Next time you’re walking down the street, or through the mall, ask a random person to hum something from a symphony. Chances are, if they can hum anything, they’ll hum the first four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Most people who know nothing about classical music nevertheless know that opening flourish. Built on nothing more than a descending major third and a non-syncopated rhythm, the brief figure has come to singularly signify in our culture the drama of classical music.
It is also, in a strange way, a reflection of the unfortunate marginalization of classical music today. After all, few people who can hum those notes could tell you who wrote them, much less where they came from, nor why they have become so aurally iconic in our culture.
That truth in turn raises another issue: Does it really matter? Should kids raised on Jay-Z and J-Lo care about a long-deceased German composer and his wordless, violin-heavy symphony?
As we look forward to a performance of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony by the Missoula Symphony Orchestra this weekend, the question is worth asking: Is Beethoven relevant in the 21st Century? [Read More...]