An exhibition of great mastery of musical composition, Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony begins with a four-note motif that commands the audience’s attention, and ends with an exhilarating and triumphant finale that uplifts the audience into euphoria. Such work that transcends pre-existing material in a field and has an enduring impact on society places Beethoven into the hallowed realm of geniuses, individuals who harness their exceptional talents to create masterpieces in their fields of study. Some of the skills geniuses possess are highly specific to certain fields.
For instance, painters need a powerful eye-hand coordination to create great paintings while musical composers need a refined aural ability to identify notes and pitches during composition. While this specificity of skills makes it easy to compare geniuses with contemporaries in their respective fields, it is more challenging to do a cross-field comparison of geniuses. Fortunately, geniuses share certain general characteristics, which provide a standard for cross-field comparison. These features are either essential or peripheral.
The essential set consists of a consuming curiosity and a mighty motivation that drive creativity. A highly retentive memory, strong divergent thinking, powerful concentration and a supreme, perhaps genetically given processing ability enable the production of novelty and excellence. The peripheral set is composed of family background in the field [yes, peripheral because the genius might be emergenetic], mentorship, movement to the metropolis and a rebellious attitude. Beethoven’s trajectory to genius potential encompasses both the essential and peripheral [because that’s the order in which you presented them in above]sets.
However, the catalyst for his ascendance to musical greatness was his deafness[that may be an overstatement, but Joe Straus wouldn’t think so. ]. After he began losing his hearing, he composed pieces that became his greatest works, including the Fifth Symphony. For some geniuses, the essential set is innate, but for some, the set is nurtured into maturity. Beethoven’s set was inchoate, but when he became deaf, the disability accentuated his essential qualities, which, combined with the peripheral set, produced a musical genius. O. K. You’ve thought through the issues and you have a thesis. ]
The peripheral set laid the platform for Beethoven’s success, with the first element of the set being his family’s background in music. Ludwig van Beethoven, his grandfather, worked as a bass singer at the court of the Elector of Cologne and later rose to become the music director. Johann van Beethoven, his father, was employed as a tenor in the same musical establishment but also gave piano and violin lessons to supplement his income (Thorne P. 114, 1986).
Two generations of musicians indicate that musical talent ran in the family and Beethoven must have inherited this musical ability from his father, thus laying a foundation for his music career. Johann realized early in Beethoven’s life that the young boy was musically gifted, so he designed a regimen of musical exercises for him and enforced the training strictly. By the age of nine, Beethoven had learnt all there was to learn from his father, who then employed a tutor for the boy (Capell P. 380, 1938). Hereditary musical talent and early music training strengthened [or were the basis of? ] Beethoven’s future success as a composer.
After the foundation had been laid through inherited musical talent and training, Beethoven moved to Vienna to expand his knowledge. Geniuses eventually move to a metropolis where they can interact with their contemporaries in the field, access more information about their subject of study, present their material to a populace that understands the importance of their works and test themselves against the very best in their domain. [good] Vienna was the musical capital of Europe during Beethoven’s time, so it was a great place for the young composer to learn from other great composers who lived in or stopped by the city.
First, Beethoven studied Mozart’s works, a venture that manifested in his first musical pieces, which were written in Mozartean style (Thayer P. 89, 1921). Under Joseph Haydn’s instruction, he sought to master counterpoint (Thayer P. 153, 1921). Later, he began receiving occasional instruction from Antonio Salieri in Italian vocal compositional style (Thayer P. 72, 1921). Moving to the metropolis had afforded Beethoven the chance to meet and learn from these musical greats. [Nicely done. ]
As Beethoven rose in status from a student to a virtuoso pianist and an impressive composer, he developed great self-confidence and his rebellious attitude began to show. Once, while walking with Germany’s great poet, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Beethoven lectured the ennobled maestro on the value of an artist compared to nobility. While the two were talking, the Empress of Austria and various dukes approached with all their servants but instead of giving way to the leaders and bowing to show respect like Goethe did, Beethoven continued on his way unperturbed (Johnson, p. 18). The great composer was no different from many other geniuses that perceive themselves as greater than anyone who does not possess exceptional capabilities. Profoundly self-confident, geniuses show a flagrant disrespect for authority, as the lives of Leonardo and Wagner, for example, clearly show. Beethoven was in particular disrespectful towards royalty whose authority he believed to have been acquired through an “accident of birth” (Johnson, p. 118).
