express his anguish, with violent alternations between minors and majors, much as Beethoven did in his Fifth.
The professor noted that if Beethoven’s symphony had been missing its final movement it would have felt terribly incomplete. That remains true for Schubert’s, which is missing its final two movements. Even so, I have always found listening to it uplifting.
Today is my birthday, an event I usually try to ignore, but this year I decided it was better to offer everyone else a gift. If you too have spent the last four months in a funk, I don’t have to tell you that it’s time to shift gears. We can’t afford to sleep through the first year of the Trump administration.
My gift to you is the magic of music therapy − you don’t need drugs for this. Get yourself a good pair of headphones, turn off your smart phone, and find a comfortable chair. Let yourself feel whatever has been keeping you down and turn on the music. Start with the Schubert and move right into the Beethoven. Let the music lift your spirits. You’ll be amazed at how good you feel as the triumphant final movement comes to a close.
If that doesn’t work, maybe you do need drugs.