Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Truman Played Beethoven for Stalin and Churchill--Then Ordered Atomic Bombing

Read original news clipping on the night near the close of World War II--July 19, 1945--when President Harry S Truman sat down at the piano, at the pivotal Potsdam Conference, and played a little Beethoven at the after-dinner request of Stalin and Churchill.   Then Truman ordered the dropping of the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima (yes, I have written two books on that subject), which would kill over 100,000 civilians.    Well, there are exceptions to the humanizing effects of Beethoven, as we admit in our new book.  For example, Hitler loved the Ninth Symphony and it was famously played to mark his birthday during the war, even though he failed to show up.

Mark Morris Dances a Beethoven 'Fantasy'

2I read that this was coming a few months back and now it's here, tomorrow night, at tbe Brooklyn Academy of Music: famed choreographer Mark Morris's new version of LvB's wonderful "Choral Fantasy." Since it's new, there's no clip of the dance but here's a swell version of the piece (which, as our new book explains, I first heard in an amazing rendition by Uchida and students at Marlboro).

When Beethoven Went Top 10

Continuing our survey of all versions of our title tune, we now come to the smash early 1970s hit by Jeff Lynne and Electric Light Orchestra, complete with intro from The Fifth--and from Richard Pryor. Long hair music, to be sure!

'Journeys' Now Cost Less

Our new book, Journeys With Beethoven, on sale today for just $10.99 print and $3.99 e-book, so act now!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Day in the Life of 'The Ninth' (Literally)

You may have heard about this but never actually heard any of it: the famous digitally slowed down version of the Ninth Symphony, lasting for...24 hours. Some venues have hosted listening party sleepovers, with people sticking around for the whole "Beet Stretch" experience, as we note in our new book.  The portion below runs 10 minutes but even so just barely gets to the true opening bars, after the long, quiet, revolutionary orchestral "tune-up." It's completely mesmerizing but you may want to jump ahead to about the six-minute mark when it really starts to build by going here.   Cheap gimmick or spiritual experience?  For more: The whole piece plays all day and night via this site, just click for it, and go here for background on the project.  Brief video of a public performance.

Bernstein on Beethoven in a TV Highlight

Not sure if this is a well-kept secret or not, but one of the most famous live TV broadcasts in the arts ever is up in its entirety at YouTube:  a young Leonard Bernstein on Omnibus dissecting, "rewriting" and playing the first movement of LvB's Fifth Symphony. Did I watch this as a kid? Did you? Here's Part I:

Hitting the Other Keys

Anne Midgette, the fine classical music writer at the Washington Post -- she succeeded Tim Page -- has a very interesting piece today on the "artist as writer," jumping off from pianist Jeremy Denk's article in a recent New Yorker. (Of course, our new book has full chapter with my interview with Jeremy.)  She also mentions Jonathan Biss's recent Kindle single on recording Beethoven, which we covered here last week, then concludes that "in today’s changing climate, when classical music no longer occupies the central place in our cultural life that it did 50 years ago, we need this creativity more than ever — to lead us to new outlets and new forms of expression. Even if this means more musicians writing about music, and fewer music critics."

Monday, February 27, 2012

Chuck Berry, Leonard Cohen...and Ludwig

Well, this is almost too good to be true, given the nature and title of this blog (and my own nature).   PEN awarded its first two songwriter prizes yesterday, and aptly picked Chuck Berry and my personal favorite Leonard Cohen.  Here's a Rolling Stone write-up and incredible once-in-a-lifetime photo (by Rick Friedman)  of Chuck and Leonard.  And there's this:

"In an email read by organizer Bill Flanagan, Bob Dylan called Berry 'the Shakespeare of rock & roll' and Cohen 'the Kafka of the blues.'  Cohen, accepting his award, compared Berry's 'Roll Over Beethoven' to Walt Whitman's joyful noise – his 'barbaric yawp...If Beethoven hadn't rolled over,'  he said, 'there'd be no room for any of us.'"  Don't miss the photo gallery, with Keith Richards in the mix.

Beethoven Soundtrack

For an Academy Awards day after:  It's just a trailer, not a feature film, but it has found an audience of  almost 100,000 -- and it features LvB on the soundtrack.   When my son created this video for my recent book, Atomic Cover-up, I felt that I wanted a Beethoven soundtrack, but what?  I won't go through the various candidates (no, I did not consider a funeral march) but see what you think of my final choice.