Of course, he did not realize that his musical talent might also have been hereditary, and hence an “accident of birth”. good] A defiant outlook, however, is more a manifestation of genius than a cause. Beethoven’s defiance was therefore an outward expression of his self-belief as he gained more facility at composing music. [good point, you have to have at least some success or defiance will seem to be nothing more than crazy behavior] With a rebellious attitude, movement to the metropolis and family background in music, Beethoven’s profile already reads like that of a genius. However, as fate would have it, Beethoven began to lose hearing at the age of 26.
Like eyes and good visual perception are important for a painter who has to observe keenly in order to create a magical painting, so are ears and a good hearing to a musician who has to pick out the right notes even when they are beneath a cover of noise. For accomplished musicians, the auditory skills are usually well developed through years of training, although for some, the ability to pick out notes is inherited. Beethoven was devastated by the loss of hearing, lamenting in the early stages of his progressive deafness, “It was impossible for me to say to people, ‘Speak louder, shout, for I am deaf’.
Ah, how could I possibly admit an infirmity in the one sense which ought to be more perfect in me than others, a sense which I once possessed in the highest perfection, a perfection such as few in my profession enjoy or ever have enjoyed” (Heiligenstadt Testament, quoted in Jander 2000, 25-26). Could Beethoven maintain his trajectory to become a genius even though he was now becoming deaf? As he gradually lost hearing, Beethoven could only rely on his mind’s ability to play notes. Before becoming deaf, he had the option of using the piano to test the musical pieces he was composing.
With the onset of deafness, however, this was progressively less possible. His extensive musical training was now more important than ever, because his mind had to remember how certain notes sounded without being prompted by the actual sound. Yet it was not just sufficient to recall the sound of one note; a musical composition could contain thousands of notes, some of which had to be played simultaneously. Furthermore, the mind had to determine the sound of the note on different instruments and when sung by different voice types.
Since Beethoven continued composing even after he started losing his hearing, it is safe to assume that his mind could internally do all the feats described above. Those feats required a tenacious memory and a powerful processing ability, qualities that Beethoven no doubt possessed. [good] These abilities were paramount after he became deaf, and they must have been refined and sharpened as they were called to use on a frequent basis. After this refinement, the Beethoven that emerged was different. He was now a man who could reproduce an entire symphony in his head.
With distractions shut out because of his deafness, Beethoven developed increased powers of concentration. He could immerse himself in one activity and completely withdraw from his present surroundings. For instance, Beethoven went to a restaurant once, and when the waiter did not come immediately after the deaf maestro knocked, he took out his music notebook and started composing. When the waiter eventually came, Beethoven did not notice him as he continued writing his music. Because the deaf master was a regular patron at the restaurant, the waiter went away hoping that the master would shout out when he wanted to order.
But Beethoven continued composing for a long time, so long that the waiter gave up waiting and went back to see the master who promptly asked for the bill (Breuning P. 46, 1992). Beethoven’s complete immersion into his music was remarkable. With such a deep concentration, he could pay attention to the minutest of details and play around with his composition till it was perfect. Music that Beethoven composed in his later years during which he was completely deaf reflected his new skills – riveting concentration and newly refined ability to play notes in his mind.
