I was feeling a bit down this morning—weather, sickness, tired, finances, government, etc—and so I played Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony this morning for my son. As I was waving my arms around in the air and pounding on the floor with my foot, I was reminded of this wonderful excerpt by Robert Fulgham.
Listen to the YouTube link of Leonard Bernstein conducting the end of the 4th movement while you read (and notice at about 10:22 when he jumps up and down:
My solace is not religion or yoga or rum or even deep sleep. It’s Beethoven. As in Ludwig van. He’s my ace in the hole. I put his Ninth Symphony on the stereo, pull the earphones down tight, and lie down on the floor. The music comes on like the first day of Creation.
And I think about old Mr. B. He knew a whole lot about depression and unhappiness. He moved around from place to place trying to find the right place. His was a lousy love life, and he quarreled with his friends all the time. A rotten nephew worried him deeply–a nephew he really loved. And Mr. B. wanted to be a virtuoso pianist. He wanted to sing well, too. But when still quite young, he began to lose his hearing. Which is usually bad news for pianists and singers. By 1818, when he was forty-eight, he was stone-cold deaf. Which makes it all the more amazing that he finished his great Ninth Symphony five years later. He never really heard it! He just thought it!
So I lie there with my earphones on, wondering if it ever could have felt to Beethoven like it sounds in my head. The crescendo rises, and my sternum starts to vibrate. And by the time the final kettledrum drowns out all those big Fs, I’m on my feet, singing at the top of my lungs in gibberish German with the mighty choir, and jumping up and down as the legendary Fulghumowski directs the final awesome moments of the END OF THE WORLD AND THE COMING OF GOD AND ALL HIS ANGELS, HALLELUJAH! HALLELUJAH! WWHHOOOOOOOOM-KABOOM-BAM-BAAAAAA!!! Lord!
Uplifted, exalted, excited, affirmed, and over-whelmed am I! MANALIVE! Out of all that sorrow and trouble, out of all that frustration and disappointment, out of all that deep and permanent silence, came all that majesty–that outpouring of JOY and exaltation! He defied his fate with jubilation!
And I never can resist all that truth and beauty. I just can’t manage to continue sitting around in my winter ash heap, wringing my hands and feeling sorry for myself, in the face of THAT MUSIC! Not only does it wipe out spiritual rot, it probably cures colds, too.
So what’s all this noise about winter and rain and bills and taxes? says I to me. So who needs all this talk about failure and confusion and frustration? What’s all this noise about life and people being no damned good?
In the midst of oatmeal days, I find within Beethoven’s music an irresistible affirmation. In deep, spiritual winter, I find inside myself the sun of summer.And some day, some incredible December night when I am very rich, I am going to rent me a grand hall and a great choir and a mighty symphony orchestra, and stand on the podium and conduct the Ninth. And I will personally play the kettledrum part all the way through to the glorious end, while simultaneously singing along at the very top of my lungs. And in the awesome silence that follows, I will bless all-the-gods-that-be for Ludwig van Beethoven, for his Ninth, and his light.