The Beatles and Beethoven, Backwards

We mention this in our new book but probably it deserved a longer take: The Beatles' song "Because" off Abbey Road is based on the famous passage in the Moonlight sonata's opening movement, played backwards. Once you know that, it is obvious, especially since the intro is played on electric harpsichord (by George Martin). John Lennon was quoted explaining: "Yoko was playing Beethoven's 'Moonlight Sonata' on the piano ... I said, 'Can you play those chords backwards?' and wrote 'Because' around them."  Please, no jokes about hearing "Paul is dead" on this.

LvB Makes the Oscars!

Yes, that was a snippet of the Symphony No. 7 played as Colin Firth's entrance music at the Oscars last night, due to its key role (see down the page a bit) in last year's Best Picture winner.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Exclusive Preview! Next Year's Oscar-Winning Doc

First the book, soon the movie.

Oldman as Old Man

It's Oscar Day, and who is the only nominee who ever played Beethoven?  With Ed Harris not a contender, and Erich von Stroheim no longer with us, it must be Gary Oldman.  Here's the rather fanciful climax of Immortal Beloved.  Our new book has long section on Beethoven films.

He's Not Heavy, He's My Brother

Wonderful  and unusual piece (even if couple years old) from Brooklyn writer  George Grella on why Beethoven may not be his friend, but is very much his "brother."  Also search for his other LvB writinga, including this brilliant analysis of why Beethoven is the greatest composer plus a "gift guide" for complete sets of the symphonies.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Spalding and Soderbergh

I guess one of the themes of this blog--and our new book--is the universality of Beethoven, and his ubiquity in our culture. Example: Listened tonight to WBGH airing the Missa Solemnis live from Boston. Then, in contrast, watched via Netflix the recent Stephen Soderbergh doc on Spalding Gray (who once shot a scene for an HBO film in our house upstate). And, lo and behold, one of the best scenes: a brief segment with Spalding's infant daughter whirling and dancing to nothing less than the Piano Concerto No. 4, with dad on couch grinning. So here's a splendid version from Helene Grimaud, the hallowed opening never played more lovingly.

Turning Very Japanese

My co-author Kerry Candaele, who contributes to this blog from time to time (and made three trips to Japan, as described in our book), sends this along: "I don't know how to explain this. Needless to say, there is a village idiot, French New Wave influences, rural and seasonal symbolism, simple absurdity and tongue in cheek, and whatever else you would like to add. My Beethoven Ninth expert in Japan reports the following: 'You have to know about Japanese jokes, and this is in a way a little gag video about the village fool who has no idea what he is singing about but brings joy anyway by singing Beethoven's Ninth to these villagers. The guy who plays this village fool is a very famous and popular rock'n roll figure in Japan, Hiroto Koumoto.' Rock 'n Roll and foolishness, a long and honorable tradition.

As Oscar Fever Rises: Recalling Beethoven in Last Year's 'Best Picture'

Continuing our tribute to "Beethoven films" (we have a long section in our book) leading up to the Academy Awards show tomorrow night, here is the true climax in last year's Best Picture winner (and it was followed by the triumphant scene set to the slow movement of Piano Concerto No. 5).

Friday, February 24, 2012

And the Best Was Yet to Come?

It's staggering to think that LvB actually managed to write a few things even greater than this (maybe), here via the legendary Busch Quartet exactly 70 years ago. I saw the wonderful Pacifica Quartet do this live a couple months back.

Lucky Beethoven?

“I do strongly feel that among the greatest pieces of luck for high achievement is ordeal. Certain great artists can make out without it, Titian and others, but mostly you need ordeal. My idea is this: the artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he's in business: Beethoven's deafness, Goya's deafness, Milton's blindness, that kind of thing.” ― John Berryman, poet

'Listen' Up, Folks

Frankly, until my exhaustive YouTube searching for our new book, I was not aware of the early Eurythmics single "Beethoven (I Love to Listen To)." Still can't say I truly "get it," but Annie does go pretty GaGa near the end. And we all love to listen to Beethoven, at least at this blog.

Missing the 'Missa'

We noted down the page the upcoming performances of the Missa Solemnis in Boston and New York (plus video), but famed conductor Kurt Masur has now pulled out due to illness. But the show will go on.