Take the Grosse Fuge, Op. 133, for example. Written just before his death, this piece originally served as the final movement of his Quartet No. 13 in Bb (Op. 130). Beethoven’s ability to organize his thoughts into musical form is reflected in the unrelentingly introspective nature of the Grosse Fuge (Kerman P. 276, 1966) gads, your even read Kerman on Beethoven’s quartets—good for you.. The technical demands of this fugue are extreme, almost as if he intended the piece not to be enjoyed by playing but to be savored by examining the marvelous technical construction of the composition.
The perfection of detail is striking, an epitome of laborious efforts applied with intense concentration. It was Beethoven at his best, utilizing the facilities afforded him by his state of deafness to create music that influenced later composers including Richard Wagner. good Beethoven’s later music may be appreciated now, but critics in the generation immediately after his death considered the music defective (Strauss’s April 12th Lecture). The critics isolated the music from Beethoven’s earlier works, and attributed the highly technical and introspective final period music to a specific physical origin in Beethoven’s deafness.
For these reviewers, the deafness was an obstacle that had to be overcome, and since Beethoven’s pieces were wildly different from contemporary works at the time, the critics concluded that he had been unsuccessful in sidestepping the hurdle of being deaf by letting his condition affect his compositional style (Strauss P. 26-27, 2011). But by asserting that the disability hindered Beethoven’s ability to compose, the critics failed to recognize the ability of infirmity to enable a talent. [good]
Deafness not only polished [enhanced? Beethoven’s ability to recreate musical sounds in his mind but also enhanced his concentration. He lost his hearing but this incapacity was offset to a huge extent by the enrichment of other features responsible for great musical composition. [right, the brain is plastic] Even though Beethoven’s compositional prowess benefited from the deafness-enhanced features, the disability caused him great anguish. He was so devastated that he vented out his frustrations in a document so-called the Heiligenstadt Testament of October 6th 1802.
You already discussed B’s devastation from the hearing loss, on page 4? I believe. Either that material should have been saved for here, or this material put there. As it is, we seem to be looping backwards. ]The tone of the testament reflected how apprehensive he was, as he recounted the tales of the suffering he had been through and his resistance against the temptation to commit suicide (Capell P. 387, 1938). Deeply tormented, he became so paranoid and irritable that he constantly argued and mistrusted everyone, from close friends to business associates.
Strangely though, paranoia seems to be a characteristic that many geniuses like Leonardo, Newton, and Wagner share. Wagner, for instance, was so consumed by his suspicion of Jews that his music reflected his intense paranoia (Millington P. 247, 1991). [I’m not sure that you can say that there is a one-to-one equation of paranoia and musical sounds. How does music sound paranoid? ] Beset by distrust, geniuses eventually become loners who are only surrounded by a few close friends and admirers.
Beethoven was no exception – besides having few friends, he could not keep a maid, compelling him to live in a dirty and dinghy apartment (Capell P. 388, 1938). But unlike the peripheral and essential features that influence the development of genius, a loner status is not an agent of creativity. Beethoven could therefore bear his suffering and continue to compose transcendental musical pieces. Despite differences among the fields in which geniuses produce phenomenal work, there are certain core characteristics that these accomplished individuals share.
These qualities are either drivers [right word? ] or enablers. Curiosity and motivation drive a genius in the search for novelty, while abilities such as divergent thinking [but what causes someone to think translogically? ] and strong processing ability enable a creative individual to produce excellence. Beethoven possessed these features, and while they played a role in his rise to genius, it was his deafness that was most instrumental in launching him to the pinnacle of musical compositional success.
He suffered when he lost his hearing, but as compensation, his disability enabled the fine-tuning of his mind’s ear and his concentration. Because of the enhanced characteristics, he composed music that transcended his time. O. K. This was a strong paper to begin with. It’s somewhat better, but could be better still if we removed one or two illogical thoughts, and repositioned some of the “devasted by hearing loss” discussion. The good news is that you’ve developed a specific thesis with regard to B, and with regard to looking at geniuses generally, and you prosecute your ideas successfully here.
January 9, 2018
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