Pardon me, boy -- is this the philharmonic station?
I like the story that the "van" in his name, a pretension to noble birth, was added by Beethoven himself. It is also said that when his brother added the sobriquet "Land-owner" to his card, Lugwig countered by having some of his own printed with "Brain-owner." If invited to a party as a guest who was expected to perform, he refused; but if not expected, he would perform, like it or not.
I was thinking about him today, as I do almost every weekday, because when I disembark at the Brickell Metrorail station I am invariably greeted with the strains of the first movement to the Fifth Symphony. Due to the efforts of local Beethoven enthusiasts, including the local homeowners association and at least one County Commissioner, this recording has been playing between the security and train announcements for several years now. You might think that it would get tiresome after all that time, or that the endless repetition -- never a full performance, or any of the other three movements -- would have turned the immortal symphony into mindless Muzak by now. But so far it has never failed to strike me as new and vigorous every time.
Surely this is a testament to what an enduring composition this piece is. In a recent biography, Beethoven: The Universal Composer, author Edmund Morris relates a story about being on the campus of Harvard University in the middle of winter. It was the first day the sun showed itself after a week or more of blizzardly darkness. As the snow lit up, someone opened a dormitory window and placed speakers on the sill to blare out the triumphant final movement of -- what else? -- Beethoven's Fifth. Supposedly everyone who was close enough to hear it stopped in their tracks and listened as the music gave perfect expression to their joy at the return of the light.
So I often still find myself with an additional spring in my step as I leave the station, and find myself humming the other movements as I walk to my office -- the lyrically swinging second, the waltzing scherzo that imitates the opening theme of the first movement, and then the victorious fanfare of the finale that emerges from the misty end of the scherzo like a sun cutting through morning fog.
There's another irony about the playing of the Fifth at the metro station, though. At the same time they were memorializing Beethoven, the Brickell Homeowners Association, fancying themselves loftier than the rabble who must ride the bus, engaged in a successful lobbying campaign to nix the rental of some space at their train station to Greyhound. Now the poor slobs who drift into town that way must remain content to disembark among some warehouses near the airport from which it is a long hike to anywhere.
Poor Ludwig, who insisted in his Ninth symphony that "all men will be brothers" and that "this kiss is for all the world," must be rolling over in his grave.