Norman Bates Goes 'Psycho' Over Ludwig

Perhaps some of you recall that in a key scene in Hitchcock's original Psycho, we get a brief look at good old Norman Bates' bedroom--and the record on his Victrola happens to be the Eroica symphony. Speculation has raged for decades about the meaning of this, including that Hitch thought that word meant "erotica"--or at least wanted audiences to think so. Anyway: In the failed re-make, Psycho 2, not too long ago, Norman also embraces Beethoven (not literally, thankfully), in this scene where he plays the Moonlight sonata at a piano.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

10,000 Maniacs

One of the highlights of our new Journeys with Beethoven book is Kerry's account of his three trips to Japan to witness the annual December phenomenon, when Beethoven's Ninth, or at least is choral finale, is performed around the country in venues large and small by dozens if not hundreds of orchestras and choirs.  Sometimes the choirs swell to 500, 5000, even (see below) 10,000 singers.  The chapter in the book explains the amazing story behind all this.

Beethoven Brakes China

My new piece at The Nation, excerpt from our book, more on LvB providing soundtrack for global protest, this time in Tiananman Square.  Inspired freedom, for awhile.

Beethoven and the 'Band of Brothers'

I might be an oddball, but the highlight (for me) in the tremendous HBO series Band of Brothers from a few years back was this little segment featuring the 6th movement of the opus 131--just about the greatest two minutes in the history of Western music--played by a quartet amidst the aftermath of American troops routing the Nazis.   The climax arrives when one GI suggests this is Mozart, but Ron Livingston (far from Office Space) sternly corrects him, "That's not Mozart... that's Beethoven."

Justin Time!

Yes, you may have to grit your teeth, avert your eyes and turn down the volume, but this is the most viral good old Ludwig has ever gotten on video:  the epic Justin Bieber vs. Beethoven "rap battle," one in a series of these showdowns.  Current page views:  35 million and counting.  

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Mass Appeal

Eric Owens, the opera star,  is just about the hottest singer around, including big pieces in the NYT  and Boston Globe in the past few days.  I caught him a couple of years back doing the Missa Solemnis with the NY Phil and he was spectacular.  (If memory serves, he said in an interview that he cried during a rehearsal, he was that moved by it.)  Now he is doing the Missa again in the next few days in Boston and New York.  Glad to see him raise the key point in this article:  That the piece ends in questions, not answers--as it should be.  Too rare, but totally Beethoven.  Here are highlights from that NY Phil performance with Eric, including the ending.

Jamie Foxx and a Ludwig Light Show

In our new book we offer an extensive section on Beethoven films, but did not include the recent The Soloist, starring Robert Downey as L.A. Times reporter Steve Lopez, who lent a hand to street musician Nathaniel Ayres,  played by Jamie Foxx.  It's not, strictly speaking, "about" Beethoven but Ayres is obsessed with him and most of the music in the movie comes from Beethoven (even the Heiliger Dankgesang).  The movie highlights Downey getting Jamie into a rehearsal for the L.A. Philharmonic, where he gets absorbed by the Eroica -- accompanied by a '60s-style light show.   Some critics were offended. See if you think it works, as viewed here. 

Beethoven in Iraq

Yet another illustration of a theme in our book, here is the newly-formed Youth Orchestra of Iraq practicing the Violin Concerto before journeying to the Beethoven Festival in Bonn. Bringing folks from all religions and factions in Iraq together, and in an atmosphere where many reject Western music. But LvB unites all.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No, No, Nanette!

We've seen countless uses of the opening of the Fifth Symphony in everything from stark dramas to comedy, and sometimes it's pretty dumb-dumb-dumb-dumb.  But there's nothing quite like the following--considered one of the classic sketches from very early TV.  It features Sid Caesar (who had the top-rated show) and sidekick Nanette Fabray in a wordless argument choreographed to the Fifth.  And consider this:  It had to be done in one take--that is, live.  Wonder if I watched this as a kid.  I ought to write a country song and call it "Old Enough to Remember (But I Don't)."

How Beethoven Calls the Tune at Global Protests

I've re-posted my piece from The Nation last week, a theme from our new book,  at Huff Post today, if you missed it the first time around.  Also had excerpt from the book at The Nation over the weekend, and another tomorrow.

Beethoven and Brooklyn

Our friends at the famous Silk Road Project just reminded us of something we meant to post a few days back:  the adventurous Brooklyn Rider have a new recording featuring LvB's opus No. 131 string quartet, and thanks to NPR you can listen to it all here.   As they note, the performance may not be to everyone's taste, but it is different, to be sure. 

Biss and That

Fine young pianist Jonathan Biss has just launched his decade-long project of recording all 32 of LvB's sonatas and also, as we note in our new book, has a Kindle single out on the daunting project (which I've read, and it's swell).  I caught him live a couple months back when WQXR in NYC, as part of it's Obey Thoven month, held a one-day mararthon of the 32 pieces, and not long ago at Tanglewood doing the Triple Concerto and the Archduke.  And here's his recent interview on PBS about his Beethoven cycle:

Monday, February 20, 2012

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier...Beethoven

Yes, Oscar fever is building, so here's one of this year's best actor nominees, Gary Oldman, in one of his scariest roles yet--at least as presented in this over-the-top trailer--as Beethoven in Immortal Beloved.   As we note in our new book, the film offers a ludicrous guess at solving the mystery of the beloved's identity, but the trailer also suggests it is something of a bodice-ripper and as complex as John leCarre. Yes, Gary once played Sid Vicious, but the film's notion of Ludwig as a sex pistol is, well, a bit off.  Good music, though.

Beethoven: The Cat's Meow?

As you may not have heard, a CD of classical music titled Calm Your Canine has hit #19 on the Billboard classical chart.  It has at least one LvB selection, an early piano sonata.   Presuming something similar existed for felines, I searched and found such a product, with a promo video featuring the (not always calming) music of cat-lover Ludwig, a bit schmaltz-ified for this purpose.

Precedents and Presidents

Today is Presidents' Day, marking the births of Washington and Lincoln, and naturally there is a Beethoven connection.  True, history fails to note any opinions about LvB expressed by Washington (who died before Beethoven reached full fame) or Lincoln, but there's this:  When Lincoln was killed, the slow movement of the Eroica symphony was played at stops his train made from Washington to Springfield.   The Eroica "funeral march" was also featured at the recently founded New York Philharmonic's first concert after the assassination, and has been played to mark many major passings since (it was part of a memorial service for FDR and as a memorable part of  the D.C. funeral procession for JFK, for example).   So besides changing music forever, the revolutionary Eroica has had an additional, pardon the expression, afterlife.   

UPDATE:  Reader @Sharoney sends this link via Twitter re: the Boston Symphony halting its regular program on learning of JFK's assassination in 1963--and switching to the Eroica.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Chords of Fame

We've only been doing this blog for a couple weeks,  but we don't mind trying to top ourselves, and I suppose this qualifies.  Down the page a bit you will find two posts with vivid comparisons of various versions of  1) the opening notes of Piano Concerto No. 4,  and  2) the closing moments of Symphony No. 9. Now the ultimate obsessive blast-off:  the opening two chords of the Eroica symphony down through the years.   Some might say these two little (big) chords started to change Western music forever.  Warning: Fascinating but possibly headache inducing.

The 'Fantasia' Factor

In our new book, we observe that many of us of a certain age -- and many younger and older -- can trace our introduction to Beethoven via the 'Pastoral' section of Disney's Fantasia (a film that kept getting re-released every few years and was also shown on TV).  If you haven't seen it in awhile, here's  one of the best-known segments.  The music for the storm section probably more dynamic than anything in a Hollywood flick today, though written in 1808:

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

For two years, via Twitter, I have held "services" in this "church" (the only one I attend) every Sunday morning.  As I posted here last week,  real-life gatherings under this name take place everywhere from Durham to Albuquerque.  Now I'm convening the virtual service here at this new blog.  Today's service is led by Martha Argerich, offering the slow movement to Sonata No. 7 (click below then hit the  YouTube link).   My friend Tim Page once told me that this was the movement when "Beethoven became Beethoven."  And that was becoming quite a lot.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kid Takes the Fifth

One of my favorite viral videos of recent years, which I came on more than year ago, is this one starring a certain prodigy named Jonathan, age 3 (at the time), conducting the finale of LvB's Fifth Symphony.  By now it's gotten 7.5 million hits. Don't miss him trying to wipe his nose--and then collapsing in giggles at the end.  Jonathan is something of a phenomenon, perhaps the new Dudamel, as you will find other videos with him conducting, in public, some Strauss, and playing some Dvorak, at the advancing age of ... four.

The 'Curse of the Ninth'

Amazing story in L.A. Times on debut of Philip Glass's new 9th Symphony at Carnegie Hall, and the long history of famous composers afraid to write a ninth symphony after doing so allegedly killed Beethoven and Schubert.  Sure enough, this week at the Glass event, someone collapsed and medics needed to be called.  Glass says he hurriedly wrote a 10th symphony, not wishing to tempt fate knocking at the door.

A Chile Reception

Part II of my series this week at The Nation just posted, on Beethoven inspiring, and being used in, protests around the world.  This includes an excerpt from our new book re: Pinochet and torture in Chile.

Obsession, to the Ninth Degree

In our new book, I recall exploring LvB in recent years via what I call the "new electronic Beethoven delivery systems," such as YouTube.  One of the many obsessive oddities that I mention in the book (see my blog post from a few days ago) is a collection of the opening notes of the Piano Concerto No. 4 by several celebrated pianists.  Even more so is this comparison of the closing moments of the Ninth Symphony from ALL of Furtwangler's recorded versions: 

Friday, February 17, 2012

Beethoven Gets Stoned

Continuing our survey of versions of our title tune:  Have to admit, until today never heard (or heard of) this rarity, from the Rolling Stones, 1963, off a BBC broadcast.  Love young Mick changing "don't step on my blue suede shoes" to "don't step on my high-heel shoes."  Even then!

Denk You, Very Much

Review of Jeremy Denk's apparently amazing performance of the Piano Concerto No. 1 at Carnegie, which I somehow missed.   See my full Q & A with Jeremy in our new Beethoven book.

Your Brain on Beethoven

For a couple of years I have closely followed the work of Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music, and Edwin Outwater,  music director of the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony in Canada.   Now they are presenting an "expanded" version of their Beethoven and the Brain concert/lecture on February 25 in Toronto.  Levitin has explained, "This show represents a first-of-its kind partnership between an orchestra, conductor, and neuroscientist.  Together, we hope to explain and demonstrate what goes on in our brains, our hearts, and our bodies when we listen to great music." Here is Levitin in a TV chat:

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Tunes They Are A-Changin'

Got to get one of these, as it mashes up my two musical "gods,"  Mr. Dylan and Herr Beethoven.   You can buy the t-shirt here.  Later I will post something from a clothing line that is actually named Ludwig Van, they have some great stonewashed shirts.

Leon Russell Meets Ludwig

Continuing our series on classic performances of our title tune, here is a true rarity.   Piano man Leon Russell is making something of a comeback these days, thanks to a boost from Elton John, but few know that he first gained fame, way before his Joe Cocker years, as a semi-regular on the popular TV show "Shindig."   And, surprise, he had no long hair and long beard then, and instead was something of a teen idol and greaser.   Here he is on "Shindig" doing "Roll Over, Beethoven," after a "Moonlight" sonata intro!

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Billy Bragg's Ode to Joy

In our new book, Kerry Candaele describes his trip to England to interview Billy Bragg about the folk/punk singer's bold rewriting of the lyrics to the "Ode to the Joy" -- and then performing it for the Queen, with the London Philharmonic backing him.  It's a helluva story, if I say so myself,  a full chapter in our story.  Of course, we also learn how this fits into Billy's career and musical/political goals.  Here's Billy's full version:

Secret Beethoven?

I frankly don't know genesis of this but this The Piano Guys video has gone viral in just a few days, is called "Beethoven's 5 Secrets," opens with a great quote from Ludwig, then offers quite lovely cello, then orchestral, music with a snatch of LvB along the way. There also seems to be a vocal version.

A New Kind of 'Heavy Metal Thunder'

Part III of my series at Huff Post on how I went from Beatles to Beethoven,  now posted.

Ed Harris: From Ludwig to John McCain

All of those trailers for the upcoming Game Change movie on HBO--with Ed Harris as John McCain--only remind me that Ed, of course, also starred in Copying Beethoven.   In our new book, I describe Ed's Ludwig as basically "John Glenn in a fright wig."   But no matter.  The movie is only so-so but the scene depicting the premiere of the Ninth Symphony has been widely-hailed, although historically inaccurate (Beethoven did not conduct and there was no lovely young woman in the pit directing his moves).  Anyway, here's that scene in all its glory:

Beethoven 'Calls the Tune' for Global Protest

That's the claim in my new piece at The Nation today, which is also a theme in our new book (also see blog post down the page a bit here).

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

New Beethoven Tune....Thanks to His Hair?

All I can do is quote the opening of this story: "This is the bizarre tale of how a Scottish composer recovered some locks of Beethoven's hair from a garment that survived the holocaust, and then used the hair as the basis for a new work of music. Brilliant? Creepy? Both. The Daily Mail recounts the story of how Stuart Mitchell wrote 'Ludwig's Last Song' based on DNA from Beethoven's hair. It's almost too outlandish to be true." And here's the song:

'Revolution No. 9: From Beatles to Beethoven"

That's the title of Part II of my series at Huff Post this week, excerpting our new book, on how my Beethoven obsession came to be.

Monday, February 13, 2012

'How a Longtime Rock 'n Roll Editor Became Obsessed With Beethoven'

Yours truly, as usual, "praying a record," as I'd sayThat's the title of my new piece at Huff Post -- which happens to be an excerpt from our new book.  My back pages, as someone once put it.  Excerpt from the excerpt: "From the age of four, music was my greatest love, even beyond baseball. I asked my parents to buy for me new singles by Tony Bennett and Eddie Fisher, and I entertained visitors by taking requests and spinning the 78s on my record player. Then rock 'n roll arrived, and like millions of other kids I became devoted to American Bandstand and Ricky Nelson playing his hits at the end of Ozzie & Harriet."  Obviously, that is yours truly in photo at left, caught in the act, with my brother.  Some things never change.

Half a Million Beethoven Fans Can't Be Wrong

When mass protests were held last October in the U.S. and around the world, sparked by the burgeoning Occupy movement, the biggest turnout was in Madrid, where half a million gathered. And what, by many accounts, was the highlight of the event? None other than a small, local orchestra playing the "Ode to Joy" and finale of the 9th Symphony, with the crowd going nuts and chanting at the close. There are several videos at YouTube from various angles, including ones from above that capture the immensity of the crowd and cheering. But I love this one, shot from behind the orchestra, which shows the scene near the stage, with dancers, young people crying, and then the overwhelming response at the end. Of course, this fits one of the themes of our new book:  Beethoven's incredible global influence even in the political sphere.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sunday Morning in the Church of Beethoven

For the past two years, I've carried a weekly Church of Beethoven link to his music via Twitter and finding many who agree that this is one profound spiritual gathering we can all agree on.  Beethoven for many is, indeed, their god.  And yes, there is actually a  (secular) Church of Beethoven in Albuquerque, founded in an old gas station, and now others elsewhere, such as in Oak Park, Illinois and Durham, N.C.  The music that I link to in this regard is usually not from his two masses, but we will kick off this feature at this new blog with the "holiest"--and possibly most beautiful--of all LvB compositions, the benedictus from the Missa Solemnis,  which I've seen performed twice in NYC the past two years on rare occasions, including this one from the London Symphony.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Cello, Nice to Meet Ya

After my talk at local library on our new LvB book tonight,  a concert of cello sonatas follows, so here's spectacular vid with the late, great Jackie du Pre and Daniel Barenboim (who I am pushing for the Nobel Peace Prize).

The Fine Prince

Last night's concert at Alice Tully in NYC, it turns out, held a special surprise.  The program (see item below) was comprised of three Beethoven chamber pieces and one from Haydn, featuring the splendid Jupiter Quartet,  in tribute to Prince Lobkowicz, who commissioned so many important LvB creations--such as, oh, the 3rd, 5th and 6th symphonies.  And there in the hall, up in the balcony near the stage, were members of the Lobkowicz family, flown in from Prague for the occasion.  The co-directors of the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, David Finkel and Wu Tan, had decided on this program after a profoundly moving tour of the Lobkowicz castle and museum in Prague, where they met one member of the family (which lost everything to the Nazis, and then the Soviets, then regained some of it).

You might enjoy the following.  It's from the quite good BBC film Eroica, which portrays the famous first rehearsal of the 3rd symphony at a Lobkowicz mansion in Vienna.  The Prince is there, as you will see, along with Ian Hart as Ludwig and the always wonderfully evil Tim Pigott-Smith as a hostile guest.  Hart, who also played John Lennon in a biopic, now co-stars as one of the goofy horse gamblers in the new HBO series Luck.  The entire Eroica film is at YouTube in several segments.

Let's Hear from You!

Tomorrow marks the one-week anniversary of the birth of this blog, and I'd like to thank the surprisingly strong instant interest reflected in thousands of page views.   In our first posting,  I mentioned carrying on the work of Ed Chang, who wrote a daily Beethoven blog for quite some time before ending it last December (see his archived coverage here).   Last night we got a nice note from Ed:   "Great!  I'm glad someone is carrying on the Beethoven torch!" While traffic has been terrific, few have left comments so now I'm really urging you to get the ball rolling and see how much chat we can generate here.   Thanks for joining this orchestra.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Give Me Some Peanuts and Crackerjacks...and Beethoven's Hair?

One of the most fascinating controversies surrounding Beethoven studies revolves around   Several locks were snipped off his head when he died, have been passed along or sold since, and analyzed in attempts (still far from conclusive) to discover what really killed him.  An entire book has been written about it, aptly titled Beethoven's Hair, there's a film, and this weekend William Meredith, head of the Center for Beethoven Studies will be displaying a lock of hair  and talking about it before a concert in San Antonio.

As a rabid baseball fan, I have kept tabs on a particularly bizarre, perhaps even appalling, angle:  For two years running, a strand of the great man's hair has been enclosed in a premium baseball card as a promo for the manufacturer.  The lucky person who pulls it out of a pack invariably goes out and sells it at auction, with the latest price about $4000, which actually seems rather low.  Here's one account and photo of the package (go down to #7 in their listing).

Update: A friend points out that baseball star Jose Reyes' shorn dreadlocks just went for over $10,000 on Ebay.  I pointed that this was for full dreads, not one strand.  Still.  Too bad Beethoven didn't live to write reggae version of his famous single and call it "Ode to Jah."

Something to 'Harp' On

Heading to NYC in a few minutes for a visit to the Met (museum, not opera) and then to Alice Tully for a program of three LvB pieces, plus a Haydn, joined by connections to patron Prince Lobkowicz.    One of the pieces is the vocal/piano song cycle 'An die ferne Geliebte.'  Another is the 'Harp' quartet, a personal favorite.  Our new book includes a lengthy section on Beethoven films, including one of the oddest:  An Immortal Spirit pictures Beethoven--it's hard to describe--sort of living the 'Harp' quartet as it is played on the soundtrack (and sometimes on screen) by the Claudel Quartet throughout.  Here's the section for the astounding slow movement:

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Weather Or Not, Here Comes 'The Emperor'

One of the most amazing videos you'll ever see went up on YouTube this week: every day of U.S. weather over the past 14 years speeding past you,  in 33 minutes, set to LvB's "Emperor" piano concerto.  Yes, Hurricane Katrina comes in around 18:52, for example. (h/t Barbara Bedway)

Kid With Bike...and Beethoven

Sometimes seems old Ludwig is everywhere in our culture.  I suppose that's one theme of our book, which has a separate section on Beethoven and Film.   Tonight I went with my wife across the river to the Jacob Burns Film Center in Westchester (we are members) to see the acclaimed Iranian film, A Separation.  And yes it's terrific.

But what showed up on the screen just before that? The trailer for the upcoming U.S. release of Cannes prize winner, The Boy With a Bike, by the famed directing duo, the Dardenne brothers.  And what's on the soundtrack for most of the trailer?  The same piece that closed The King's Speech:  the slow movement of Piano Concerto No. 5 (some might say, the most beautiful music ever written).  Here's the trailer:

I Have One Word for You: "Plastic"

The  dedication for my half of our new book is to my wife, Barbara Bedway, who has shared nearly every step of my journey-with-Beethoven the past few years.  Not only that, she gave me this amazing Beethoven Action Figure.  Comes with a piano stool and you can even raise his arms to portray him yelling at Ries or Schindler or some musician or aristocrat (or fate knocking at the door).  It may appear thathe is wearing a cod piece, perhaps in honor of A Clockwork Orange but, alas, it is just a hinge.

I've donated a second plastic Ludwig to a well-known pianist.  And now my wife has also given me a Beethoven finger puppet....

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Beethoven Weekend

Friday night I'll be at Alice Tully in NYC for an unusual "princely" program--more on this later-- featuring one Haydn piece and three great LvB works:  quartets no. 6 and the "Harp" (a personal favorite),  plus the song cycle "An die ferne Geliebte," often called the first ever written--and here it is, below, in a famous version.

And on Saturday, my first public appearance related to our new book.  That happens at 7:30 pm before a concert of three LvB cello sonatas at my hometown Nyack (NY) Library, which has hosted  a widely-hailed,  twice-weekly chamber music series for years.  Will be signing books as well.  A local news outlet asked me to write a little article about it.  And now the song cycle:

Belushi and Two Blues Brothers

In our new book we explore, in the USA and around the world, Beethoven's influence on both high, and low, culture.  Perhaps in the latter camp we find the classic Saturday Night Live sketch featuring John Belushi as Beethoven (until he morphs into Ray Charles).  This earned him the name "Belushthoven."

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How Chuck Berry Named This Blog!

Ever wonder what inspired Chuck Berry to write "Roll Over, Beethoven"?  We did.  Turns out, according to Rolling Stone and others, he penned it in response to his sister hogging his family's piano and playing classical stuff when Chuck wanted to dig those rhythm and blues.  Well, that's the story, anyway.  We'll be presenting various versions of the song here as time goes on.  Here's vintage Chuck live, complete with fabled "duck walk," after he asks "Bay-toe-van" to forgive him.

Leo Tolstoy Meets Beethoven in New York

A well-reviewed play based on Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata has been playing in London for quite some time and now is opening in New York in a few weeks.  The New York Times covers it in the midst of this story.   Of course, the Kreutzer is Beethoven's most popular violin sonata and in the story a man fears that it is helping drive his wife madly into an affair.   Oh, italso leads to murder.  The novella was banned by the Russians for a time.

Tolstoy was a stern critic of Beethoven's late period works, as we note in our new book.  Of the Ninth Symphony he wrote: "I am unable to imagine to myself a crowd of normal people who could understand anything of this long, confused, and artificial production, except short snatches which are lost in a sea of what is incomprehensible. And therefore, whether I like it or not, I am compelled to conclude that this work belongs to the rank of bad art.”

Here's a dynamic, brief video clip of the London version of "The Kreutzer Sonata" play, with music:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Beethoven on Film: The Abel Gance Version

In our new book, I write at length about film treatments of Beethoven, from the silent era to A Clockwork Orange and Immortal Beloved (which starred new Oscar nominee Gary Oldman).   One of the most interesting of all, and much admired by Pauline Kael, was Un Grand Amour de Beethoven, directed by one of the greats, Abel Gance, in the 1930s.  It's not up to his earlier Napoleon but here's a clip that shows Ludwig battling with hearing loss and then, in wild fashion,  writing his Pastoral symphony.  Actor Harry Baur, who was Jewish, was later rounded up by the Gestapo, tortured and killed. 

H.L. Mencken on L.V. Beethoven

Not sure if this quote made our new book, but Mencken did love Beethoven, and a lot of other Germanic things.  This quote comes from his writings related to the Scopes "Monkey Trial" (of course, Mencken became a key character in Inherit the Wind).  Here it is:  "His music survives because it lies outside the plane of the popular apprehension, like the colors beyond violet or the concept of honor.  If it could be brought within range, it would at once arouse hostility.  Its complexity would challenge; its lace of moral purpose would affright.   Soon there would be a movement to put it down, and Baptist clergymen would range the land denouncing it, and in the end some poor musician, taken in the un-American act of playing it, would be put on trial before a jury of Ku Kluxers, and railroaded to the calaboose."

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Watch Today's Super Bowl Ads, Starring Beethoven

Why sit through hours of pre-game and game (and Madonna) to catch a little Ludwig van as soundtrack to Coke commercials?  I posted one earlier today but turns out there is a second, briefer, one as well (see below).  And even, a third. From now on, to the masses, he will be known as Bearthoven.  Note: Today is first day for this blog, see my intro below and our new book at right.

Welcome to New Daily Blog!

After several years of obsessive Beethoven tweeting (and sending links to friends), I've finally decided to launch Roll Over, Beethoven, partly because of our brand new book but also to offer possibly the only daily Web postings on  LvB (after the recent demise of Ed Chang's "Daily Beethoven") with  links, video and comments.  And yeah, I'm still fiddling with the design and colors.

For now, let's start with the book, and upcoming movie.

Just out this week in print,  joining the e-book editions (for Kindle, iPad etc.  and the Nook):   Journeys With Beethoven: Following the Ninth, and Beyond, with film director Kerry Candaele, published by Sinclair Books.   It's just $3.99 for the e-book and $12.99 for print.  This is a dream project for me, as some may know from my Beethoven posts at The Nation, at Huff Post  and on Twitter.

Kerry has a great documentary coming out this year (see trailer below) that follows the Ninth Symphony and it's cultural and political influence around the world today.  So the book takes us from Chile to China and Japan, plus a stop in London for a full chapter with Billy Bragg, and then back in the USA.   In the "Beyond" section of the book I explore my own obsessive "travels" with Ludwig, as a longtime rock 'n roller, in recent years, via concerts and movies and CDs -- but also through new "Beethoven delivery systems" (YouTube, web forums, Twitter, etc.)  I also interview at length pianist Jeremy Denk, who wrote a terrific piece for this week's New Yorker. 

Those who know me from my infamous Crawdaddy and Springsteen days might be a bit...surprised?  Maybe it's now, "Roll Over, Chuck Berry."  In any case, it's a totally unique book on Beethoven--a Beethoven for our time, at last.  Again, e-book here and print here.  Not in bookstores for awhile.  I'm @GregMitch and:  Kerry Candaele will also be contributing to this blog. Here's Kerry's site for the movie and the cool trailer: